Jigging up Conroe crappie
While the drop dead gorgeous weather and wooded shorelines clad in rich shades of green initially captured my every thought, Jimmy Melancon’s attention was focused on 15-feet of 10-pound monofilament as it slowly disappeared in the gin clear water.
“Some days they are suicidal and sometimes the indication of a strike is nothing more than your line pausing just a second as it falls,” instructed Melancon. The words were hardly out if his mouth when he snapped the tip of his 10-foot graphite crappie rod skyward and the fight was on.
Having gotten blown off Sabine the day before by 30 mph north winds, I was more than ready for a change and gave Jimmy’s son, Mike, a salesman at Texas Marine, a call Thursday evening. “Dad catches crappie all year long, but we have really done well for the past month,” stated Mike. “Y’all drive up to Lake Conroe in the morning and I will meet you at the ramp.”
When Gene Locke and I pulled into the boat ramp at 8 o’clock, I called Mike. “That’s us in the 22-foot Ranger Bay boat waving at you,” he said. “Hurry up and launch and ease this way. We are fishing some brush we have never fished before and we already have 32 keepers in the box!”
“I am afraid this crappie has whiskers,” Jimmy speculated as the willowy rod remained bowed under the strain of a heavier fish. As predicted, he eventually slid a fat 2-pound channel cat over the side and added it to the box.
The five of us combined to catch a 103 keeper crappie over the next four hours, but there was never any doubt as to who was doing most of the catching. We only worked three bush piles over the course of the morning and Mike and his Dad deftly ferreted out the sweet spot in each hideout.
I have fished brush piles on both Rayburn and Toledo Bend over the years and done well, but never relying solely on jigs. More often than not, the brush piles were baited and we simply lowered shiners directly over the side of the boat.
“I just couldn’t make myself do that,” laughed the elder Melancon. “More than just disliking that approach, I have proven to myself time and again in every month of the year that I can catch more crappie on jigs than live bait.”
Mike and his Dad consistently catch crappie when others fail simply because they do their homework. They tailor their gear to fit their needs and keep their nose buried in their depth finders. Jimmy was quick to point out that the new side scan units have eliminated many wasted hours searching for productive brush.
“I really got serious about chasing crappie six years ago,” he said. “I love bass fishing, flounder fishing, whatever….but at that point, I decided to devote all of my fishing time to getting better at catching the fish I like to eat the most.”
He is equally quick to point out that he had a lot of help getting started and that he still networks with that small group of confidants. “We all do things just a little differently,” he adds, “but we hold fast to some basics that just cannot be ignored if you hope to consistently catch crappie on any lake.”
“Because keeping the jig in front or just above crappie is so critical, I generally fish with jigs ranging in weight from 1/32 to 1/8th -ounce regardless of how deep we are fishing. I also prefer a colored line as it makes it easier for me to watch it as it falls. I have had days when I caught forty fish while a friend standing right next to me never even realized he was getting strikes!”
There are those days when the crappie will pile up in two feet of water, but the lifeblood of this program is the GPS-depth finder unit and a healthy collection of productive waypoints marking deep water brush. Both Melancons agree that it is all about locating brush and pinpointing the sweet spot in each pile.
After over indulging in a platter of fresh fried crappie fillets and hush puppies last night, I have decided to squeeze in a few more trips to Rayburn or Toledo Bend over the next few weeks. Both lakes are a little closer and I believe Jimmy and Mike’s approach will work there as well!