Hot Spots For May Crappies

By Keith Sutton

Where are all the May crappies? You’ll find
them with our expert’s advice!

Follow spring crappie patterns like looking around isolated stumps

Isolated stumps should rate high on every crappie angler’s list of prime May fishing hotspots. (Photo: Keith Sutton)

Flexibility — it’s the key to many things. Did you know it’s the key to fishing for spring crappies? If you’re willing to try different baits, various depths and an assortment of presentations, you’ll find May crappies. In other words, look for their patterns.

When it comes to spring crappie patterns, you may need to fish several locales with different cover and structure. Crappies are often nomadic this time of year — deep one day and shallow the next. The morning hours may find them in dense cover, and by afternoon, they’re chasing baitfish in open water. Understanding their habits can lead to success, but only for the angler who is willing to move until he finds fish.

Here are eight areas that rank high on the list of May crappie cover.

1. Flooded willows

When fishing big rivers and their backwaters, you’ll often find crappies holding around inundated willow trees. Drift by in your boat and fish the outermost willows first. Then pull your craft into the interior and work other portions of the willow stand. Sometimes, on natural lakes where overflows raise the water level, you’ll find long rows of flooded willows. Don’t miss these high traffic areas.

2. Isolated stumps

You’ll rarely go wrong working a jig or minnow around stumps or other structure isolated from other cover. If you find an area with lots of widely scattered stumps, all the better. Quietly use a paddle or your trolling motor to move from one stump to another, fishing each thoroughly on all sides. On sunny days, target the shady side first.

3. Humps

Crappies like underwater humps, which provide quick routes from deep water to shallow water as conditions change. The best are 5 to 20 feet from the surface and have substantial deep water around them, such as a creek channel running alongside. Humps with timber, brush, rocks or other cover are also productive. Watch your fishfinder for humps as you scout from your boat. When you find one, narrow your fishing area to choice zones — points, pockets, rock beds, timbered or brushy areas, etc. — then mark them with buoys so you can fish with ease. Spinners such as the Blakemore Road Runner work great here.

Sonar units and other electronic tools can help you catch spring crappies

Studying a sonar unit and bottom contour map unit can help you pinpoint places where May crappies are likely to be. (Photo: Keith Sutton)

4. Ledges and channel breaks

Crappie anglers should also watch their sonar for subtle ledges and channel breaks on lake bottoms. Steep drops aren’t as attractive to crappies, but they often congregate along shallow ditches, cuts, ledges and gullies near bankside bluffs or close to coves. These structures are especially productive when near weed beds, timber stands or other crappie cover. If you’re looking for the big ones, pushing crankbaits or minnow-baited bobber rigs in front of your boat is a good way to nab slabs here.

5. Points

Like humps, points also serve as pathways for fish moving between shallow and deep water. By working a point methodically from near-shore to offshore, you can determine the day’s depth pattern and use it to help locate crappies on other points. Work a jig, minnow, crankbait or spinner around all visible cover and structure — stumps, fallen and standing timber, rocks and man-made brushpiles are all places where fish gather. If you catch crappies around features at the point’s upper end, then concentrate on similar shallow features when you move to other areas. If you find crappies are favoring deeper areas, continue fishing deep-water structure until you notice a pattern shift.

6. Thicket structures

In waters where edges of good crappie cover get pounded by scores of anglers, the biggest crappies often move into thickets to avoid the ruckus. For example, if a lake has acres of button willows, fat slabs abandon easily-reached edges. That’s when an angler must pull his boat into a thicket and fish interior structures such as logs, stumps or creek channel edges. A jig or minnow dropped beside one of these will nearly always entice slabs.

7. Man-made fish attractors

Fisheries agencies often construct fish cover by sinking reefs of trees and brush in waters where lack of cover limits crappie production. Buoys often mark the locations of these man-made attractors. Others are marked on maps and can be pinpointed using sonar. All such shelters are likely to harbor crappie concentrations year-round.

8. Threadfin shad schools

Big crappies often follow threadfin shad schools and gorge themselves on these baitfish. Look for schools in shallow water near dawn and dusk. You may see them disturbing the surface as crappies chase them. On a fishfinder, a school of threadfins usually appears as a compact band of pixels one to several feet thick. Crappies will appear as scattered individuals around or beneath the shad, seldom more than half a dozen or so together. When you see signs of schools, drop tandem-rigged jigs beside your boat at the same depth as the fish and work them with a slow lift-drop action.

