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Crappie Fishing Tips


About Crappies

Crappies (pronounced krop’-i) are the king of the panfish. Both black crappies and white crappies can grow quite large (state records: black crappie – 4 pounds 1 ounce; white crappie – 4 pounds 8 ounces), but most crappies average a pound or even less. A two-pounder is bragging size. Crappies provide fun and relaxed fishing on light tackle and are excellent eating.

Black crappies are the most widespread of the two types and do the best in clearer water. Adult crappies are fish eaters, so they need an abundant supply of forage, like shad, to do well. Surprising to some, crappies also need a good deal of fishing pressure, otherwise they overpopulate their lake and all are stunted. So enjoy catching and eating crappies, it’s good for the fish and good for the angler.

Best Crappie Fishing Tips

The key to successful crappie fishing is finding them. These are school fish that cluster in different parts of a lake depending on a season, water temperature, reproductive cycles, underwater contours, etc.

Crappies are easiest to find and catch when they move into shallow water to spawn. This happens when the water temperature reaches about 60-65F. March, April, and May are the likely months. These fish like heavy cover to accompany the shallow water. Look for water 3-8 feet deep with sunken trees, tule beds, cattails, lily pads and undercut rocky banks. This is much like the cover used by largemouth bass. Shore anglers do well in spring, as the fish move in close.

In summer and winter crappies are harder to find, so stringers get skimpier or are empty. But they are still there and eating. Here are some ways to find them. Look in deeper water. They’re usually down in 10-20 foot water or deeper. Crappies like underwater islands and stream beds, ledges, etc.

Often they are in deeper water just adjacent to where they where in the spring. One good way to find them is to troll a a jig or minnow across likely spots with lines of various depths. Mark the spot and depth when you get a hit. Troll slowly with oars or electric motor, or drift. Electronic fish finders will also do the job.

In the fall, crappies are not quite as deep as in the summer (8-16 feet). And early and late in the day, crappies, like bass, move into shallower water to feed. So even in the summer, the first angler on the lake, or the last to call it a day, may fill a stringer with crappies in shallow water.

Jig Fishing for Crappies

This is by far the most popular method of taking crappies all year long. A word of caution before getting into the technique of this approach: It’s easy to spook schools of crappies (especially in shallow water), so fish quietly and keep a low profile. And don’t, for example slide an anchor or tackle box along the bottom of your boat. Approach likely spots slowly and carefully.

Crappie jigs, or mini jigs, are in the 1/32 to 1/8 ounce size range. Most are little lead-head jigs with a bright colored feather covering the hook end. Eyes are often painted on the head end. Some like Sassy Shad Jigs have rubber bodies that imitate swimming shad.

Tie these jigs directly on about a 4, or even a 2 pound test line. Light line gives the jig better action. Short, accurate casts are called for from a boat or shore. But since you’ll be casting into cover, expect snags and expect to lose some jigs. Allow the jig to sink to sink to the desired depth, and then retrieve either smoothly and slowly, or impart a twitching action with the rod tip.

A small, clear casting bobber can be added up the line from the jig if it’s too light to cast the desired distance. The bobber will also prevent the jig from going down deeper than is set below the bobber. Boat anglers, when directly over a school of crappie, can drop a jig straight down and then twitch it around.

Crappie jigs come in many colors. Here are some guidelines. Light colors, like white, work well on clear days in clear water. Yellow is better on overcast days and at dawn and dusk. In off-colored water try dark colors like brown and blacks. Experiment with different styles and colors. These jigs are inexpensive. Sometimes color doesn’t even seem to matter.

Best Crappie Baits

Crappies love minnows, so if you prefer live minnow fishing, this is the way to go. Bait can be fished from shore, dock or boat. Most anglers use a bobber. Minnows are best hooked up through both lips.

Most experts agree that a slight movement of your bait is desirable. Flick the rod tip frequently to move your bait. Another basic principle is to change depths if the action is slow.

