B’n’M pro staffer and tournament angler Kent Driscoll claims a lot of people don’t fish riprap because they can’t see the forest for the trees.
“Crappie will always relate to riprap, no matter what type of lake, river or area you’re fishing,” he said. “It’s also a great place to fish in the winter because the rocks provide a big current break for the fish and a big wind break for the fisherman. Also, all that rock will warm up in the late afternoon sun and that gradual warming will heat the surrounding water up a degree or two, enough to draw both baitfish and crappie.”
The combination of food, deep water, and slightly warmer temperatures make rip-rap areas a great place to load up on winter crappie and it’s not hard to fish.
“Fishing rip-rap is like fishing a stairwell with a gradual slope,” he said. You first have to figure out what depth level the fish are using as it tends to change based on conditions. Most riprap will be at nearly a 45 degree angle. That means if you’re 5 feet off the bank, you’re in about 5 feet of water, if you’re 10 feet out, you’re in 10 feet and so on. Most riprap will extend out at least 25 feet under water and that gives you a wide range of depths to locate fish.”
The problem is, like nomads in the dessert, there’s a lot of surface area that won’t be holding fish. Driscoll states the way to locate crappie in this vast dessert of gravel is knowing how to find the “sweet spots.”
“It’s a lot to check in a seemingly flat surface,” said Driscoll. “Using a good sonar unit, you can run the length of the dam and look for these holding places. Crappie tend to school tightly so when you mark them on sonar, you’ll know it. It’s not like the spring or summer when you’re looking for a fish here and there.”
Along with depth, the terrain features of an embankment dam dictate how crappie will relate to it. The corners of the dam, plus any irregular features such as points, water control structures, logjams, or a river channel running along the base of the dam, will hold both crappie and the baitfish they feed on.
Driscoll uses two major tactics for finding and catching crappie around rip-rap, trolling and vertical jigging. In fact, at times he may use both, trolling until he locates a willing school of crappie, then using a jig pole to hone in on the exact spot.
Driscoll recommends trolling tactics to initially locate crappie holding around rock structure. His preference is to tightline using the maximum allowable number of rods per angler, which varies depending on which lake you’re on. He’ll stagger double minnow rigs from a foot off the bottom to just a few feet from the surface. He prefers using 14 foot B’n’M jig poles for their longer reach and lighter action while he’s fishing. Since he’s trolling at a snail’s pace, he’ll use only a ½ ounce weight to keep the minnow rigs vertical in the water. He keeps one eye on the rods and one eye on the graph, fishing as he searches.
“I may run a 12 foot depth spread from right to left,” he said, “running the right hand side deeper and the left hand side shallower until I pinpoint the correct depth. Straight minnows to start, but I may slip a jig skirt over the top of the plain Aberdeen hook on the rig to add some color. I like to fish glo colored skirts because the water can be dark from the algae. Then it’s a matter of watching the sonar, playing with various colors, and adjusting the depth.”
For vertically jigging riprap, Driscoll uses a B’n’M Buck’s Best Ultralight jig pole. He likes the added sensitivity of the rod and combines it with 8 pound Vicious high visibility line so he can detect soft bites. Driscoll points out that by vertically jigging along riprap, he can stair-step a jig from shallow to deep and have a visual reference to how deep he’s fishing.
“I use a 3/32 oz jig with a 2 inch tube jig tipped with a live minnow,” he said. “On days when they just won’t eat the jig, I may switch to a modified drop shot rig that incorporates a ¼ ounce bell sinker and two drops about 20 inches apart with a # 1 Eagle Claw light wire hook and use straight live bait on the hooks. The sinker lets me stay in touch with the bottom and if I hang up, I can straighten the hooks without breaking off.”
Regardless of what the groundhog says, the best way to get six more weeks of crappie fishing in is to go now. When you find them, log on to B’n’M’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bnmpoles and show off your photos.