“There’s a lot of potential for us to have an incredible morning on the water. I’ve been preparing for today’s trip all week, saving specific brush piles just for your trip. We’ve had low winds all week, and knowing that today things would be different, I’ve been hitting open water brush and north wind block locations. It’s like a game of pool. You make the shots as they come, but in your mind you’re planning for the second and third ball. The fishing is very good right now, and with five of y’all fishing, we should have one heck of a picture at the end.” Looking over at Brandon, he sleepily gives me a nod of approval. “You know, now that I’ve talked it all up, we probably won’t catch a dozen keepers!” That one got a better reaction.
“Has everyone fished with this style of rod and reel before?” Much to my pleasure, I get four yeses and one “can you give me a refresher course?” Absolutely I can. We get reel handles on the correct side, per each angler’s discretion, and then move on to technique. “Today’s technique is very simple: open your bail (pointing to the bail like a flight attendant) let the jig fall all the way to the bottom, while holding your rod tip about six inches off the surface of the water. When the jig stops falling and your line goes slack, you’re on bottom. Slowly reel in the extra slack, leaving out just enough line to find bottom, should you lower your rod tip. From there, slowly lift your rod two feet, pause for 3-5 seconds, and if you don’t get a sharp thump, as slowly as you can, lower the rod back down, until you again find bottom. The two moments you’ll likely get a bite is when you’re holding your rod dead still, and when you start to lower your jig again. If you feel any bite at all, set the hook.”
“As you can see, I’ve marked the pile at two different places. The light orange buoy is sitting in twelve foot of water, while the dark orange buoy is in roughly twenty foot of water. We are going to start up shallow, and then slowly drift back off this ledge to pick off the fish hanging out in deeper water.”
The nose of the boat is about ten feet downwind of the light orange buoy, when I give the call. “Y’all can let ‘em have it whenever you’re ready.” At 7:24am, Trisha, Anna, Brandon, Brady and Mr. Hackfield all drop at the same time, looking for that sharp thump I was talking about a few moments ago. I’m the only one who knows how loaded this pile is. I saw it when I threw the marker buoy out, but I didn’t dare mention it to my crew. I’ve seen that backfire before. I’m patiently standing on the bow, watching to see who is going to strike first. It’s Anna. She pulls in a healthy twelve inch fryer, making for a big smile on her face, plus five more faces around the boat.
I take the fish off, only to take off another one. This time it’s Brady, and judging by the bend in the rod, we’re about to have two clicks on the clicker. The third fish award goes to Mr. Hackfield, and fourth place goes to Trish. By now, Anna already has on her second fish, while Brandon gets his first. As for me, I’ve got one hand on the pliers and one hand on the fish counter. If I had a third hand I’d be fishing, but there’s no time for that right now.
The rod tips are popping up in random order. The left side of the boat heaves in a few, while the right side returns with a volley of their own. I’ve managed to put the boat right on the edge of the large drop off, with the bow resting in thirteen feet and the stern floating over twenty feet. “If you’re holding your pole dead still, and you see your line go slack, set the hook. If you’re lowering your pole, and the line goes slack at a higher point than where you’ve been finding the bottom, set the hook. Keep your finger on your line and your eyes below your rod tip. You can feel any hard bite, but you’ll have to watch closely if you want to catch them all.”
Everyone seems to be comfortable, and the initial rush is starting to die down. It’s time for me to step to the plate in an effort to clean up the stragglers. I pitch out a jig with a lighter head, and it doesn’t go well for the crappie. He pushes the jig back to me and I set the hook straight through him. I do this same thing five or six times in a row. “I’m going to move the boat forward. We still have a lot of fish up in front of us, as my jig hasn’t made it to the bottom since I started fishing.”
I ease forward and things fire back up all over again. Whoever built this pile did it with me in mind. There’s a large pile up on a flat, scrub brush for about ten yards, and then more brush on the ledge dropping from twelve down to twenty feet. If I ever meet the engineer, he’s getting a handshake.
After about an hour and a half, we’ve done our damage. “Y’all just set the record for the most fish I’ve ever caught on one pile while fishing Cedar Creek. We’ve got 61 keepers in the box right now.” I text Chris Webb, who has already polished off a two man limit, and seems to be having as much fun as we are. “Let’s go ahead and reel up everyone. That’s a great start to the day right there!”