Frequently, larger crappies are deeper down than most bobber anglers suspect. These anglers use a sliding bobber rig to get their bait deeper while still being able to cast and retrieve the crappie to back near the rod tip. The main line slides through the slip bobber.

This rig can be reeled in all the way until the bobber is up against the swivel. That’s because the rubber band bobber-stop is small enough to pass smoothly through the rod line guides. After casting out, the sinker will pull the rig through the bobber until the bobber stop gets to the bobber. By changing the location of the bobber stop on the line, you can change dishing depth.

Tackle and Equipment

Just about any light freshwater tackle will do such as light spinning, spin casting, bamboo poles and long fly rods. Actually, the lighter the tackle the better, since it will help cast out the light jigs and baits. Ultralight spinning tackle is popular. The only other thing you’ll need is a a stringer or a collapsible fish basket.

Where to Fish for Crappies

Crappies are found in abundant supply in many Northern California lakes. Some of the lakes that are known for fine crappie fishing are Clear Lake, Camanche, Berryessa and Black Butte. Back sloughs and ditches in the Delta are also good. See the Freshwater Fishing posts for this.

Cleaning and Cooking

Many people clean crappie in the traditional way. Scale them by rubbing a knife or scaling tool from the tail of the fish to the head. Cut open the belly and remove the guts. Finally, cut off the head. Rinse them off and they’re ready for the pan.

An alternative for good-sized fish is to fillet them. This yields a little less meat, but filleting eliminates skin and bone in the cooked fish. See instructions on filleting in the Fish Cleaning category.

Sauteing the whole fish or individual fillets is most popular. Dip them into sifted flour and sprinkle with salt, pepper, parsley and lemon flakes (if desired). Melt butter in a hot skillet, toss in the fish and turn until golden brown. Another delicious method is to batter and deep fry pieces cut from fillets.

How to Catch Catfish


About Catfish

Catfish are widespread and abundant in Northern California lakes, rivers, sloughs, canals and farm ponds. Despite their unappetizing appearance ans somewhat negative image, catfish are very good eating. (Catfish are not as difficult to clean as one might suspect, either.)

The delicious meals provided by catfish are attested to by the existence of hundreds of catfish farms, primarily in the Southeastern U.S. where these fish are raised and sold to restaurants and food stores. They get large too. California state records for blue and channel catfish are in the 50-60 pound range.

How to Catch Catfish – Best Fishing Techniques

Catfishing means still fishing. And catfish means warm weather fishing since these critters like warm water and are most active when lakes, ponds and rivers warm up in the late spring, summer and early fall. Boats are not needed for catfishing.

Simply find a spot on shore where you have enough room to cast out your weighted rig. Let it sink to the bottom. Snug up the line. And wait for the prowling whiskerfish to find your offering. A bank, dock or pier where you can sit on a comfortable chair makes things perfect.

The best catfishing and the largest catfish (they can weigh 5, 10, 20 pounds or more) are often caught after dark. From dark to midnight and the several hours before sunup are particularly good. But many catfish, including big ones, are caught on lazy summer afternoons.

Bring several baits along. If one doesn’t produce, try something else. Often, this single maneuver can make all the difference.

Tackle and Equipment

Any rod and reel combination that can cast out a rig with a 1/2-6 oz. sinker will do just fine. These include specialized bass fishing tackle, light to medium spinning equipment and surf casting equipment.

In some situations, you’ll probably be better off with a longer rod (7-8 feet), so longer casts are possible. Use monofilament line, at least 10 pound test. But heavier line such as 15-20 pound test is no problem.

Best Catfish Bait and Rigging

Catfish will eat almost anything, and they feed by both sight and smell. Their smell sensors are on their whiskers. In fact, some catfish bait are often referred to as stink baits because, at times, it seems that catfish prefer smelly offerings such as beef liver, coagulated blood, chicken entrails, etc.

