Final Flea Markets of the Season

Whether you are stocking up on tackle for the season, seeking vintage collectibles, or just looking for bargains; fishing flea markets offer one stop shopping for all fishermen. As we ease into spring, we ease out of the fishing flea market season. These are two good shows that close out the season here in the Mid-Atlantic region.

April 3rd: St. Joseph’s College, John A. Danzi Athletic Center, 155 West Roe Blvd., Patchogue, NY

April 10: Cape May Elementary School, 921 Laffayette St, Cape May, NJ

Vintage tackle of all kinds is available at most fishing flea markets.
Fishing flea markets are the place to go to find tackle from small manufactures that the big name outlets don’t carry.

3 Top Picks for BIG Crappies

Over the years, I have noticed the majority of the crappies I’ve caught exceeding two pounds have fallen for just a handful of lures. In no particular order, these are my top producers of large crappies. They are not lures that will fill a cooler every day, but they are lures that will fill your memories with images of monster crappies.

1. Thin minnow plugs – Rapalas, Rogues, Rebels, etc. We are talking bass size now – not the size that you would usually consider panfish bait. Select models in the 4 1/2 to 5 inch range. Vary your retrieves. Sometimes slow and steady is all it takes. Other times a twitching retrieve gets more strikes. This kind of bait can also be trolled with great success.

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Not a monster, but a nice fish, and just average size for the Rogue.

2. Soft jerkbaits – Hawg Shads, Bass Assassins, even stick worms can fit in this category. Texas rig them without weight.  Use a slow, stop and go twitch retrieve to appeal to a crappie’s fondness for weak and dying minnows. The dart and glide action of a weightless soft plastic mimics this perfectly. And again, we are talking about bass size baits around the 5 inch mark.

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Using “bass” plastics like Hawg Shads while fishing prime crappie waters can yield great benefits.

4. Bunny Leech pike fly – This is the one that started the wheels turning. Many years ago while pursuing pike and bass with the long rod, quality crappies started appearing among my catches. The undulating rabbit strip, and stop and go action are irresistable to big crappies. Now, I’m not suggesting you take up flyfishing just to use this lure/fly. I am suggesting that if you are already a flyrodder, try a 5 to 6 inch rabbit strip leech on your favorite crappie lake. You will be pleased with the results.

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This throwback pic shows pair of 2 1/2# black crappies. These were the first “big” crappies I’d ever caught. Their downfall? A 6″ rabbit strip fly cast for pike.

What do all of these lures have in common? Size and shape is the most obvious. Consider lures with a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 inch length along with a narrow profile. Although they dwarf typical crappie lures, we are not looking for typical crappies. We are targeting the biggest in the lake.

The BIG three and a marabou crappie jig shown for scale.
Plenty of bass will also fall for the presentation, but they don’t have to know you are crappie fishing.

Keeper Rigging Small Plastics

This is not the usual configuration for a “keeper” an hook, but this is the most secure small plastic rigging I have tried. It far outperforms glue or pegging. It holds up to repeated casting, strikes, and all kinds of rough handling. I first thought of this for surf teasers, but have since used it for trolling rigs (more on that another time), and even casting with a flyrod – all with great success.

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Slip a keeper over the point of the hook, clip end first.



Slide the keeper so the clip goes beyond the eye.



Pull the keeper back so the clip goes through the eye. This may take a little bending of the keeper.



Thread the hawg Shad or other soft plastic onto the hook to the correct point for a straight final presentation.



Screw the bait onto the keeper by turning and applying light pressure. This may feel a bit awkward as you have to bend the tail of the plastic around the hook point with each turn.



When it’s screwed on all the way the bait should lay straight and ready to fish.

This striper was caught on a Hawg Shad "Keeper Rigged" on a flyrod.
A “keeper rig” made it possible to present a small Hawg Shad with a flyrod. It was a perfect match for the rainfish this striper had been eating.

Four Tips For Early Season Fishing Success

Is your favorite lake still frozen? You can either go stare at your ice hole, or find some open water. I’ll take the latter.

Tip 1: Be mobile. Sometimes a small change in elevation or latitude is all it takes to go from ice to open water. For the past couple of weeks I’ve done just that – driven south and then fished the warmest water I could find within those areas.

A couple hours in the car and a few degrees is sometimes all it takes fend off cabin fever.

Tip 2: Pick a water that warms first. I know I alluded to that in Tip 1, but it is worth stating twice. The first waters to lose their ice will offer the first opportunities for openwater success. From there, find a pattern that you can repeat on other waters as they thaw and warm.

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Note the trailing vegetation. Working lures over a shallow weedbed resulted in numerous February largemouth.

Tip 3: Be willing to use a combination of live bait and artificials. Some days your artificials will outfish the livies, and sometimes it’s the opposite. When possible, use them simultaneously on two different rods to cover more water and recognize a pattern.

The addition of livebait created the opportunity for this mixed-species, solo, double with a shiner and a jerbait.
The addition of livebait rod into the spread created the opportunity for this “mixed-species, solo double” with a shiner and a jerbait.

Tip 4: Be flexible on your target species. Choose waters with multiple species of gamefish or large panfish. Bass and crappies, bass and perch, bass and pike are all great early season combos.

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Not part of a typical combo, but the presence of blue catfish added this bonus on a bass lure.