Spring crappie fishing involves patterning and noticing different habits this time of year

Big crappies following schools of threadfin shad are suckers for properly worked jigs. (Photo: Keith Sutton)

Many fishermen complain that crappies are unpredictable in May, but the one thing you can predict is that you’ll find the cover. And if you methodically search these eight areas, you’ll find spring crappies.

About Keith Sutton:

Keith Sutton headshotKeith Sutton is the author of “The Crappie Fishing Handbook,” a 198-page, full-color book full of crappie-fishing tips for beginners and experts alike. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $29.45 to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Drive, Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card and PayPal orders, visit

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Tips For Choosing The Correct Fishing Line

By Darl Black

Simplify your fishing line decision….
monofilament, fluorocarbon or braid?

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Empty spools being mounted on a commercial
line-winding machine.

You’ve likely heard the expression “during simpler times,” referring to an earlier period when life was less complicated and we had fewer choices. Well, fishing line choice certainly was simpler in the 1960s and 1970s when nylon monofilament was the only type of line seriously considered by anglers. Today, in addition to nylon monofilament, two entirely new line materials have come into play: fluorocarbon and braided/fused superline.

Dale Black*, president of Black Knight Industries of Oil City, Pennsylvania, is an entrepreneur in today’s fishing line market. Black Knight Industries owns Gamma Fishing Line, offering all three products: copolymer monofilament, fluorocarbon and braid (i.e. superline). Having knowledge about all three types of line, Dale’s expertise will help you figure out today’s line puzzle.

Unlocking the Puzzle

nylon filamament recommended for topwater baits 448x299

For most topwater baits, nylon monofilament line
is recommended.

“These unique line products enable anglers to address lure presentations better than ever before,” says Black. “Although all are fishing line, each product is made from different material with particular properties. Anglers need to understand the pros and cons of each material in order to make an informed decision.”

The original monofilament everyone is familiar with, is an extruded nylon product. Dale is quick to point out that today’s copolymer line is simply a “kissing cousin” to nylon monofilament. Copolymer line is a formulation of multiple resins to create a new and improved nylon line, with a slicker finish, slightly more abrasion resistance, and a little less memory.

fast sinking fluourocarbon preferred for bottom pumping baits 299x448

For bottom bumping baits, fast-sinking fluorocarbon is preferred by most anglers.

While technically a single strand line, fluorocarbon is made from polyvinylidene fluoride rather than nylon resins. Developed during the 1970s in Japan, fluorocarbon did not rise to prominence as a fishing line in the US until the 1990s.

Superlines are made of gel spun Dyneema® or Spectra® fibers, either braided or fused together creating a line that is far different from nylon-copolymer or fluorocarbon.

Black stresses no single type of line is satisfactory for all lure and live bait presentations. Here is his description of the pros and cons of the three types of line:

Superline – “The popularity of superline rests with very low stretch (about 3%), extremely supple for long casts, no memory, durability, sensitivity and an incredibly high break strength for its diameter. A superline testing 20 pounds has a diameter similar to that of 6 or 8 pound monofilament,” details Black. “The drawbacks are: highly visible in clear water, difficulty with wind knots and backlashes, and impossible to slingshot-loose from snags due to lack of elasticity in the line. Until recently, all superlines would float; however some manufacturers are now weaving the braid around a dense material thereby making it sink. The desirability of sinking or floating depends on the intended presentation.”

superline perfect for frog lures 299x448

Superline (braid) is the perfect line for fishing floating frog lures in vegetation.

Fluorocarbon – “Fluorocarbon, on the other hand, is very dense so it sinks quickly and is virtually invisible in water because its refractive index is close to that of water,” continues Black. “Fluorocarbon is more sensitive than nylon resin lines, but less sensitive than superlines. Many first time users of fluorocarbon encounter line management problems because fluorocarbon is stiffer than monofilament – if a spinning reel spool is filled too close to the lip, fluorocarbon will jump off creating line tangles.”

Nylon monofilament and copolymer – “Nylon monofilament and copolymer lines have the greatest amount of stretch and the least amount of sensitivity. But nylon line is regarded as “angler friendly” compared to the handling properties of fluorocarbon and superline. Nylon based lines sink slowly compared to quick-sink fluorocarbon. The elasticity of nylon monofilament and copolymer lines can be viewed as negative or positive depending on the intended use. If you are employing a crankbait, you may desire that delay in a hookset with nylon line, to allow a fish to take the bait better.”

