South Jersey Fishing: Crappy Weather Means Hot Crappie Fishing
The touchy weather hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for the early season back bay and tidal river striper pursuit. The fishing has ranged from good to excellent when conditions cooperate. The same could be said for the tidal creek white perch chase, and this bite has been as close to nearly non-stop as one could get.
However, not to be overlooked are the black and white crappies, aka calico bass and bachelor perch. Forays to the Midwest and South have us hearing them referred to as “croppie,” “papermouth,” “slabs,” or, down in Cajun country, “sac o’ lait”.
No matter the moniker, the crappies are one of the most popular panfish out there. (There are numerous big-money crappie tournament trails, and rods/reels/lines/lures marketed specifically for catching them. No kidding.) They can get hefty, with two-pound or better slabs by no means uncommon. The Garden State has numerous lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and creeks where both can be found. They’re fun to catch on ultra-light tackle, can sometimes prove frustratingly picky and selective, and, most importantly from this corner, rival white, and yellow perch when it comes to frying pan honors.
They look alike, but the white is a more silvery color with the black having a more greenish hue. An easy way to figure out which it is is to count the dorsal spines (be careful!); the black has 7-8 and the white has six. Easy enough.
In central and southern Jersey, these members of the sunfish family will generally start spawning sometime in mid-April or when water temps hit around 62 degrees. They are schoolers, meaning you catch one and chances are you’ll catch more.
Live minnows and small shiners under a float will put the slabs on a stringer, as will 1/16 and 1/8 ounce jig heads/grub tails (chartreuse, white, yellow), miniature crankbaits, and Nos. 0 and 1 spinners.
The southern tier counties boast a legion of crappie waters. Some top ones include Union Lake, Lake Lenape, Pemberton Lake, Mullica Hill Lake, Swedesboro Lake, Lake Carasaljo, Elmer Lake, Mercer Lake, Cooper River Park Lake, and Willow Grove Lake.
Generally, if a water body has sunfish, either bluegills or pumpkinseeds, or both, chances are crappies will also be in residence.
The current black crappie state record mark stands at 4 pounds 8 ounces; the white at 3 pounds 11 ounces.
The daily limit is 10, either singly or combined, at an eight-inch minimum.