In Northern California some of the most successful baits are less repulsive. These include fresh clams (keep them on ice, pry them open with a knife, thread hook through hard outer edges), nightcrawlers, anchovies, red worms, sardine chunks and chicken livers.

A popular alternative to the conventional catfish rig is the sliding sinker rig. (for a specific description, please see Striped Bass section). Some anglers use a treble hook which helps hold on the bait. Use enough weight to get the casting distance you want and to hold the rig on the bottom if there is a current. Some anglers prefer a dipsey sinker. It has a flat metal rim around the edge which makes it flutter up on a quick retrieve, so it’s less likely to get caught in rock crevices and roots.

Where to Fish for Catfish

Some of the best spots are in the lakes and reservoirs. The Delta and Sacramento Valley rivers are also very good. (Please see the Fresh Water Fishing, Delta Fishing and Central Valley River posts.)

Night fishing is legal in many waters. In the Bay Area some of the best after dark catfish action occurs at Parkway, Chabot, Shadow Cliffs, Del Valle and San Pablo. Check the hours on these waters. Clear Lake, Berryessa, the Delta, Pine Flat, Don Pedro and New Melones can be fished all night. Sacramento area anglers can pursue big whiskerfish at night at Black Butte, East Park, Camp Far West, Bullards Bar, Shasta, and foothill farm ponds.

Cleaning and Cooking

The first step in catfish cleaning is skin removal. To skin a catfish, cut through the skin all around the fish just below the gill cover. Then using a pliers, pull the skin down the fish while holding the fish’s gills. Be careful not to be poked by the sharp pectoral and dorsal fin spines.

Some people nip these off with wire cutters. For larger fish it is suggested that the fish be nailed (through the head) to a tree trunk or fence post using an adequately sized spike. The skinned catfish can then be filleted or steaked. (Please see Fish Cleaning Section for more details). Catfish skin is flaky, mild and has a moist texture. It is good sauteed, fried or poached.

How to Catch Carp and Cook them

How to Catch Carp
(Post last updated: April 13, 2015)
What You Will Learn In This Article:
  • About Carp
  • How to Catch Carp
  • Keeping and Cooking

How to Catch Carp

About Carp

It seems that a fellow named Tulius Poppe of Sonoma, California managed to import about half a dozen small carp from Germany in 1872. Carp, if nothing else, are survivors. And the Sonoma carp did survive and reproduce. Soon offspring were sold to farms throughout California. By the 1890’s, carp had settled in all over the United States.

Other interesting facts about carp: They can survive in the murkiest water, so murky that light can’t penetrate; water temperatures above 100F don’t phase them; and life spans reach 50 years. Carp are considered a great game fish in Europe.

Anglers practicing catch and release use highly sophisticated tackle to take 20 and 30 pounders. By the way, goldfish, the ones in the aquarium and ponds, are members of the carp family.

How to Catch Carp

Carp are all over the place in Northern California – lakes, sloughs, rivers, and farm ponds. They are the mainstay of bow fishermen at places like Clear Lake. The Delta is another carp haunt as the large North California reservoirs.

They can provide great sport for those who enjoy big fish on light tackle. Doughball baits are probably the most popular. Carp are also fond of molasses-coated popcorn.

Rigging is simple. You can use a catfish rig, or a sliding sinker rig like that used for striped bass or trout. A #3 hook is about right. For calm, shallow waters little or no weight is needed.

Any type of light, freshwater tackle will do. In the fall, when waters reach their warmest temperature, carp are active and fishing is good.

Keeping and Cooking

There is an excess of carp; therefore; anglers should keep them when caught. That’s because carp eat game fish spawn. But cooking carp so that they are enjoyable to eat is a challenge to most people. Anglers with Asian or European cooking prowess can turn carp into a delicacy.

These experts say that the flaky, white, mild-flavored flesh is ideal for frying, baking in a sauce or braising.

