Crappie in the brush

Man-made havens are magnets for spring slabs and choice spots for eager anglers

The Kansas City StarMay 21, 2009 

— Terry Blankenship looked a bit out of place on a recent fishing trip.

Everyone else in the Glaize arm of Lake of the Ozarks was fishing the shallows, a place where spawning crappies are traditionally found in late April.

So why did Blankenship have his boat practically in the middle of a cove, far from the rest of the crowd?

"I've had people come out here with me and wonder what in the world I'm doing when I stop out here," Blankenship said with a laugh. "They'll say, 'You can't know much about crappie fishing if you're fishing out here in the middle of the lake at this time of the year.'

"But I can usually change their mind."

During a recent trip, Blankenship stopped his boat in 12 feet of water and began fishing a brush pile he had sunk.

He cast out a plastic jig, let it sink and slowly began retrieving it over the top of the cover. A second later, his line jumped and he set the hook.

Then he pulled a three-quarter-pound crappie to the surface, the first of many nice-sized fish he would catch.

"I have put out probably 700 brush piles in this lake," he said. "I put them in a variety of depths.

"These brush piles right off spawning banks are good at this time of the year. The male crappies spend a lot of time on the banks right now, preparing the nests. But the females hang out deeper, waiting for the right time to come in.

"When you have cover out here, they'll stage here. And that's where your bigger fish will come from."

Not only that, Blankenship said, but that cover will provide a sanctuary for the crappies once a cold front moves through and backs them off the banks.

"The best thing about it is that I have my own little world out here," said Blankenship, 54, who lives in Osage Beach, Mo. "The key is putting that brush in places where others won't have an easy time finding it.

"We could catch fish off the banks right now, but I'd rather be out here where I have a chance of getting a bigger fish. I don't like fishing used water. I'd rather have my own little spot out here."

Blankenship proved that his strategy works. He and two partners -- Jim Divincen and I -- caught and released 80 crappies in a half-day of fishing. And many were the keepers that lure hundreds of fishermen to Lake of the Ozarks at this time of the year.

Blankenship, who is widely considered one of the best crappie fishermen on the lake, used his typical tactics to catch those fish.

He fished small brush piles he had put out instead of the large bundles that some fishermen sink. "The big ones are too easy for other fishermen to find," he said.

He used the GPS on his boat to guide him to the cover he had sunk.

He used the countdown system when he cast out, letting his jig sink to the point where he could skim it over the top of the brush.

He relied on high-visibility line so that he could detect subtle strikes. "A lot of times, I won't even feel the strike," he said. "I'll just see my line jump."

Those methods annually produce for Blankenship. He is one of the lake's most successful tournament fishermen, and he has caught five 2-pound crappies already this spring.

He predicts there will be more good fishing before the spawn ends.

Because of the cool weather this spring, the spawn has been delayed.

The fishing had been hot only for the previous 10 days or so. That's why Blankenship was thinking there would still be good fishing into May.

But even when the spawn is over, that doesn't mean the good fishing will end, Blankenship said.

"A lot of people think you can only catch crappies in April, but that's not true," he said. "I'll catch crappies year-round on this lake.

"That's why I have put brush at different depths. I have something to fish, no matter what the season."

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