SHARPTOWN -- No angler can argue that minnows are not the best bait for crappies. But, sometimes it's more fun to catch them with artificials. At least it's different -- and the results can mean bigger calicos. Or, at least, fewer smaller ones.
Now that crocuses are in bloom and the first of the robins have arrived, crappies have two things on their mind; spawning and eating -- and not necessarily in that order.
Time was when in mid-March everyone headed to the nearby Choptank for spring crappies, but now the Nanticoke is the tidal kingpin for these scrappy panfish, some of which also are biting in the reservoirs of the Baltimore area.
Washington brothers Roy and Bob Brown and I teamed up at an Eastern Shore tackle shop where we discovered it was sold out of minnows. But that didn't deter us, thanks to a lesson taught me nearly 20 years ago by former Colts lineman Billy Ray Smith, now living in Arkansas where he claims all crappies are big.
On that occasion on the Choptank I used minnows fished below bobbers, and Smith used small spinnerbaits. That was back in the days when spinnerbaits were seldom seen hereabouts, but it turned out the larger crappies wanted them.
I caught two to one over Smith, but his total catch outweighed mine easily. And he enjoyed more sport. That's what bigger fish are all about.
The Browns and I launched at the public Broad Creek ramp off Route 24 in Laurel, Del., and headed east to waters here. My bait choice was tiny spinnerbaits of the type used for smallmouth bass. The Browns turned to small feathered jigs, which they fished on the bottom on a drop-line below a bobber.
They cast, allowed one-eighth ounce jigs to settle, then lightly twitched the rod tip. Bang, crappies wanted the white lures.
The best action was in deeper holes of backwaters where the tidal current was slow. There were more and bigger crappies near stumps, brush and other obstructions. That's where crappies hang out.
Mixed in were a few yellow and white perch, also a couple small largemouth bass, and my spinnerbait also lured two pickerel of about 15 inches. In all, we took 43 plump crappies, among them four of better than 12 inches that wanted my cast and retrieved spinnerbait smack on the bottom and only fast enough to make '' the blade turn.
The jigs caught more, but my spinnerbait lured larger ones. I lost five lures to hangs -- the penalty for dragging bottom.
Another spot for crappies now is the Blackwater near Cambridge, though the recent cold snap has temporarily slowed action. It will pick up again with a few warm days, and in the meantime, anglers there will settle for big white perch.
Yesterday, two anglers walked into Tommy's Tackle Shop in Cambridge with a dozen white perch of more than 12 inches, two of which weighed 1 pound 5 ounces. That's bass size.
The Chicamacomico and Marshyhope also have white perch and crappies; use minnows, which incidentally are preferred near the bridges at Loch Raven. And Roy Wilkerson took a 14 3/4 -inch crappie on a large bull minnow he was still-fishing for bass on the Pocomoke near Shad Landing.