LAKE FORK — We watched with amazement at the parade of bass boats, back and forth along the main lake boat lanes. There was easily more traffic on the water than on nearby Highway 154.
With rooster tails of water spraying behind the 250 horsepower motors it seemed more like a cruise day than a normal day’s fishing or pre-fishing for an upcoming weekend tournament.
“That is the way bass fishing is today with all the electronics. They go to a spot and if they don’t see any fish they crank up and go somewhere else,” said my guide, Daniel Cerretani.
Don’t get me wrong, Cerretani and I were sitting in a Skeeter powered by 250 horsepower engine, but with the Minn Kota I-Pilot trolling motor doing its thing we had not moved 10 yards all morning and just a fish short of a limit sitting. The kicker was we had not gone more than a couple of hundred yards from where we launched.
OK, we were not on Lake Fork to catch bass. We left that for the guys using all the gas. Along with being one of the top bass lakes in the country Fork is also excellent for catfish, crappie and white bass fishing. Cerretani and I were targeting crappie. A hunting guide at nearby Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort during the cold weather months, the Yantis native is taking his avocation of crappie fishing to a summer vocation.
We were sitting on one of the brush piles Cerretani and some friends had recently sunk and it was already beginning to pay off. His fish finder looked like a weather radar during a severe storm with all the different colors, most of them signifying crappie under us.
“Because of all the cold weather and then cold rain and high water these fish are just moving out here,” he explained. “People will tell you it takes a while for the fish to acclimate to a new brush pile, but this one is already holding fish.”
The quality of crappie fishing on Lake Fork is no secret. It has long been one of the better lakes around, and can attract a year-round crowd.
Cerretani prefers the summer bite on Lake Fork. While Fork’s winter fishing is well known, Cerretani said he shies away from it because of the winter-rules requiring fishermen to keep the first 25 fish they catch regardless of size. Fork's crappie often move to water deeper than 30 feet during the winter, causing hyper-inflated swim bladders and mortality when reeled up.
The renewed interest in crappie fishing by people wanting to catch fish to eat, along with the use of bass boats and new electronics has opened the door for people like Cerretani and others to book trips.
I got the morning started with a pound-plus white crappie, before we started loading up on predominately black crappie. Most were 10 ½ inches, just a half inch over the limit, but there were some bigger fish brought in.
Black crappie are the predominate species on Fork, but when catching them, fishermen seldom care whether they are catching one or the other. The only reason they know is the coloration differences between the two. But there are other differences.
“There are few small differences besides the obvious different genetic make ups, that separates the two species. One is growth rate. While not truly critical on a management scale, white crappie, on average, demonstrate slightly faster growth than black crappie at least to 10 inches,” said Jake Norman, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologist.
He explained the second difference is preferred habitat.
“White crappie can tolerate higher turbidity levels and can thrive in a reservoir with nothing more than standing timber and/or rocky shorelines like in Central and West Texas reservoirs. Black crappie tend to do better in reservoirs with abundant shallow water vegetation and subsequent lower turbidity. These habitat preferences are why you often only see one or the other species in a given reservoir and why you see both in reservoirs that have a mix of standing timber and vegetation,” Norman said.
Using BoneHead’s Slim Sticks, Cerretani said to pitch the bait over the top of the brush about a boat’s length and let it drift back. That would put it on the bottom about 18 feet down.
“Once it gets to the bottom I just dead stick it, jigging it every once in a while,” he said.
The crappie bite was light. You had to be ready to set the hook or the fish was gone just as soon as it felt the lead jig head in its mouth.
Crappie are constantly moving so when a bite slowed in one spot you simply cast in another direction or fish slightly shallower, but it did not require moving the boat.
With the fish having finished spawning, Cerretani said he will catch them in 13 to 18 feet of water throughout the summer over brush piles, around flooded timber near channels and under bridges.
Otherwise the limit is the statewide 10-inch minimum and 25 fish per day. To a fresh fish eater, crappie are the filet mignon of Texas lakes.
For more information on crappie fishing at Fork, contact Cerretani at 903-335-4289.