Crappie & Cover
Brush piles, structure, cover, stake beds, crappie bed, laydowns....all crappie fisherman, weekend warriors and pros alike, at some point have spoken these words. In this article I would like to dig into specific detail about each of the different types of crappie cover.
The most common of crappie cover is the brush pile. These can be manmade, or pieces of wood that have fallen into the lake from natural causes. Hopefully everyone reading this has had the awesome experience of fishing a brush pile when it is loaded full of slabs. Brush piles placed in the correct location can be the holy grail of crappie fishing, at certain times, depending on the lake. From my experience, being a dirty to dingy water fisherman, I prefer my brush piles in 12’ to 15’ of water. This depth of water is good almost year round in my home state of Missouri. It’s the perfect depth for pre-spawn crappie that are getting ready to move up and spawn, in addition to being ideal for crappie right after spawning. Finally, crappie prefer utilizing this depth of water right before they go to their winter locations in deeper water, which is usually near the creek channel.
A few years back while fishing a CrappieMasters Event at Rathbun Lake in Iowa, my tournament partner (my father) and I, found the crappie holding in the dead center of the brush piles... in 15’ to 16’ of water. Ironically, this seems like an odd pattern to the other tournament anglers, due to the time of year (May),in addition to the fact the crappie were in the middle of their spawn. During our pre-fishing days for the tournament, we spent the initial 6 hours fishing the more shallow water of the lake looking for the spawning crappie...as were the other 60 plus tournament boats. We caught several crappie the first 6 hours of fishing, but knew they were not large enough to win the tournament. So with only a couple of hours of pre-fishing left, we moved out into deeper water. We started down the main lake creek channel, with our down scanning unit on, searching for brush piles. That proved to be a wise decision, as we threw out a buoy marker and caught a fat pre spawn female.....larger than any fish we had caught that day. We found our pattern and spent the remainder of the last day of pre-fishing searching for and locating over 45 brush piles. From those 45 brush piles, we narrowed it down to the 10 top producing piles for tournament day. That decision produced a second place finish, as well as big fish of the tournament. We found that the shallow water was getting hammered by other anglers, along with the fact the bigger fish were still out deep waiting to move up. We simply cut them off at their perfect pre-spawn locations- brush piles.
*Now a day the electronics that are available to fisherman is unreal...and is just another tool in your fishing toolbox. You will find it extremely beneficial if you take the time to use this tool.
Often times, I get asked where the best place is to place a brush pile. Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. It depends on the time of year, and the seasonal patterns of the crappie on the lake you are fishing. Brush piles on some crappie lakes may never hold fish, while at other lakes they may only live in brush piles. Therefore, knowing your home lake, or the body of water you are fishing, is imperative to successful crappie fishing. Learning your lake and it's seasonal pattern will help ensure positive outcomes. So....the best place for a brush pile is undeniably in the water! I like them in spawning coves or creeks in the spring; on the main lake flats for summertime fishing....and finally, on the main creek channels for winter fishing. Keep in mind, a fisherman can never have enough brush piles!
Pro Tip:The absolute best species of wood I have used for brush piles is a sycamore tree. Sycamores naturally holds water within its core, making them easier to sink. For example, you can sink a 16’ long 10’ wide pieces of sycamore with just one concrete block. At certain times of the year, sycamore can sink without any weight tied to it due to the water weight of the tree.
Another awesome location that a fisherman can utilize is a natural laydown. Laydowns make excellent crappie homes, especially in the spring. Laydowns that go from the banks edge out into deeper water allow the crappie to move up and down the laydown, like a mini crappie highway if you will. Another advantage to the laydown is they can be seen with the human eye, therefore anyone can fish them. Whether you are fishing from a bank, a boat, or wade fishing...these are very easy to spot and usually hold crappie. What makes this especially appealing? There is no need to own the latest and greatest electronics to fish this particular type of crappie structure.
Stake beds have been around the crappie fishing world for a very long time, and for good reason-they hold big crappie. If I had my choice, I would rather fish a stake bed than any other man-made crappie structure. Stake beds, in my opinion, are the ultimate crappie condos due to their vertical presences under the water. Stake beds sit on the bottom of the lake and go vertical up the length of the stakes, therefore allowing the crappie to move up and down the water column (see photo). My experience has found that stake beds hold bigger crappie- not nearly the numbers that brush piles do, but larger crappie nonetheless. This is a big deal for a tournament fisherman. They are a lot harder to place in the lake, and can be a pain placing, but can pay off big time when dropped in the correct spot.
You may wonder what is appealing about structure to a crappie? There are a couple of reasons- one is due to the fact there are a good amount of bait fish that live around structure. This is due to algae that grows on structure when placed in the lake. Baitfish almost always equals crappie because they have to eat. Another reason is that crappie like to hind themselves, being relativity small compared to let’s say, a 45 pound flathead catfish. Crappie will bury themselves within brush piles to get away from their natural predators like, huge catfish. So when a jig lands directly in the middle of the brush pile, they cannot resist this very easy meal.
In ending, If you haven’t fished these types of crappie structure, take some time to either find the ones that already exist on your home lake, or go out and experiment yourself with placing piles on your favorite body of water. I can guarantee this, one thing I know about crappie fisherman is they are very predictable. If you think you have found the perfect spot for a brush pile, more often than not, someone else has thought that exact same thing....and has already placed one there or put one very close in proximity. This is why, if possible, to utilize electronics. There may be nothing more satisfying when you have caught a mess of hog crappie off of a piece of structure you placed in the water.