Ya Got to Know When To Use ‘Em

“In certain presentations there is a clear choice as to which fishing line to use. In other situations, it may not be as clear,” says Black. “To compensate for the high visibility of a superline, the trend is to tie a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader of three to six feet on the end of the superline,  and attaching the bait to the leader.”

To make your choice easy, here’s a handy reference chart linking types of presentation with the type of line that will be effective:

Presentation Suggested Line
Most Topwater Baits Monofilament/copolymer, or fine diameter superline with leader.
Weedless Frog Baits Superlines float and slice through vegetation when fish is hooked; vegetation camouflages the highly visible superline. No leader.
Buzzbaits Superlines enable long cast with no-stretch power when setting hooks; no leader used.
Flipping/pitching Flexibility in choice; some anglers like copolymer or fluorocarbon when flipping wood cover, but prefer a superline without leader for fishing strictly vegetation.
Drop-shot, jigs, worms For lure presentations which involve bottom-bumping, slack-line presentations, fluorocarbon is the hands down favorite because the line sinks quickly and is sensitive. But there is a trend to using a sinking superline with fluorocarbon leader in many of these presentations; getting unsnagged is a problem due to lack of stretch in superlines.
Dead-drift soft plastic Superline with monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.
Crankbaits/spinnerbaits Because successful hook-ups with constant tension motion baits require some delay in the hookset, the stretch of monofilament/copolymer is a big advantage.
Suspending jerkbait Copolymer, or superline with leader.
Live bait Personal choice based on the cover or depth you are fishing, keeping in mind that a fluorocarbon leader is invisible under water.

*The author, Darl Black, is not related to Dale Black of Black Knight Industries, and has nothing to gain from mentioning him in this article.


Darl Black

About Darl Black

A lifelong freshwater angler and veteran writer and photographer, Darl tackles a wide variety of fishing related stories for print publications and websites. Of all fishing, angling for smallmouth bass is his favorite pastime. He may be reached for assignment at

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A Fresh Fish Fry You’ve Got To Try

By Tracy L. Schmidt

Once you try this panfish recipe,
you might want to go fishing every day!

Simple ingredients needed to make a delicious fish recipe

A few simple ingredients are all you need to make great fish. (Photo: Tracy Schmidt)

My family likes to eat fish on a regular basis, so we love catching crappies in the spring and early summer. These delicious fish love to hide around areas with structure, and it takes the right touch to get them hooked. They may take a little effort to catch, but they sure do taste great. Bluegills also work perfectly for this recipe, although it takes more of them to feed the family.

The real crunch in this dish comes from the almond topping. The basic flour breading gets crispy and flaky but the almonds really add something special. We like to eat our fish with homemade coleslaw and rye bread, or with a baked potato and salad on the side. I like to use sea salt with this recipe rather than table salt but either one can be used.

Crappies to be used for this almond topped panfish recipe

A few large crappies help turn a meal into a feast. (Photo: Tracy Schmidt)


Peanut oil for frying
Sea salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
Pan fish fillets, skinned
1 cup flour
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped finely
1 teaspoon dried parsley

Almonds are key to get a great crunch out of this crappie and bluegill recipe

Coat the almonds with melted butter and top the fish fillets. (Photo: Tracy Schmidt)


Heat oil in a large heavy pan until 365°F. Warm oven to 200°F and line a baking sheet with paper towels to keep fried fish warm between batches.  Crack the eggs into a shallow bowl and beat them with a fork. Then add the milk and mix together.

Pat the fish dry and season them with sea salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow baking pan. Dip one fillet at a time in the egg mixture then dredge in the flour. Repeat dipping and dredging so each piece of fish is coated twice.

Almond topped panfish with homemade coleslaw

We love to eat our fish with homemade coleslaw. (Photo: Tracy Schmidt)

Deep fry the fillets until they are crispy and brown for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer each batch to the baking sheet to keep warm until you are finished frying the rest of the fillets.

When the fillets are done, melt the butter in a small pan. Add the almonds and coat them with the butter. When ready to serve, spoon almond topping onto fillets.

Serving suggestion:

This is a little different than the standard Friday night fish fry meal. I serve this fish with fresh lemon wedges, twice-baked potatoes and steamed asparagus when it’s in season.

A mixed batch of fried fish

If you look at the piece of fish at bottom right and then at bottom left, you may see the difference in texture between the coarseness of cornmeal (left) and the flaky texture from using just flour (right). (Photo: Tracy Schmidt)

Nothing beats sitting down to a nice plate of fish and your favorite beverage, to relive special moments talking about favorite fishing spots, lures and family legends.

