We don’t need no stinking crappie minnows

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Getting minnows has gotten to be a real pain. We can not take bait minnows across state lines. We can not transport minnows from one watershed to another. Minnow prices have gone up, largely a result of bait shops carrying ‘certified’ minnows.

Now here is a jam in the paperwork. A certain number of minnows are taken out of a big batch, then they are sent to Maine to be certified as free from disease. Then they can be sold and transported around the state. But only if you keep the receipt.

As much of a pain in the butt this may be, it is a good rule. Transporting bait has introduced many unwanted new species to every part of the country and beyond. It will only slow down the spread of diseases, though. As we are seeing with exotic invaders in many forms, their spread seems inevitable. Slowing down the spread gives scientists more time to work on solutions.

Anglers now find ourselves fishing without bait minnows. Never is this more of an annoyance than it is while we are trying to catch crappie during spring. We have always used minnows for crappie bait. Until not so long ago, those minnows had to be emerald shiners, the Magic Minnows. For years I took them wherever I fished, using a large and well aerated cooler to carry the bait, adding ice as necessary to keep the water very cool. At lakes where the only available crappie bait is fathead minnows, the local anglers were impressed by our crappie catches.

Of course you know and I know it was the emeralds. The locals at far away lakes did not know.

Last week at Shenango Lake I found myself casting for crappie without minnows for tipping the jigs. I must admit that for the first few moments I felt like I was trying to catch crappie without a hook.

Shenango Lake is having an very good spring of crappie fishing. The crappie are abundant, and average size is excellent. Most of the crappie we caught that day were longer than 10 inches. Another boat in our group caught a couple that were longer than 15 inches. Our best were about 13 inches.

Fortunately I came to my senses when I recalled that I have caught plenty of crappie with up-baited jigs. It has just been a while, like several years.

Our guide for the day was Dale Black, owner of Gamma Line, in Oil City. He turned the boat right, and just using the electric motor, he took us to the right toward a section of rip rap.

We did not get into crappie right away, but almost. Moments after marks that appeared to be crappie began showing on the sonar screen we caught the first crappie of the day. Many more would follow.

We hit the peak of the spring crappie run right on the button. As we moved around the lake we found some female crappie had dropped their eggs in some areas, while in other areas the females had not dropped their eggs. It was surprising that we found most of our crappie in depths of 12 feet to 15 feet along that rip rap. Clumps of brush were sparsely scattered along bottom. There the females had dropped their eggs.

A few things stood out as more effective than most in attracting crappie. One lure that I have long carried in my tackle box, but in larger sizes, the Road Runner will find itself on the end of my line much more often in future crappie fishing adventures.

The Road Runner is a jig head with a spinner blade attached on the bottom edge. The blade may be either a Colorado blade or a willow leaf blade. A Colorado blade lends itself better to very slow retrieves which I prefer for crappie fishing. A willow leaf blade is better for faster retrieves and for fishing deeper water.

My new favorite soft plastic jig body is the Bobby Garland 2.25-inch Shad Swim’r. Look at the Bluegrass color pattern. Another great crappie jig they make is the 2-inch Slab Slayer because it holds scent better than most jig bodies. Blue Ice and Glacier are a couple other Bobby Garland color patterns I like very much.

Most important for last, scent is the equalizer when you do not have live bait. And I found a great crappie scent at Shenango Lake. Mo’ Glo Slab Jam might be better than live minnows. (It has to be better than fathead minnows.)

Maybe one reason this scent works so well is that it is gooey enough to stick to jigs through several fish.