Last Updated: January 18, 2015

How to Catch Bluegill and Redear Sunfish


About BlueGills

Bluegills are the most abundant panfish in California waters. They’re virtually in all warm water lakes in Northern California. They were introduced into California in 1908 from Illinois. These fish are fun to catch and are very enjoyable eating. An in many locations they are abundant, so there is no need to feel guilty about taken them.

They reproduce with great success, and heavy populations can crowd out large sport fish and stunt bluegills growth. Bluegill angling is easy and relaxing fishing. And it is especially enjoyable for youngsters. Give them a rod and reel, a can of worms and a little dock, and they’re set for hours of fun and adventure.

About Redear Sunfish

Redear sunfish are California’s bigger and better, modern day bluegill. When nature shaped the landscape of California, warm water lake and stream habitats, and the fishes occupied the, were limited. Only the Sacramento perch, tule perch and a number of minnow and sucker species were found in warmer sections of streams and the few permanent lakes that existed prior to 1870.

But during the decades that followed, large scale reservoir construction greatly expanded warm water lake habitat. Many species (black bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill) were stocked and flourished in these artificial, warm water lakes.

Redear sunfish are native to waters in the southern United States, Rio Grande and Mississippi River. But they were observed in the lower Colorado River, in Southern California, in 1940. They’ve since been stocked in Northern California lakes and reservoirs because they outperform the old standby bluegill.

While not as plentiful as bluegills, which they resemble and with which they often hybridize, redear are highly regarded by Northern California anglers because they usually grow faster and larger than bluegills. The listed California record redear is 3 pounds 7 ounces.

Fish in the 1/2 to 3/4 pound range are not uncommon. They can be distinguished from other panfish by their bright orange-red margin on the tip of each gill cover, a more slender body than the bluegill, and a typical greenish color blending to pale yellow on the lower body and abdomen.

How to Catch Bluegill and Redear Sunfish / Best Techniques

Fishing habitat and techniques for bluegill and redear sunfish are much alike. If your catching giant bluegill, they’re probably redear! So in the remainder of this post, the word bluegill will be used to refer to both bluegill and redear, except where a distinction is made for redear sunfish.

The easiest time to find bluegills is when they spawn in shallow water in the spring (March-May). They’ll be in 4-6 feet of water over sand or gravel bottoms. Be careful not to spook them if the water is clear. In summer bluegills behave like bass, moving to submerged channels, under docks, over bars, to weed beds or drop-offs.

It’s at these times that it may be necessary to fish 10-20 feet down. A drifting, rowed or trolled boat with baits suspended at various depths can often find them. Bluegills are always in schools, so when you find one, you’ve found a bunch. Any type of fishing tackle (spinning, spin casting, bait casting, cane pole) is fine.

Bait Fishing

This is probably the most popular approach, especially for kids. Some of the best baits are red worms, meal worms, crickets, chunks of nightcrawlers and small grasshoppers. Commercial dough-type baits also work. A bobber is most often used to keep the bait off the bottom and to signal a bite. From shore you can use a bobber rig.

From a boat or dock you can use the same bobber rig or take the bobber off and fish straight below the pole or rod tip.

Still fishing, or bait fishing for bluegills, might be somewhat of a misnomer. Most experts agree that a slight movement of your bait is desirable. With any rig, flick the rod tip frequently to move your bait. Another principle is to change depths if action is slow. Frequently, large bluegills are down deeper than most bobber anglers suspect.

Fly Fishing and Casting Bobbers

Fly casting for bluegills is enjoyable and productive. A medium action, 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 foot rod is suggested, but any will do. A wide variety of offerings will produce depending on the lake, the time of the year and the time of day:

  • Panfish poppers – swim them slowly along in a stop-and-go fashion
  • Rubber or plastic-legged spiders
  • Mosquitoes, Ants, Wooly Worms, Black Gnats (#10,12)
  • Bucktail streamers (size 8 )
  • Nymphs (black and white, white, brown, etc.)
  • Indiana spinners (2 blades, #8 hook)

A casting bobber is a small bobber, usually made of clear plastic, that is attached to monofilament line. Because of its weight, (some allow you to let in water to make it even heavier) it allows anglers to cast poppers, flies, etc., using spinning, spin casting or bait casting equipment. So you can enjoy “fly fishing” without having to use a fly rod and reel.

