By Gary Lewis
We figured it out early. If we were going to turn the grandchildren into lifelong fishermen, we needed to make sure they had success almost every time we fished.
We tell them we don’t get fish every trip. But we make sure they catch fish at least 19 times out of 20 tries (last year we took the kids on 23 trips).
Crappie are good for our numbers.
“Lay the fly on the water. Strip line out. That’s right. Now shake the rod tip. Now we're fly-fishing."
These kids – the 4-year-old grandson and the 6-year-old granddaughter – can cast a fly as well as any kid, but they don’t need to. Not in a canoe, not in a boat. When our craft catches a bit of wind and we began to drift, they can work out the line, get the fly to where the fish are, and keep it there.
And when they’re not casting, they’re not hooking their grandpa.
At Prineville Reservoir a person can catch rainbows, bass, and catfish, but the crappie stack like cordwood across the flats.
Crappie are not easy to find in the high desert. Only a few local reservoirs hold these fish and most anglers chase the trout or bass. But one of my favorite fly rod targets is the crappie, and it was time to expose the kids to this most sporting of the spiny-rays.
When we put the boat in the water, there was a chop at the surface and fish on the depthfinder at 40 feet. But when fish are schooled like that, the feeders are higher in the water column.
We set the indicators at eight feet. The local intel said the fish wanted red and white and pink and white, and we found the patterns in our boxes and knotted them on.
With the wind out of the northwest we would drift at a pretty good clip until the breeze died at sunset.
My wife Merrilee was in charge of Little Smokey, armed with her 2-weight custom rod, and the boy Johnny elected to stay at the back of the boat where he could help run the Mercury with my dad.
Over the years, I’ve noticed Prineville Reservoir fish are less oriented to structure than crappie in other lakes. Where we find them in summer, they are spread across a large flat, bounded by cliffs on the south shore.
We let the breeze blow us past a rocky point and as soon as we were in open water, Johnny’s indicator jabbed underwater.
When the crappie began to put its saucer-sized flanks into the battle, the boy arched the rod and grabbed the reel handle. His grandma netted the fish for him and the first crappie went into the box.
My dad and granddaughter battled to see who could land the most fish. When the float twitched, the six-year-old learned to set the hook fast.
Of course, I had my own numbers to put up. When the indicator went under, I set the hook and pulled the fly out of the crappie's paper mouth.
A gust of wind caught the line and I snagged my granddaughter in the arm of her new sweater. She didn’t tell me I needed to be more careful until the second time I hooked her.
Crappie eat all sorts of things from copepods to chironimidae, but they are programmed to chase small fish. Any time crappie are on the menu, tie on a heavy fly imitative of a small baitfish. Use small silvery minnow imitations, chartreuse Woolly Buggers, little gold chubs with thin black fins and white leeches and red and white and pink and white. But most importantly, crappie flies should be heavy, with tungsten bead heads. If they are tied in the balance style or on jig hooks, so much the better. We target crappie at a specific depth and a heavy fly gets down where the feeders are, as fast as it can get there.
For a strike indicator, I opt for a plastic Thingamabobber which loops on the line and can slide up and down. A nine-foot leader (when paired with a nine-foot rod) is a good choice because the float can be set at the top of the leader’s butt section. When anchored up, flip the float downwind and let the rig drift on the riffled water. With the up and down motion of the wavelets - that little bounce - the marabou tail on the fly dances, giving life to the fly. Casting is a consideration, but if the wind is blowing, the float can be put out upwind and the line stays taut. With the wind at 5 to 10 mph, drifting with the wind is a blast. Everyone in the boat knows there is a big school of crappie out there and the wind is going to blow the boat through them. Get the flies at the right depth and it's going to be crappie chaos.