About Tracy L. Schmidt:

Tracy Schmidt headhsotTracy L. Schmidt is a certified master food preservation specialist and the author of the book “Venison Wisdom.” Each of her recipes is tested and perfected. She is married to Daniel Schmidt, editor in chief of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine and host of “Deer & Deer Hunting TV” on NBC Sports. Tracy enjoys the versatility of Havalon Knives in both the kitchen and the field.

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Secrets to Catching Trout in Cold Water

By Mike Bleech

When Snow Melt, Chills the Creeks. 

stream may have snow in headwaters 448x298

In early spring, this small stream may still have snow in its headwaters. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

It was the kind of adventure that is best done when you are a kid. Pop-up camper trailers were a new thing, and I had never seen one before I camped in one with three old-timers. One guy worked for the gas company that owned the land where we would fish, and he had a key. That meant other trout anglers would have to get up early and walk an hour to get to fish, where we could just wake up and start fishing.

That was also a time when weather forecasts were less reliable than they are now, so it came as a complete surprise when we woke up on the opening day of trout season greeted by 10 inches of heavy snow. The air temperature was chilly at daybreak, but it rose while we fished, and the frigid snow melt run-off quickly filled the small creek. Fishing was terrible. The first few hours passed and I never caught a single trout, nor did anyone else I talked with, until late in the morning.

salted minnow attractive trout meal 448x298

A salted minnow might not look very appealing to a human, but to brook trout they are a very attractive meal, and deadly in cold water. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

#1 – One of My First
Fishing Lessons
To this day, I’m thankful for this good fishing lesson… I watched one fisherman catch several trout in short order. Fortunately, he was kind enough to share his secret with a kid. He showed me how to string salted minnows on a wire harness with a split, double hook. After demonstrating the rigging, he gave me a harness and several minnows. By the time I returned to camp for lunch I was proudly carrying a limit of trout. Three old-timers were pleasantly surprised to see that the kid had out-fished them.

The stream we fished that long-ago day had been stocked with brook, brown, and rainbow trout. All the trout I caught, and all that were caught by the gentleman who shared his secret with me, were brookies. The obvious lesson in this is that minnows are excellent bait for brook trout in frigid water, a truth I have confirmed many times since.

#2 – Remember, Trout are Cold Water Fish
Cold water conditions lower the spirits of many trout anglers who assume trout will not hit in cold water. This makes absolutely no sense because trout are classed as cold water fish and will strike readily under ice. However, trout do behave differently in frigid water than they do in warmer water. Baits or lures should be presented slowly and close to the bottom. That gives trout plenty of time to examine your offering, to see it and to smell it. It makes sense to add some sort of bait, or scent, to lures.

never let cold water hinder fishing 448x298

If the water is warm enough to flow, it is warm enough for brook trout to be active. Never let cold water be your reason for not fishing. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

#3 – Use a Fat, Slow,
Spinner Blade
One time-tested cold water lure/bait combo is a spinner tipped with a maggot. Avoid the temptation to use a slender willow leaf spinner blade – although it’s easier to keep spinners of this type deep. Instead, use a spinner with a Colorado blade. The nearly round Colorado blade spins at a much slower speed than the willow leaf style, making it perfect for cold water presentation.

With this special presentation, the spinner is not actually retrieved, but instead it is held steady in the current where the spinning blade catches the eyes of trout, and the maggot tells its acute sense of smell that this is something good to eat. Manipulating the rod tip will move the lure back and forth across the stream, a very accurate presentation

This presentation can be used all through trout season for getting your offering into tight places where there is no room to cast. Slowly let out line, which makes the lure slip downstream into those tight spots. You will be fishing in places where no one else can.

#4 – Go for Brightness in Cold Water
Brighter treble hook dressing is generally best in cold water. One of my long-time favorite spinners has a gold, Colorado blade and bright orange or yellow dressing on the hook.

Many things we encounter while fishing are difficult to explain. The explanations anglers try to come up with are often wrong, which does nothing but cause problems. Simply accepting things as you learn, with the optimistic faith of a child, will not lead you astray. The preference trout have for bright or shiny colors when the water is cold fits this line of thinking is. The “why” matters not in the least. What matters is that you will catch trout when few others do. When you do, try to find a kid – and share your secret with him.


