It's no secret that crappie are a personal favorite. Nothing is more thrilling than battling a 2-pound slab on 2-pound test line and a buggy-whipish rod.
So as we crank up the Fishing Forecast for my 19th season, let's get the lures slinging with this wonderful freshwater fighter.
Crappie come in black and white varieties, and for obvious reasons when you put each side by side.
Depending on where you are fishing, crappie are either preparing to spawn on the next full moon or will do so next month. This is advantageous for anglers because this fish, also called a speckled perch, likes to spawn shallow — making them easier to find and more vulnerable to being tricked into biting. More often than not, this part of a crappie's life is spent in and around shoreline cover, mostly fallen trees. While this makes them easier to find, it is problematic for anglers because this fish is an expert at getting your line tangled in the same snags they are calling home.
Patience and lots of extra terminal tackle are a must when fishing for crappie in cover.
The flip side is that once you find a crappie or two in cover, there likely are a bunch of them there.
Start out at the deepest section of a fallen tree or shoreline bush. That's where the bigger fish are more likely to be.
There are few offerings that work better than a live minnow under a float — either teamed with a slip bobber rig or secured at a certain depth on a cane pole. Remember that crappie have eyes on the top portion of their body, so they feed above most of the time.
For a little more fun, cast small jigs or spinners in the same areas.
Most anglers have been concentrating on tautog and speckled trout because there hasn't been much else to target. Until recently, that is.
The season's first catches of big black drum have been taking place on the Eastern Shore's barrier islands and around the mouths of inlets. Typically, the arrival of this brute of a fighter marks the time when spring and summer species start migrating into Virginia waters.
Right behind will be red drum, and there have been scattered reports that a few have been caught, especially along the coast near the North Carolina border and around the Eastern Shore.
Thanks to a relatively mild winter, flounder already are being taken in the sloughs of the Eastern Shore barrier island backwaters. This action typically is better this time of year on a falling tide, when waters warmed in the marshes spill into the channels and flats. Keep it simple by working jigs or a bottom rig featuring a minnow-squid-strip "sandwich."
Anglers continue to find good numbers of tog at any number of wrecks, artificial reefs and rubble piles inside the bay and along the coast. Sections of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, including the rocky islands and tunnel tubes, are producing fish. Area marinas and tackle shops are now carrying fiddler crabs, a favorite among tog hunters.
There are plenty of dogfish shark to tangle with. And while most anglers are annoyed with this species, those in the know are taking some home for dinner. Dogfish have firm white meat and are one of the best-tasting fish around.
Off the coast, anglers fishing deep along the edges of the Norfolk Canyon can expect blueline and golden tilefish, a few snowy grouper and several other bottom species, including sea bass. Remember, the sea bass season currently is closed.
Speckled trout action in all three southside inlets and around Oyster on the Eastern Shore has been steady, but not fantastic, the last few weeks. With waters starting to warm, fish will become much more active. Puppy drum also should be available.
Area piers are open and croaker likely will be the first species to show up. Typically Ocean View is the first place to report catches.
Northeastern North Carolina
Tuna fishermen had a fantastic end of the winter bite and the action isn't slowing down. Yellowfin are the most abundant species, but a few blackfin, false albacore and bluefin are mixed in. The bluefin season currently is closed.
A few billfish have jumped into bait spreads and there have been some dolphin caught.
Anglers working the inlets and just outside have been catching small striped bass and lots of dogfish sharks.
Wrecks along the coast should be yielding a few bottom species and it's about time for triggerfish to show.
Along Outer Banks beaches, surf casters are finding a few good runs of big red drum, especially around The Point. Anglers seeking smaller stuff are finding sea mullet and blow toads, with some bluefish mixed in. Fresh shrimp and chunks of cut mullet are two of the best baits. Sharks of several species have been abundant.
This is one of the best times of the year for freshwater anglers, with largemouth bass topping the list.
Bass are becoming more active and spending more time in the shallows as they prepare for the spring spawn. Look for fish chasing bait schools in open water and around shoreline structure. Just about any lure will work this time of year, and part of the fun of bass fishing is figuring out what is working best. Make sure to keep several different lures rigged up so you can cast to the location of a missed strike.
Chickahominy Lake appears to be the best location for early lunkers, yielding its 10th bass to top 8 pounds since Feb. 1, when William Allen boated a 10-pounder last weekend.
Bass fishermen can expect to get hooked up with bowfin and chain pickerel.
While much of the yellow perch run is over, plenty of fish are still available. Tidal waters typically are the best locations this time of year, with Indiantown Creek off the North River near Coinjock being the hottest water for the biggest fish. Anglers dunking live minnows for ringtail perch will also run into white perch and crappie.
Striped bass will be moving through the Carolina sounds on their way toward the rivers.
Catfish action in most of the same river systems, especially the Northwest, James and Chickahominy, is outstanding. The top species this time of year will be blue catfish.
Anglers working the bottom in 10 to 15 feet of water will find plenty of bluegill and shellcracker. Both species will be heading to the shorelines when waters warm past 70 degrees.