Even though it’s been hot enough to fry eggs on the boat ramp concrete, crappie fishing is about as good as it gets on Sam Rayburn.
“This lake is in magnificent shape, about as good as I’ve seen it in 10 years,” said guide Bill Fondren. “This week I had the Lamar University football coaches out on the lake, and we caught enough crappie to sink the boat.”
That might sound a little far-fetched, but I can say from past trips with Fondren that he ain’t just whistling Dixie. It’s no secret that Rayburn is one of, if not the best, crappie fishing lake in Texas. Toledo Bend is good. So are Conroe and Fork. But when it gets down to producing big time numbers of one of the most tasty and fun-to-catch fish this side of Mars, Rayburn is tough to beat.
The photo with this column is rock-solid proof that Rayburn can come through with crappie even during the hottest months of summer.
The water temperature on the lake is about 85 degrees. Fondren says that’s about as hot it’ll get. But even if it does inch up a few degrees, he says it won’t affect the crappie bite.
“The coaches from Lamar had a big time,” said Fondren. “We were on the water early and off the lake before noon. We averaged over 100 crappie per day. Out of three days of fishing, the best was 150 crappie before noon. That’s some pretty fast action.”
Fondren, who owns and operates Tejas Guide Service, has been running crappie fishing charters on the lake since the beginning of dirt. And over that timespan, he’s figured out a few things. One is that baited brush is the ticket to catching big boxes of crappie. Second, those crappie will hit jigs in warm water. But one thing is certain – nothing beats a live minnow.
“We caught them last week on Stanley Wedgetails and live minnows,” said Fondren. “The best jig bite is usually early. When that slows, we’ll switch over to live minnows. I like the smaller minnows that are about 2 inches long. The more lively they are, the more fish you’ll catch. That’s why I’ll add small frozen bottles of water to the live bait well. It’ll keep the water temperature cool enough to keep the minnows kicking.”
He fishes minnows on a standard crappie rig. A 1/4-ounce bullet weight is pegged with a toothpick about 10 inches above a 1/0 gold Aberdeen hook. This is a thin wire hook that will bend when slow pressure is applied to a hook that’s snagged on brush. The minnows are hooked through the lips.
The soft plastic Wedgetails are about as long as the minnows. They are rigged on 1/8 to 1/16-ounce lead-head jigs. Fondren says his go-to jig is white with a chartreuse tail. He calls it Mr. Ugly.
“Most of the time I’ll start fishing jigs when we first come up on a baited brush pile,” said Fondren. “Once that bite slows, I’ll either add a live minnow to the jig or fish a minnow on a hook.”
When fishing live minnows, the key is to keep them at the right depth. Crappie are well known for holding at a certain depth. A minnow or jig fished a foot or so off that particular depth won’t get a second look. The Wedgetails are fished with a slow movement of the rod tip up and down. Most of the time they will get hit on the fall. Conversely, once a live minnow is in the “zone,” you don’t have to move the rod tip.
With the warmer water temperature, crappie will have a very soft bite, just like they do during the winter months. That’s why Fondren uses ultralight spinning rigs spooled with 6 to 8 pound test. The line is tough enough to pull a hook off a snag, yet sensitive enough to convey a subtle bite to the angler.
“Right now were fishing baited brush piles in 22 to 25 feet of water,” said Fondren. “That’s the magic depth during the summer months. And that’s pretty much the pattern we’ll be on through September.”
For more information on crappie fishing with Tejas Guide Service and Bill Fondren, call (409) 381-1397.