By Bill Cooper
The big Sea-Ark boat sat in 35 feet of water on Stockton Lake north of Springfield. Damon Spurgeon and I fished eighth-ounce jigs tipped with an earthworm for walleye. My rod tipped bounced noticeably, atypical of a walleye bite. After applying pressure on the fish, it felt heavy.
“Look at the size of that crappie,” Damon yelled. Long and thick, the silver and black fish appeared to be the largest I had caught in many years. It measured a solid 15-inches and obviously carried a belly full of eggs.
The enormous female crappie had been caught in roughly 30-feet of water, on the bottom among rocks where I had hoped to pick up a healthy walleye. I hoped to catch more of the fat crappie from that bank, but my hopes did not materialize. That one, big crappie had been a fluke of sorts.
We fished several banks with rock rubble, which is perfect habitat for walleye. Regardless, walleye fishing proved slow. Bites weren’t uncommon, but walleye were being especially finicky and nipping at our worm jigs without fully taking the baits. However, the frustration of the walleye bite was offset by the occasional channel catfish, drum, and big bluegill which ate our worm offerings.
We managed to squeak out 5 walleye between us but abandoned the search to hunt for crappie. Tandem Fly Outfitters owner Kris Nelson runs three boats, all of which are equipped with the latest in boat electronics, which brings locating schools of fish into an all new arena. Additionally, the electronics are programed with literally hundreds of waypoints marking brush piles and other structure where crappie hang out.
Damon began searching the coves for large balls of shad and accompanying schools of crappie. It didn’t take long to locate massive balls of each.
I was surprised to see how deep crappie were holding at Stockton Lake. Over the course of five days, we found schools from 16-to-35-feet down. Crappie at Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake had been flirting with depths as shallow as 18-inches for over a week. At those locations, the spawn had begun. However, crappie were continuing to run back and forth from deeper water as weather patterns remained unstable, with cold spells popping up every few days.
High winds and cooler temperatures made it difficult to catch the crappie we were seeing on the electronics. The bite continued to be hit and miss as we moved to various locations around the lake, hoping to locate a hot school where we could catch several nice crappie from one school.
Our luck began to change when Spurgeon set up two 14-foot rods and two 10-foot rods for trolling deep-running crank-baits. The 3 1/2-inch shad imitators began to work as we trolled areas where the electronics showed massive schools of fish.
The longer rods were placed in holders on the sides of the boat, while the shorter rods protruded from the back of the boat giving it the look of a giant, four-legged water strider. Lines were set at various lengths to run the lures at various depths until we determined which would catch the most fish.
Gradually we began to pick up a few crappie as we slowly trolled over contours of 30-35 feet of water. The graphs would light up with schools of fish and Damon and I would prepare to grab rods as strikes occurred. The trolling methods quickly proved to be our best technique to pick up good crappie and an occasional walleye.
Mornings proved to be the slowest periods of time to catch fish, often with feeding sprees occurring around noon as temperatures heated up. With the warming periods each day, winds also picked up producing heavy waves in most coves. The occasional cove that was sheltered from the wind became welcome reprieves from the gusty winds that often reached 25 mph.
Damon had customers to guide a couple of days while I was a there. I tagged along to film and take photos. Although fishing was not fast paced, clients caught crappie and walleye steady enough to hold everyone’s attention. Too, everyone seemed especially happy to be on the water again, after the long Covid-19 virus shutdown.
Steadily each day, crappie and walleye stacked up in the live well as Damon skillfully drove the boat over school after school of crappie hanging over deep brush-piles, as well locating open water schools on the electronics.
Photos of clients and their catches at the end of the day told the story of their successes. Big stringers of fat crappie and walleye promoted smiles indicative of good times on the waters of Stockton lake with family and friends.
At the cleaning station, we discovered that most of the females held eggs that were not fully developed. It was obvious that the spawn was yet a week or two away. Stockton Lake is a deep, clear lake. Crappie may still be found in rather deep water when the spawn gets into full swing. Regardless, crappie fishing is sure to remain hot there for weeks to come.
If you would like to book a trip with Tandem Fly Outfitters, check www.tandemflyoutfitters.com.