About Mike Bleech

mike-bleech-outdoor-writerMike Bleech has been a full-time freelance writer/photographer since 1980 with more than 5,000 articles published in more than 100 publications. He is the outdoors columnist for the Erie Times-News and the Warren Times Observer. Over the years he has become an expert at hunting the Allegheny National Forest and other public lands, and an accomplished trout fisherman.


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Winter Hunting Essentials

By Tom Claycomb III

Essentials for the perfect winter hunt.

As kids, Richard Jaco and I would go camping nearly every weekend. While doing it we engaged in lots of diversions. We’d trap all night or ride around with the game warden hunting deer poachers – then we’d duck hunt at day break. It was great fun except that we didn’t have a tent and my lightweight sleeping bag had a broken zipper.


A 4-wheeler is not an essential, but a reliable one can get you to the top of the mountain with less stress and strain, so you can save your energy for hunting, and hunt longer in the evening
before returning to camp.

Those early camping trips probably didn’t teach me much that would help me years later when, on my first bear hunt in Colorado at about 9,500 feet, we had to clear out a foot and a half of snow to set up our tent. Jerome Lawler looked over and asked me where my sleeping pad was. I didn’t even know they made such a thing.

Since those days I’ve learned a lot and have added sleeping pads and more to my camping arsenal. If you’re camping in extreme winter conditions, certain items are must-haves. I don’t know if you can even rate them – they’re all equally important.

In extreme winter camping conditions such as you’ll encounter while elk hunting you have to get a good night sleep to be able to hunt hard. It is the most physical activity that I do all year.


A quality tent, pitched in the right place, can shelter you
from Mother Nature’s worst.

It means getting up well before daylight to eat, and then jumping on a horse, 4-wheeler or hiking to the top of a mountain. It means hiking in mountains all day and stumbling back into camp well after dark. It means slamming down dinner and trying to get some quick shuteye, only to wake up early and do it all again. It’s imperative to get a good night’s sleep. Below are four items that can help you do that:

  1. A good tent – Don’t buy one of the newer tents that has mesh all the way down the side. This was done to cut cost. You only want a little mesh at the top to allow for air flow. Also look for one with a rain cover that comes down to ground level. Otherwise snow flurries will whip under it and into your tent.
  2. A good sleeping bag – Get one rated for -20° F, like the Alps Mountaineering Crescent Lake model. Many manufacturers fib on the ratings, so always get one with a lower temp rating than you think you’ll need. Most people favor mummy bags to preserve body heat. A fleece liner will fill in the dead spots, prevent heat from escaping, and increase the heat rating.
  3. A good sleeping pad – A sleeping pad will protect you from the freezing ground. I love using cots but in cold weather they allow the cold to sweep in from the bottom. Another valuable function that pads provide is they soften the hard ground. I live in the Rocky Mountains. In case you wonder why they’re called “Rocky,” it’s because they’re made up of rocks. Without a good sleeping pad, that prevents a good night’s sleep.
  4. A tent heater – If you’re sleeping in a sheepherder’s tent (a type of wall tent) then you might be lucky enough to have a wood stove. If not, then there’s nothing like a tent heater. I bought a Coleman tent heater 23 years ago and love it. It puts out 5,000 BTUs. Don’t sleep with it burning or it will asphyxiate you, but I love to fire it up at bed time to heat up the tent so I can strip down, put on my long handles without freezing, and hit the bag warm. Then when I wake up in the morning I sleepily reach out and fire it up. By the time I stumble out of my bag the tent’s warm. If you’re the yuppie type who can’t get along without a bagel, you may try what my buddy Mike Trautner does – he puts his bagel on the heat guard the night before. When he crawls out the bagel’s warm and ready for him to spread on some cream cheese.

the-right-gear-text-314x180With the above items (the bagel’s not an essential) you should be able to sneak in a good night’s sleep even when the elements are trying to punish you. One last little trick that helps insure a good night’s sleep is to lay a tarp on the tent floor under your sleeping bag and clothes. Curl a ridge along one edge or in the corner, and place wet clothes and boots there to separate them from everything else. That way when the snow melts you will still have a dry tent.

Being outdoors in the winter can be tough duty but it doesn’t mean your only two choices are between dying and being miserable! Be prepared with these four essentials and it will be more fun – plus you’ll be able to hunt harder after a good night’s sleep.


tom claycomb image 288x300About Tom Claycomb III

Tom lives in Idaho writes outdoor articles for various newspapers, magazines & websites. If it’s something outdoors, he probably likes it. You can read some more of his writings at:,, and



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