Cane Pole Crappies

By Steve Weisman

One of the sought-after fish on our Iowa lakes are slab crappies. When the month of May comes and the temperatures move into the upper 50s, crappies begin to move shallow into their spawning areas. Optimum spawning temperatures are between 68-72 degrees. Kevan Paul, who owns Kevan Pauls Guide Service and guides clients across northern Iowa, says Clear Lake is his go-to lake for crappie fishing. On a recent fishing trip (May 28) to Clear Lake with Jason Mitchell, host of Jason Mitchell Outdoors Television, Paul and Mitchell featured “Cane Pole Crappies.”

As they began fishing, Mitchell said, “I’ve been wanting to do a cane pole episode ever since I started doing television!”

It was lights out action with lots of 12+ inch crappies brought to the boat with, you guessed it, the cane pole. As I interviewed Paul later, he said, “This time of year on Clear Lake the crappies are up in the heavy cover of pencil weeds. It’s so thick that you really can’t cast with a regular rod and reel.” The key for catching crappies in this type of cover is to have the water be calm. Waves rolling into the reeds just doesn’t work very well.

Paul also cautions about pushing through the area with the boat, because it’s easy to destroy the reed beds. “Push the nose of the boat into the cover and then hold yourself right there. Be stealthy or the crappies will move back away from all the commotion.”

Paul notes that there are some pretty large open spots/pockets, and those are relatively easy to get to by casting with a regular rod and reel and a bobber. Of course, these are the easiest areas for other anglers to access, and they get cleaned out pretty quickly.

However, the majority of the crappies are right in the middle of the reeds, and you just can’t get a boat into some of the thickest areas, but a 20-foot cane pole can get you to a lot of spots. Paul says with a grin, “This cane pole is 20’ of solid fun! However, it can also be awkward to handle, but with a little practice you can get a handle on it.”

Paul rigs the cane pole with a three-foot leader of anywhere from 6-10 pound monofilament line. I asked him about using a bobber, but that’s just one more thing to get wrapped up and caught in the reeds.

There are several baits that will work. On the day of the video there had been a bug hatch, so they used a small Fire-Fly jig and tipped it with a minnow. Other times, a tiny jig and plastic will work. If you are using a plain hook and a minnow, clip a small splitshot ahead of the hook so that the minnow doesn’t swim to the surface. “I’d rather use plastic. Minnows are kind of a hassle, but if that’s what the crappies are biting on, you use minnows.”

Paul’s tactic is to reach and dip. Reach to the spot and then dip the bait into the water right in the reeds. You might be in anywhere from three feet of water down to only a foot. So, let the bait drop to the determined depth and subtly twitch it two or three times up and then let it fall back down slowly. However, don’t let the line go loose. Keep the line tight and be patient. It might take several dips until you find the crappie hole!

Once the bait is in the water, Paul will watch the end of the pole to look for it to load up as a crappie hits the bait. He’ll also look for the line to begin to move to the side, another signal that a crappie has the bait. On the day of the video, the water was relatively clear so Mitchell and Paul could sometimes actually see the crappies come up to the bait. Another tip…miss the crappie the first time, drop the bait right back down. If you didn’t burn them, you just might get a second chance.

A word of caution…don’t just set the hook when the crappie hits. “When they come in to suck in the bait, give them a second to close their mouth on the bait/minnow. Otherwise, you will lose a lot of crappies.”

Once you set the hook, there is no finesse. Nope. Pull that crappie right out of the water and heft it toward the boat. With no reel, it’s pull, hoist and swing the crappie to the boat. As I watched the video, Mitchell and Paul had crappies flopping through and above the reeds all the way to the boat.

Both Mitchell and Paul shared their philosophy on catching and keeping these slab crappies. Paul said, “Keep some for a meal, but if everybody takes limits and limits, the resource can be shot pretty quickly. Protect these fish and the fishery only gets better and everybody wins!”

As I watched the show, I thought of the bulrushes in Anglers Bay and Hales Slough on Big Spirit. The crappies are making a comeback on Big Spirit, and I know this would be a deadly tactic right here. Again, enjoy the action, keep a few fish for the frying pan and help protect the resource.

One last thought. Our Iowa Great Lakes all have a good crappie population right now. Although there are no bulrushes on the Okoboji chain, artificial habitat in the form of docks and hoists are all around the lakes. Lots of times these crappies are in the shade under a dock and hoist, but they are hard to get at. A properly used cane pole might just be the ticket for a reach and dip!