Spring begins with the first sighting of the red wing blackbird or the turkey vulture. While both are truly harbingers of spring, that old robin is not as it lives here year round.

For me, spring starts with the first hooked fish. No, it is not the trout that starts the spring season, but instead spring begins with a trip to Cross Creek Lake. Of course, for the initial drive to Avella, it is usually a scouting trip. It isn’t too far and the fish I am after are good on the table.

Because of its easy season, style of fishing and good, firm fillets, the crappie is one of my favorites. It is common in many lakes and ponds dotting most of the county. In many instances, the crappie goes unnoticed because it has a variety of names. Here in Pennsylvania it is referred to as the crappie. In Ohio, the most-used name is croppies but I’ve heard them called Calico Bass, papermouth and speckled trout, in other areas of the country. Whatever name you call them, most crappie are caught on a minnow in the springtime.

While there is both a black and a white crappie, you cannot for certain identify them by color. In the white Crappie, the males are black while the females are more silver. So don’t hold up your nice dark fish and say I caught a black crappie. The only thing that dark color truly means is, hey, I’m a boy.

I’ve mentioned that crappie are minnow-eaters, and while they are no larger than some bluegill their mouths are much larger. Therefore, when I fish for crappie, I use a larger hook than I would use for bluegill. While an 8 hook is a bit large for most bluegill, I like an 8, or even a 6, for crappie. Crappie don’t get really big so a 15-inch one is a big one. This is why tackle for them should be light. Four-pound line is plenty strong enough. Floats do not need to be large except when winds are high and the water is choppy. Then it pays to move to a bigger float it’s easier to see and you can cast better into the wind.

Most anglers know to look for this fish around debris in the water. Many successful fishermen will walk the shoreline trying to locate a school. That is always a good way to find the fish, but remember there is also the problem of finding what depth they are at on the day you are fishing. The bait fisherperson will be found sitting on a bucket watching a float as it travels downwind. On the end of their line will be a No. 8 hook and they will watch as it drifts close to an overhanging tree branch. They catch fish this way. Another angler will be tossing small spinners, plugs or tiny jigs with some kind of plastic lure attached. They too will catch fish.

Fish are funny and the crappie is no different. The fish might be tearing up lures or bait one day and a weather change will suddenly put things to a halt. It is like the turning off of a light switch. There is one thing you can be sure of, however, and that is they were hitting yesterday before you got there and they will hit tomorrow when you are gone.

Compared to other sections of the state, many of which are starved for good fishing water, we are lucky to have Cross Creek Lake. It does have size and bag limits on both crappie and bluegill, and you are not allowed to kill over 20 fish combined. The bluegill must be seven inches or longer and the Crappie nine inches. As soon as this weather starts to settle down I’ll be out searching for my first sign of spring.

George Block writes a weekly outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.

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