“Crappie” Chatt Martin, of Lawrence, said he began subsidizing his tournament fishing costs through his guiding service, Crappie Time Fishing, in 2000 while working his day job at Johnson County Community College.
Martin worked at the college for 24 years as a “highly overpayed mechanic” — a position officially listed as the director of vehicle maintenance. He then began guiding full time in 2010.
Guiding has come under some scrutiny in recent years by the state. The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission in 2016 revoked a regulation that allowed commercial guiding by hunters on lands owned and operated by the KDWPT. Anglers also are prohibited from guiding on state waters, but can guide on federal waters.While the changes didn’t affect him, as he only guided on federal waterways to begin with, he said he did have to go to court one time while fishing on a federally protected lake because the game warden mistakenly thought he was guiding on it, which isn’t allowed, when he was really just fishing recreationally with a friend, which is allowed.
“Just because it says ‘guide’ on my truck doesn’t mean I’m guiding,” he said. “Unless I’m getting actually paid for this. And that’s essentially what happened. I think one of the locals said there was a guide out there on the lake and a guy come out and questioned me and asked if I was a guide and I said ‘yes.’
“Next thing I know, I’m getting a ticket. So I went to court and I had to tell them, ‘Well yeah, I am a guide, but I’m sorry guys, I wasn’t getting paid for that day.’ ”
Martin said he doesn’t fish tournaments these days, aside from the occasional benefit tournament, because it takes away from his guiding and other services he offers, which include seminars and promotional services.
“I gave it everything,” Martin said. “There was no tournament that I entered that I didn’t want to win.”
Martin said the winter can be one of the busiest times for him as a guide. With the water temperatures dropping down into the 40s, crappie start to bunch up in the channels. He said if you can find them, the schools are large enough that you might not have to move all day once you’re on top of them. He said the fish becomes easy to catch when this happens.
“You just put a jig down in front of them, and sometimes it doesn’t matter what color it is, but it’s a good time to play with colors,” Martin said. “I use heavy jigs. I usually fish anywhere from 18 to 28 feet, and I’m using quarter-ounce to three-eighths (jig) and just vertical fishing.”
Martin said crappie mostly bite based on the vibration of the lure and the scent at that depth — using Crappie Nibbles as a trailer is essential, he said — though if he had to pick a go-to color, he prefers pinks or chartreuses.
When anglers find the depth of the school, he said, they should let their jig go down to that depth and then mark their line with a Magic Marker or slide a rubber band around their spool so they can drop right back into them. Martin said he likes to use braided line for its sensitivity and low stretch.
“Hair jigs, marabou jigs, you’ve gotta love those things,” he said. “How long have they been around, like forever? And they hold scent well and, believe me, that little hair movement or feather movement is just enough movement to cause vibrations.”
Martin said the winter bite has been “real good” for him. He said he’s been fishing a river lately, but didn’t want to publicize which one as the locals would kill him — or at least slash his tires, he joked — if he made public which river it was.
“It’s a very unique river in Kansas,” he said. “It’s not a wide river, but it’s a deep one and it’s very navigable. There’s 32, 33 feet of water there in places, and it’s out of the wind.”
However, he said the best bet for anglers hoping to catch some big crappie right now was on a lake.
“Our local lakes are real good right now, as far as the bite,” Martin said. “Clinton has got some really nice crappie in it. I think, in the wintertime, you’ll find the biggest crappie (bite) is just going to be at the lake, by finding schools. If one school doesn’t have the right-sized crappie in it, move to another school. You’re going to catch some very, very nice crappie this time of year.”
He also added that anglers fishing in deeper waters should be aware that crappie have a hard time dealing with the sudden change in water pressure that is caused when they are reeled up the water column too quickly. Fish take on extra air in their swim bladder during the ascent, causing the piscatorial version of decompression sickness, also known as “the bends.” The sickness can cause fish to float on their side or upside down and make their eyes and stomaches bulge.
“If you’re going to fish deeper than 25 feet, I would suggest that the first small fish you catch, you move to a different school,” he said. “It’s hard to get that fish back down in the water, because at that 25-foot depth, they’ll bloat up.
“I just hate when you come across a bunch of floating fish out there. I know the birds and stuff gotta eat, but there’s no real reason to do that. It takes a little bit of effort to get them back down, yes, but I have found that if you close their mouth and hold them by the tip of the tail and drop them straight in, it works just about as good as anything, but you’ve gotta do it quick.”
Other methods of getting fish back down include using “descending devices” such as upside-down milk crates or a procedure called fizzing to remove excess air from the swim bladder.
Those interested in booking a charter with Martin can contact him by phone at (785) 841-7893, by cellphone at (785) 312-0945 or by email at email@example.com.
— With the crappie population biting so well right now, Phil Taunton, host of KVOE radio’s “What’s in Outdoors” show, also cautioned anglers to exercise moderation when taking fish to maintain the health of the populations in Kansas lakes. He said that many females are already carrying egg sacs, which they will continue to develop through the winter before the spring spawn. He urged anglers to only keep enough for a mess and to practice catch and release as much as possible.
— The heated dock at Lake Shawnee opened for the season on Nov. 1, making for a great local spot to fish for crappie and stay warm in the cold winter days. The dock is located above a brush pile and anglers often fish the spot with minnows or jigs. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is located on the west side of the lake near the marina.