Crappie fish for more than 40 years and you can’t help but learn a little something about catching ‘em. You can catch them on spinnerbaits, crankbaits and even small plastic worms, as well as the tried and true method of dunking minnows and jigs. You can troll, cast, flip, sling-shot, vertical jig or simply watch a float.

Bobby Murray, the bass-fishing legend who won the very first Bassmaster Classic, then won another several years later, still loves to fish, and it doesn’t matter if it’s for bass, stripers, bluegill or crappie (and there’s rumor that he even catches walleye). Murray lives down by Lake Ouachita near Hot Springs, Ark., and has traded the tournament-style bass boat for a 16-foot johnboat. It doesn’t slow him down on the water, though.

This morning Murray is at the boat ramp early. The sun is just beginning to peek over the distant mountain. It’s a beautiful sunrise worthy of pause and admiration as the pinks and oranges reflect off Ouachita’s still waters. Baitfish dimple the glassy surface here and there. We unloaded the boat and headed to one of Murray’s “secret spots.”

“Do you mind if we do some crappie fishing today?” Murray asked. “I really have been doing well lately with the crappie, and catching some pretty chunky slabs to boot. I have a new tactic I want to teach you that is deadly right now. Have you ever fly fished before?”

Fly fishing…for crappie? Murray seemed sober at the ramp.

The little boat made a “V” across the calm surface as we motored across the reservoir with Bobby keeping a keen eye on his fish locator. When he found the spot he was looking for, he slowed the boat down to a crawl until he found a school of specks below.
“I am looking to identify which trees and brush are holding the crappie this morning,” he said. “Lately the crappie have been holding near a ledge off a creek channel in about 18 feet of water. They’re usually suspended 8- to 10-feet down.”  

After some searching to put it all together Murray pointed at the screen. A submerged tree with unmistakable crappie “hash marks” congregated along the edges prompted him into action. He slowly eased the trolling motor into the water.

“There they are,” Murray said while chunking out three marker buoys to surround the school. “You can tell a good crappie fisherman from a bad one real quick. It’s simple. If he’s got marker buoys handy, he probably knows what he’s doing.

Murray backed the boat 20-yards off the spot before reaching into his rod storage and handing me an 8-foot rod with a spinning reel. The rod had two, 2-inch YUM Houdini Fry jigs in Crystal Shad color tied a foot or so apart. These super-soft plastic “stinger-style” crappie baits were rigged on 1/16-ounce jig heads.

This beautiful Ozark lake is nestled between the pine-strewn mountains hear Hot Springs, smack dab in the middle of black bear country. The lake is clear and deep, which is why he likes the realistic color pattern of the jigs. Crappie are sight-feeders and get a pretty good look at the bait in water this clear, and bolder or unnatural colors won’t do.

It was time for Murray to explain this new “fly fishing” technique as he produced a Thill float a little bigger than a ping pong ball. The top half was pink and the bottom chartreuse, and this division of two bright colors is important.

“Seeing the bite is important, and it’s not always that obvious,” he said. “A lot of times it’s a lift-bite. When you see that chartreuse bottom come up, you know you have a fish lifting that lure, and you better set the hook.”

Murray let out 8 feet of line and then wrapped the monofilament around the bottom wire of the cork. The crappie expert then explained his method for casting the 8-foot long lightweight rig.

“Open your bail and let out about 8 feet of line in front of you. Then bring the line back behind you until it touches the water, much like making a fly fishing cast. Then cast the jigs beyond the marker buoys.”

The fly-casting technique was more difficult than one might imagine. After several attempts the float lands just beyond the marker buoys.

“Now twitch your rod tip,” Murray said. “That makes those jigs dance around in front of the crappie, and they can’t resist it. Just watch your cork dance because it is making those jigs irresistible below. After a few seconds, retrieve the line a few feet and then stop and then make your rod tip dance again. Sometimes the crappie will take the cork under, but most of the time the cork will either bob or lean over with the lift-bite. Just watch my line - I’ll demonstrate for you how I do it.”

In seconds Murray set the hook on a nice crappie that weighed nearly 2 pounds. After unhooking the feisty papermouth, Murray dropped the slab into the ice chest and made another fly cast towards the orange buoys. A few minutes later he yelled for me to get the net, as he finessed a double -- two 1-pound crappie -- into the long-handled dip net.

In a little more than an hour we (mostly Murray) caught 35 slab crappie that almost filled our little ice chest. Fly-casting for crappie, similar to float-n-fly fishing for smallmouth bass, proved that even folks with 40 years of crappie fishing experience don’t know all the ways to catch this tasty fish.

When the fish stopped biting we moved to another place that Murray had marked on his graph. Most spots had submerged timber that gave the crappie ready-made ambush spots. Regardless of bottom depth, the magic depth for the crappie was around 10 feet.

Murray said one secret to casting the jigs is using 4- to 6-pound test line. The small diameter line really adds action to any lures, but it also has its drawbacks, especially considering the technique catches just about anything that feeds on baitfish.

“I caught a 7-pound bass on this rig one morning,” he said. “I really had to take my time so he wouldn’t break the 4-pound test. I’ve also caught walleyes up to 5 or 6 pounds. I’m telling you this method really works!”