Well Lake Champlain and Vermont aren’t the first places I think about when thinking about hot spots for Crappie fishing. The attention from National fishing articles focuses on the amazing Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass fishery of Lake Champlain. But Crappie Bass? Then I found the Instagram page of Dylan Smith and saw that this guy catches a lot of crappie and some very big crappie on Vermont waters including Champlain. Dylan was kind enough to take some time to fill all of us in on his approach to Crappie fishing on Lake Champlain as well as the Connecticut River in Vermont.
Generally when I think of fishing for crappie, I think of heading south. But it looks like you do pretty well up in Vermont. What are your favorite crappie waters and what makes each of them so good?
Lake Champlain is by far the most productive body of water in Vermont for crappie. The northern end of the lake holds blacks, while the southern part of the lake has both blacks and whites. The southern end of the lake tends to be a structure bite. Fishing trees, humps, and docks is my most productive technique. There is a lot of cover if you know how and where to look and the muddy water keeps the fish from becoming spooky from nearby commotion. The northern end of the lake fishes much like a typical bass bite. Fishing pockets in weeds, main lake structure, and basins, will be productive if you can keep up with their ever changing preferences.
I also spend a great deal of time on the Connecticut River from one end of the state to the other. Fishing eddies, wood, and humps is my go to technique and the by-catch of walleye, perch, trout, and bass is never a bad thing!
I took a trip to fish Grenada Lake in Mississippi this spring. While it was great and the opportunity to catch a 3 pound crappie is much higher than here, the average fish has nothing on Champlain. Not to mention the numbers here can often times will break the 300 fish a day mark.
What are your favorite crappie techniques to fish?
My preferred technique changes depending on the season. In the spring, I will run a bobber and fish either in the spawning areas or in the pre and post spawn locations. I will set my bobber at the height of the thickest weeds so that I can drag my baits just above without hanging up. When the fish get spooky, I will remove the bobber and quick swim the bait at the same depth.
After the spawn is wrapped up, I transition to summer locations. As I stated above, structure is key. I prefer wood and natural contours; anything that provides shade. At this point, I will use side imaging and marker buoys to key in on my spots. After reading the layout of the spot, I will vertical jig. Many times, after pulling one fish out another will replace it. With that being said, cast replication is key.
As summer ends and the water temperature changes, I will focus my attention back shallow towards their spawning areas where crappie will be feeding hard on minnows or in deeper water in basins. It really depends on the body of water where the fish will go.
Come winter, I prefer catching my fish shallow so that they release easier. Pulling them out of 20′ of water makes it hard to successfully release them.
What is your favorite crappie rod and reel combo?
For casting and vertical jigging, my preferred rod is a 6’6″ St. Croix Premier Fast Action paired with a Pflueger Trion. The set up allows me to fish all open water applications with sensitivity and a good backbone. One of the biggest reasons I use this set up is for the accidental hook up with catfish or sheephead. The drag on the Trion is amazing and the backbone on the St. Croix allows me to play a fish without concern of a break.
The only time that I will change rods is with spooky fish. When I need to back off a spot, I will use a Okuma Connoisseur 9′ steelhead rod. It is an entirely different action but it works.
One important part of my setup is the line. I run gold colored Lake Fork Trophy Lures Panfish Fluorotex. While I constantly feel my line, the typical crappie “thump” is a dead give away to set the hook. The line color allows me to detect bites on windy days when the wind reduces sensitivity on my rod or finger. The gold color doesn’t seem to have any negative impact on success in clear water lakes.
What is your favorite crappie recipe?
I like to coat my fillets with a thin layer of oil or butter, mix and spread a thin layer of mayonnaise with salt, pepper, and garlic, and cover the tops and sides with crushed Ritz and/or spicy sweet chili Doritos. I bake them for 6-8 minutes at 375 and make fish tacos.
What electronics are you using for your boat?
I have a Humminbird 989c si unit at my console and a Humminbird Helix 5 on the bow. While they aren’t 100% necessary, I would only have a few of the visible community holes to fish without them. I spend days each year sitting at the wheel driving over new water at an idle searching for new structure and areas that fish frequent. I definitely owe a great deal of my success to technology. Not just for crappie either. You can learn a lot about every species just by driving around.
Beyond the crappie fishing, what are your favorite Vermont bodies of water for other species?
I spent a great deal of my childhood fishing for bass and trout in the waters of Groton State Forest in the central part of the state. With a family camp in the area, most of my summers were spent in a boat or zipping up the numerous streams looking for some native brookies. The area has so many memories spent with family and friends that I still frequent the area often.
While Groton is special, I have fished a great deal waters throughout the state. Each area has something unique that will bring me back down the road. Until then, there is so much more to be seen. I hate getting stuck in a rut and doing the same thing over and over. Learning about each of the state’s fisheries is what I’d prefer. I also maintain licenses in many of the surrounding states for long weekend trips that I take throughout the year.
What was your best day of fishing in 2016 so far? And what made it such a great day?
My first day on Champlain this spring was spent with my now wife. We got out early and found the fish to be very aggressive even with water in the 40’s. The fish were still in a winter pattern and the quality of fish we caught has been unmatched by any other day in my life. It was literally one after another until we were so tired we had to go home! After only a few hours, she tapped out and caught up on sleep.
Along with your fishing photos, you capture a lot of great wildlife and nature shots. Where did your love of fishing and the outdoors come from?
My parents brought me up outdoors. I would hunt, fish, and hike with my parents through all the seasons. Freedom and the trust of them allowed me to explore nature independently and gain the experience and respect that I have for it today. Also, many of my friends growing up were similar and our play time involved building forts, stalking animals, and playing cops and robbers. It was just what we did in the country with no TV or video games. Today, sharing my knowledge with anyone willing to learn is something I take pride in. Even at my young age, I feel that I have a lot to share but even more to learn.
Well Dylan, I can’t be more thankful that you took the time to share with us. If you have never considered Lake Champlain a crappie fishing destination, it may just be time to start thinking about it.
To keep an eye on and learn more from Dylan, check him out on Instagram.