Where to Fish

Bluegills can be found in just about any waters holding bass or other warm water species. Bullards Bar is known for its large bluegill. Clear Lake is a good place for bank anglers because of abundant docks and brush. Top producers for redear sunfish are Indian Valley, Lake Sonoma, Amador, Stony Gorge, East Park, Folsom, Black Butte, Pardee, Oroville and Collins.

Cleaning and Cooking

Since bluegills are small most people clean them in the traditional way. Scale them by rubbing a knife or scaling tool from the tail of the fish towards the head. Next, cut open the belly, starting from the anus, and remove the guts. Finally, cut off the head. Rinse them off and they’re ready for the pan.

An alternative is to fillet them, especially for redear sunfish. This yields small fillets and eliminates skin and bones in the cooked fish. See instructions on filleting in the Fish Cleaning Section. Sauteing the whole fish or individual fillets is most popular. See the crappie section for an excellent recipe.

Batray and Everything About them

Batrays and Everything About them

Fishing for Batrays

Fishing for batrays is an overlooked sport fishing challenge that will put even the toughest saltwater fishing tackle to the test. Batray is big and strong. It’s not unusual to hook into 60 to 100 pound fish. And their powerful wings, actually fins, give them an inordinate amount of pull or leverage.

Batray is often found in the open oceans at depths to 150 feet, but most anglers prefer to pursue them in shallower waters like San Fransisco Bay, Humboldt Bay and Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing. In bays and sloughs they feed heavily on clams, oysters, shrimp and crabs.

Batrays are not considered good eating, which in some respects is probably an advantage. Why bring these flapping, angry guys into the boat if you don’t have to? If your skilled and lucky enough to win the fight with a big ray, just release it at the side of the boat.

The largest recorded catch in California weighed in at a whopping 181 pounds and measured 4 feet 9 inches across.

Fishing Techniques to Catch Batrays 

During most of the year, batray are scattered. But in early summer, often in May, they congregate to spawn. then larger numbers congregate, usually at high tide along shorelines. Boat boat and shore anglers have a shot at them. Bait fished right on the shallow bottom is the method of choice.

Fish the incoming water up to high tide. Since Batray are nocturnal feeders, tides corresponding with dusk or dawn, or even dark if local regulations permit, are probably the best.

Hooking rays in water 2 to 4 feet deep is common. Cast your baited rig out as far as from the boat or shore as possible, then set a taut line with a loose or free drag and with the reel clicker on. A screaming clicker means it’s time to set the hook on the ray as it flees towards deeper water. Often this run will strip a reel bare and smoke the drag.

Tackle, Bait and Rigging

Medium to heavy saltwater tackle is in order. Equipment used for open ocean rockfishing or cannonball-type salmon trolling will work just fine. See the Rockfish and Salmon post for specifics. You’ll need at least 20 pound monofilament and 5/0 hooks. Flatten the barb on the hook to make releasing the batray easier. By the way, if you can’t easily remove the hook, just cut the leader to let these bug rascals go. The hooks will dissolve.

Slide the sinker up the line and then tie on a snap swivel to which you can attack a snelled hook. A very effective bait is frozen whole squid. Boxes are sold at most grocery stores. Some anglers use more exotic bait like chicken parts.

When and Where to Fish

In San Fransisco Bay, the far south end is probably the best bet. Elkhorn Slough, a Monterey Bay estuary at Moss Landing, is a big batray hangout. A popular ray and shark tournament is held there each year. Humboldt Bay also has an abundance of Batrays.

Peak fishing occurs in early summer during spawning on tidal flats. To reiterate: do release these cow-eyed giants so they can continue to cruise the bottoms and provide fishing pleasure to future anglers.