Fish don’t seem to mind when the weather is just a notch above freezing, with a stiff wind and drizzle that’s set in for the day.
Those kind of days get Payton and Tiffany Usrey of Springdale excited about going crappie fishing at Beaver Lake. The couple dresses for success in their warmest clothes to take advantage of the good fishing wintertime brings.
Two of a kind
Black crappie and white crappie inhabit Beaver Lake, said Jon Stein, area fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
White crappie take about three years to reach 10 inches. Black crappie take three to four years to reach 10 inches. Black or white crappie must be 10 inches or longer to keep at Beaver Lake. The daily limit is 15.
— Staff report
That success is measured in numbers of fish, such as 30 crappie the couple caught on a cold gray Dec. 16. That’s two 15-fish limits. Crappie must be 10 inches or longer to keep at Beaver.
Air temperature was 33 degrees with mist and wind when the Usreys launched their boat before daylight at Hickory Creek Marina. A cool 50 mph boat ride to their first fishing spot got the day started.
Payton idled the boat toward some pole timber sticking out of the 46-degree water at Eden’s Bluff, north of Hickory Creek. In five minutes, their first crappie had his line stretched tight.
“There’s one that’s hungry this morning,” Payton said, swinging a dandy 14-inch crappie into the boat. The fish bit a chartreuse and black tube jig sold by Arkie Lures of Springdale. During winter, the Usreys fish the jig two to three feet deep under a small bobber.
They use an orange bobber for first-light fishing so they can see it better. In brighter light they use bobbers they’ve painted black.
“Early in the morning, these fish will be real shallow,” Payton said of wintertime crappie. Working jigs close to pole timber puts fish in the boat, as proven by another keeper he tossed into the livewell.
“Sometimes you’ve got to fish a lot of trees until you find some fish,” Payton testified. “When you do, they might be there every day.”
A nice mess of crappie swam in the boat’s livewell when the fishing slowed about 9 a.m. Time to fish some man made cover, Payton announced. He fired up the outboard and headed north to a group of boat docks. Docks hold schools of crappie during winter, he said. The Usreys started catching them right away at the first dock.
They swapped tube jigs for a more fishy-looking lure, an Arkie Sexee Tail Shad. The soft plastic lure looks more like threadfin shad than a tube jig does. Threadfin shad are the primary forage for all game fish at Beaver Lake, crappie included.
Payton is fond of the pearl color with black flecks like ground pepper and threads the lure on a one-sixteenth-ounce jig head. Chartreuse with black flecks is also good, he said. The couple spool their reels with 6-pound test line.
This time Tiffany’s rod had the deep bend with a crappie caught near a dock.
“That’s a tournament fish right there,” Payton hollered, lunging for the net.
The crappie weighed nearly two pounds, a fish the Usreys strive to catch during Beaver Lake Crappie Association contests. The Usreys won the December tournament with seven crappie that weighed 8.45 pounds.
Fishing was good and a slight change in tactic made it even better. Instead of fishing slower in the cold water, Payton started working his lure faster. That did the trick. He plucked three crappie bang bang bang from the side of one dock.
Crappie seemed to be around every dock between Monte Ne and Hickory Creek. Wind whipped a froth of white caps at some docks. Others were in the lee of the breeze. The husband and wife caught fish around both, 10 feet deep or less.
With 25 crappie in the livewell, the temptation was to call it a day. Five more fish would mean two limits and Payton was confident one more dock would do it. He was right on the money.
This cold Friday was balmy compared to some of the days when the Usreys hit the lake. Winter is one of their favorite seasons.
“Fishing doesn’t slow down, even when the water dips to 40 degrees,” Tiffany said.
“The fish are bigger and there’s no boat traffic. It’s too cold for a lot of people,” Payton added.
They get their money’s worth out of the insulated clothing they wear, plus warm hats. Face covering is a key to staying warm, Tiffany said. “I like the ones made for hunting because they’re better insulated.”
The Usreys keep a propane heater in the boat, but didn’t need it this day. They also keep a blanket or two on board.
“We’d rather be out here when it’s snowing than when it’s hot in the summer,” Tiffany said.
For the Usreys, a catch of 30 crappie is worth braving the chill.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 01/10/2017