“Not as much as I used to,” Huckabee said. “I’m at Eufaula full time now, guiding there, but I have fished all these lakes over the years.”
Huckabee spends a lot of time discussing crappie fishing with fellow anglers, rather on the tournament trail or while guiding, through educational programs like Crappie University or when doing seminars at events like last week’s Topeka Boat and Outdoor Showat the Kansas Expocentre. One of the top recurring topics of conversation has been the introduction of new technologies in understanding crappie behavior.
“We’re covering a lot of fish behavior that we’re learning from the new Garmin LiveScope, where we can actually see fish in real time, live, and how they react to baits,” Huckabee said, “you know, how they react to different-colored baits and how they react to the UV spray, how they react to boat noise and the trolling motor and just all that.
“It’s really important because, if the LiveScope does nothing else — even if you don’t have it, going with someone with it for one day — makes you change a lot of your habits of how you approach things, how you approach certain pieces of cover or schools of fish. It’s taught us a lot.”
Another technology he says has changed his approach to fishing is the use of BaitPro Bait Booster Spray lure flavor on his lures to attract bites.
“For years and years, we had these ‘scents,’ which I hate that word because fish can’t smell, but they can taste and they can see,” Huckabee said. “Crappie are sight feeders and they also suck in a lot of the water and taste what’s around them.”
The spray comes in several flavors, with some featuring a UV coloring that helps draw fishes’ attention in muddy water.
“And so, yeah, as far as technology — as far as I know they’re the leader in amino acids, which makes it more like live prey as opposed to a dead, stinky (smell),” Huckabee said. “Like you can smell our minnow or shad and it smells like minnow or shad. It doesn’t smell like stink bait, rotten stuff. It smells like fish, but in a good way.
“The UV and the amino acids in that, especially when you’re watching them live, how they react to your bait. So something as simple as that technology is helping us catch more fish.”
Winter crappie tactics
Huckabee said the warmer waters of Oklahoma make for great year-round crappie fishing without the issue of ice on the water that more northern states feature during winter months.
“Oh no, we don’t get that,” Huckabee said about the icy layer. “It’s phenomenal. You know, three-man limit, 111, pretty easy right now.”
But even Oklahoma’s temperate waters can get below the all-important 40-degree mark, and when crappie get finicky during the winter, Huckabee has some perhaps counter-intuitive advice for anglers to find fish willing to bite: fish big baits, shallow and slow.
“There’s way more fish up shallow than what people ever realized, and we’re seeing that now with these new graphs,” said Huckabee. “Those suckers live shallow all year long. They do. People think, ‘Oh, I need to be out in 20, 25 feet of water.’ Sure, there’s some fish out there. But the bulk of them, they’re up shallow.”
For example, he said, an angler he talked to at the boat show who fishes the north end at El Dorado was catching fish in 3 to 4 feet of water where the ice was open.
“That’s where they live, and now we know that for sure because you’re looking at ‘em,” Huckabee said. “There’s no BSing anymore, where all these people are saying ‘Aww, you gotta be out deep.’ And you’re sitting there and you’re like, ‘Well, there’s a thousand of ‘em sitting right here up shallow.’ ”
Huckabee never downsizes during the winter, sticking with a 2-inch Beaver Bottom crappie bait that measures about 2 1/2 inches total on the Redneck Rubber LLC jigheads. He typically never goes under an eighth-ounce jighead, as he says you can better feel a bite from a smaller fish on a heavier jighead.
“That’s the other thing you’ll see with this LiveScope is that people are figuring out that the reason they weren’t catching ’em on a big bait but were on a little bait is because they were overfishing the big bait,” Huckabee said. “Because now you’re seeing how fish are responding to it. So the bigger bait, you were getting down too fast, and if the bait goes below them, it scares them. The smaller baits just stay above them longer. So now we know, OK, take the big bait and just don’t put out as much line. Pretty simple. It’s really dumbing down fishing.”
That dumbing down, he said, might be just what is needed in an over-complicated, niche-driven industry where flashy products are routinely created just to catch anglers’ attention, not fish.
“You’re gonna see half of those specialized markets disappear because their buddy got it and they go see, they’ll be like, ‘Well, what this guy told us, that wasn’t true. They were just trying to sell a product,’ ” Huckabee said.
The sport of crappie fishing itself has grown markedly since Huckabee began fishing tournaments, and while it can be over-complicated at times, he sees the growth as a good thing.
“It’ll never get to where the bass market was because of the use of live bait and the team aspect of it but, you know, it’s growing,” Huckabee said. “It’s as big or bigger than it’s ever been and will continue to grow.
“There’s a lot of really good trails, you know, Crappie Masters and ACT (American Crappie Trail), they’re really working hard to promote not only the sport but the anglers, which helps, because without kind of making the anglers heroes then you get no public involvement. The public wants a hero to come and watch.”
Huckabee has become one of the sport’s heroes, so to speak. The three-time Crappie Masters qualifier is a household name among tournament anglers and even has his own signature series of fishing rods. But, he said, there’s still a lot of work to be done on promoting the anglers, not just the trail.
“They’re going to have to figure out different peoples’ personalities and play on that,” Huckabee said. “You know, the slow, quiet guy; the crazy, out-all-night drinking guy. You know, that’s what’s great about Major League Fishing is that they’ll do a special on like Seth Feider, talk about how he drinks beer all night long and parties, where before it would be taboo to talk about that.
“Now they’re saying, OK, you’ve got your Timmy Hortons who’ll have maybe a glass of wine or a beer with dinner and then you’ve got these guys and these guys, but they’re showing we’re all different but we’re all special in our own little way. And that’s where it needs to go. Showing peoples’ strengths and weaknesses, so to speak.”