The morning could not have started out any better.  Jim Franklin and I stood at the end of the dock watching the first light of the day creep over the stately pines lining the Louisiana side of Toledo Bend while finishing off a cup of coffee.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,”said Franklin. “Good friends, a beautiful lake and we are going to put it on the crappie!”It should be noted that Jim Franklin has never pulled away from any dock not believing that he was going to slay the fish, regardless of the species.He has proven to be correct in that assumption more times than not over the years.

Our chances were greatly bolstered by the fact that we were fishing with veteran tournament fisherman and Toledo Bend guide, Stephen Johnston. Johnston fishes an incredible number of days each year and stays on top of his game.

Rodney Lowrey quickly joined us and Johnston quietly eased up on his first brush pile after a very sort ride.The troll motor immediately went over the bow and Johnston instructed Rodney to lower his shiner over board just a tad in front of the console.Even before his slip cork disappeared beneath the surface, however, Franklin was already swinging a pound and a half slab over the side that couldn’t resist his jig.

“That’s number one,” said Johnston as he clicked his counter and slipped the fish into the ice box.“Only seventy-four more to go!” Less than two hours and only seven or eight stops later, Johnston tapped Lowrey on the shoulder and whispered, “The next fish will be number seventy-five so you better hurry.”Once again, however, Franklin would steal his thunder and box the final fish of the morning.

Making multiple stops was not a necessity, but a matter of choice.When you fish as many days a year as Johnston does you cannot afford to wear a single pile out.He makes it sound far easier than it is, but he keeps no more than ten fish per stop and re-brushes his piles on a frequent basis.

Easily the biggest problem for a crappie guide is having to protect the location of his brush piles.A recreational fisherman can wipe out a productive brush pile in a single stop.“I ease off of them when other boats approach and will occasionally tear them up and move them a short distance away.”

Last Tuesday morning the crappie were all of the XL version, but according to Stephen, that has been the norm this year.“Not only are we catching easy limits,” says Johnston, “but every fish is a good one.”We iced three limits and released only two undersized fish.

The only surprise of the day was that the crappie would not eat a shiner and they are usually the number one option.Rodney stayed with them longer than the rest of us and paid the price.As soon as he switched to a jig he caught fish nearly every drop.

“Y’all have been doing this a long time,” stated Johnston, “but I can go through a lot of jigs with people that don’t fish much.It is far easier to set a slip cork at a certain depth and have most folks just drop it over the side.”

Let’s be honest.For the most part, successfully fishing brush piles is not about finesse or catch and release.It is about production. When that last limit-fish clears the gunnel the day is done and I have no problem with that.You are back at the dock before it gets miserably hot and the anticipated fish fry cannot take place quickly enough!

The only reason I fish for crappie is the opportunity to eat them at the end of the day, but vertically fish for them with a knowledgeable guide is a great way to introduce kids to fishing.The bite is quick, the battle on light tackle is substantial enough and short outings minimize lack of interest.

Fishing with Johnston involves nothing more than booking a trip, showing up with a few snacks, a license and a good attitude.He is an absolute hoot to fish with and as accommodating as a guide can possibly be.The catching part is as close to a guarantee as you will ever get when it comes to fishing.

For more information you can go to his web site or call him at (409)579-4213.