‘Twas the night of Christmas, and through the snow the fishermen pushed to the water’s edge. They were seeking crappie.
At first glance, someone may question the sanity of Patrick Moix and teenage son Lakyn, but the Conway anglers are illustrations of a fishing lesson. In general, the topic is the productivity of fishing just below dams – on the Arkansas River and other waterways.
You may recall what it was like over much of Arkansas on the recent Christmas night. A foot or so of snow dumped on us. Patrick and Lakyn had planned to get out to the river earlier, but a need to help a relative with a portable generator delayed them.
They did go fishing.
"The snow was drifted up on the boat ramp at Toad Suck, but we got down to the water and caught a few crappie,"
The spot is on the Perry County side of the river west of Conway, and most days there are fishermen along the banks. They fish there for a reason. Fish are there and can be caught.
Similar settings are at Morrilton, Dardanelle, Ozark, anywhere below the Arkansas River dams. Fishermen work these tailwaters for catfish, striped bass, hybrid bass and white bass. Sometimes the catch is sauger. Occasionally it is largemouth bass. And more than a few anglers know about the crappie chances, too.
These river dams have gates that are opened for navigation purposes, raising and lowering water levels in the locks, and sometimes to release excess water after rains. Shad and other food fish come through the gates, and the predator fish have plentiful eats.
Most of the fishermen along the banks and in boats work with heavy gear. They are after catfish especially, and they use big rods, heavy line and enough weight to get the bait down deep in swift water.
The technique is different for anglers seeking sauger, that cousin of the walleye, and crappie. The bait is usually jigs but sometimes combined with live minnows. The crappie especially tend to be out of the heavy traffic in the big water.
At Toad Suck Park, there is a small backwater. Patrick Moix called it a bay. One day during the cold and snow, he said, "There must have been 30 fishermen in there."
A fisherman in a boat came close, Moix said, and he hollered at the boater, "How deep is the water here?"
The boater looked at his depth finder and replied, "32 feet."
Moix used jigs – black and chartreuse, red and chartreuse, red and white. The strategy, he said, was to work the jigs very slowly. Cold water means the crappie move slowly.
"We just barely turned the cranks," he said.
The fishing was by tight-lining – working without a bobber or float at the surface to indicate a strike. When a movement or a bit off weight is felt on the line, that is crappie time.
The crappie that came in were good ones for Moix and other anglers. Many were slabs, that familiar crappie description that means fish in the range of a pound and a quarter to two pounds. Good crappie, in other words, crappie that produce those fine-tasting fillets.
The waters just below the Dardanelle and Ozark dams are known for sauger fishing, and experienced anglers often work with yellow jigs. Some hook a live minnow with the jig.
Sauger run smaller than walleye as a rule, but they have a similarity in a mouth of sharp teeth. You don’t want to "lip" a sauger when you bring it in.
As the recent snow even proved with nice crappie catches below the river dams, weather doesn’t seem to matter in this type of fishing. Moving water is a factor. And sometimes the fishing is as productive at night as it is in daytime.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.