There are days when you hit the lake with a plan in mind, only to change that plan when things don’t work quite as you hoped. Sometimes, that new plan works out even better.
Darrell and I made our first visit to Island Lake in Orangeville this season with the goal of catching some bass on the frog bite. Topwater bass action is one great way to get an adrenaline fix, and I had yet to get catch anything on my beloved Scum Frogs. Island Lake has often been a cure for that in the past.
However, as we worked along the usual areas, we realized we couldn’t see any bass, much less catch them. The lone bass we saw scurried away at the sight of the boat. Whether it was the heat, a slow recovery from a winter die-off, or poor fishing skills on that particular day, I do not know, but I quickly changed my mindset from one of targeting bass, to one of targeting panfish.
There were sunfish everywhere, so I picked up my ultralight combo and started toss to them. I landed a few and laughed at the fight they put up. If I ever get tired of catching sunfish, I should probably just give up fishing. We drifted by a log that looked to provide good cover and I cast to it. My lure was grabbed immediately, but to my absolute joy, I had caught a crappie, not a sunfish. That was pretty much it.
We have not yet found a lake near home with crappie in it, so I was jonesing for a crappie fix (seriously, I’m addicted to them). The boat drifted along some more and Darrell caught one, but the bites were few and far between.
Darrell was reluctant to give up the search for bass, but once we found a good patch of pondweed, he finally gave up and we started the crappie search in earnest. As is so often the case, these wonderful little fish were suspended in the vegetation, staying out of the sun. The key was to find the right type of veg, sort through the sunfish and rock bass, and get to those schools of black crappie a little further below.
Simple jigs were the perfect lures, with both of us going to our standby Berkley Micro Power Nymphs. These things are seriously awesome for crappie. Once we found the right locations for the day, it was a matter of dropping the jig down, and pulling up a fish. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully describe why I love crappie so much, but I’m sure part of it is that they can be the most frustrating species to fish for. They are either completely off (even when you can find them), or completely on. On this day, they were completely on.
We caught several different sizes of crappie, indicating different year classes – always a welcomed sight. It started out with 20 fish, then 30, but the more we released, the more we caught. We had to have caught some of them twice, because our total count was over 100 crappie between the two us, with another 100 sunfish (pumpkinseed, bluegill, and apparent hybrids) and rock bass.
Catching big fish is great, but some days you just need to catch a whole pile of fish. Crappie usually give me that day. We didn’t catch any true slabs, but we also weren’t refining our technique to look for them. We just enjoyed the bite. As long as we had the right vegetation, the right depth, and the right presentation, we couldn’t keep them off.
It was impossible for the two of us to stop smiling that day. We may have set out to catch bass, but our old friends decided the day should be about them, and we couldn’t have been happier.