There’s a log to our west about a quarter mile that rests all by itself in the middle of a hump. Its length is roughly 40ft, with the shallow part sitting in 12ft, while the deep end is nestled in 16ft. On the deep end is a long arching branch that sticks up roughly 4ft off the bottom. This morning, there is a large school of crappie at both the deep end and the shallow end, with several more scattered in between. This should be fun.
“Alrighty, I need everyone to line up on the left side of the boat, shoulder to shoulder. There is a large log directly underneath us, running parallel with the boat. The two markers I’ve thrown show both ends of the structure, just to give you an idea of what you’re looking at. You’ll want to fish about two feet off the bottom. Y’all can fire when ready.”
Two of the five anglers get bit before the jig ever makes it to the bottom. “Good fish, good fish!” Number 62 and 63 are both flirting with the fourteen inch mark. Again, I don’t have time to fish myself, which is a great problem to have. The quality on this spot is much better, with several 13-14” black crappie coming over the gunnels. Unfortunately, we’ve attracted some attention, as we have a big center console coming right at us.
The four guys in the sea foam green center console come within twenty yards of us, and commence to circling us, twice. Usually, this is when someone marks my spot and drives off. Thankfully, this group has old electronics without side imaging, and can’t pull this much detested move. They end up parking directly behind us, and start bouncing slabs.
I’m not overly excited about this, but the fish are coming in the boat too fast for me to spend a lot of time getting angry. I guess the guys in the pot-licking boat couldn’t stand it, because they slowly ease themselves right up next to us.
“Hey guys, are you chasing sandbass?” Looking at each other, “Yeah we are, why?” “Well, you can do what you want to do, but there aren’t any sandbass on this hump, and you’re fishing too deep.” Puzzled, they look at me like I have no right to tell them how to fish. “If you’ll go to that next point to our north, that one right there on the east side, you’ll find thousands of ‘em in 8-12ft of water. No “thank you”, no “screw you”, nothing. They just reeled in and took off.
Back to business. “How many fish would you guess are in this cooler right now? Price is right rules.” The group takes a consensus, and fires off a few guesses: “78, 79, 84, 108, 91.” “Ohhh, 91 wins it! You’re the closest without going over. We have 94 fish in the box, and it’s a little after 10:00am. Y’all keep doing what you’re doing; you’re making my job very easy today.”
The bite is phenomenal, my clients are great, and inside is something burning, telling me to accomplish something more than what I’ve seen. I don’t get this stirring feeling as much as I used to, but it’s there now. Like a big cat who sees the prey and instinct tells him what to do. We’re getting 125 before this half day trip is over.
We leave spot number two with 105 keepers. I’m smiling because my customers are smiling. This amount of fish is incredible by any measurement, and to have only fished two spots is almost unheard of. I’ve done it before, though, and now I want to see a five man limit on a half day. It’s more of a personal challenge between me and water than anything else. The wind is starting to pick up to the predicted forecast of 20-25mph, and we’ve got about forty-five minutes left in the trip. I think it’s time for me to fish.
I head north a half mile to what I’m hoping is our third and final stop of the morning. Father Time and Mother Nature are teaming up for a fourth quarter comeback. I scan the last spot and it’s loaded enough for me to stick this boat straight down the throat of a 20mph southern wind. It’s not ideal, but I’ve made up my mind at this point.
“Alright y’all, this is it. We need twenty fish to pull off the five man and I think you can do it. We’ve got a stiff wind, so keep your rods tips low to the water and bend your knees a little. When you’re ready to fish, drop ‘em down.” All six of us let lead fly at the same time. Anna and I tag crappie immediately, and then Brady does the same thing. Then something unexpected happens. Hybrids move in and are absolutely ravaging our baits. With drags singing and hi-vis lines slicing through the water, I’m doing everything I can to keep the trolling motor clear and the boat on target.
Port side is fighting the big fish, while starboard side is pushing towards our limit. The hybrids finally pass and we need six more crappie. Anna strikes again, then Trish and finally Mr. Hackfield. I put my rod down, having made my small mark on what is sure to be a favorite memory of mine. “We need three more, and it’s all on you now.” Standing on the very tip of the bow, I stare into the gray skies, feeling the spray and hearing the harsh chop of the Minnkota as the bow lifts and dives. I smell the water and feel the sense of victory as I look at five happy people. Just like they’ve been doing all day, they drop their lures down and do it again three more times. 123, 124 and finally at 10:53am, one of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen in my life comes over the side, number 125.