A few months before I lost my old friend and hunting partner, Steve Merlo, he called me one day and asked if I would do him a big favor.

At the time, he was giving fishing lessons at an evening class at Bakersfield College. He wanted me to take a trip to Lake Isabella and video fishing for crappie with mini-jigs. He planned to use it in his class as a demo tape.

He showed up at my house a few days later with his boat in tow and we, along with his wife Candy, headed up the canyon. We were greeted by perfect weather and very little wind as we set out from near the dam and made a beeline for the area around Rocky Point.

That brought back a long-time memory because the first time I hunted ducks on the lake was off that point when it was filling after the dam was put in.

My cousin, uncle and I walked off Rocky Point with tumbleweed blinds and decoys, and never got over waste-deep in water. Had a great diver duck shoot. I guess it is at least 50-to-60 feet deep today.

I am going to be quoting directly from the tape I did for Steve so all the comments will be his, and I hope they will be most helpful to you.

(1) "We are just cruising here off Rocky Point in about 18 feet of water. My fish-finder is showing a lot of fish near the bottom including bass, trout, carp, catfish, bluegill and crappie. I'm looking for large schools of small fish. I've found that the best results are when fishing just off the bottom, so I am searching for schools in the 14-to-15 foot range."

(2) "OK...We're ready to attach the mini-jig to my hook now. The first thing I do is sharpen the hook with a sharpening stone. If you drag the tip across your thumbnail it should catch. Most fish that are caught and lost is because of a dull hook."

(3) "I'm now sliding the jig onto the hook, but not all the way on. I am taking a few drops of super glue and putting them onto the base of the hook. Then continue to slide the jig on. This really keeps it in one piece. I also take the knot on the line and slide it to the side of the jig so it moves through the water more like a real minnow."

(4) "You now add a white "Power Bait Crappie Niblet" to the end of the hook. I don't know how I ever caught fish in the old days without this product. All the difference in the world."

(5) "We're now going to cast out. I am using 4-pound test line today only because there is the chance of catching another type of larger fish. I usually prefer only 2-to-3 pound test line for crappie. Let the line sink all the way to the bottom until you have slack line. Then slowly...and I mean slowly...retrieve your line. When the fish is on, you will not actually feel the bite, but will feel pressure on the line. When you feel that, set the hook."

(6) "I'm using a chartreuse and white combination mini-jig instead of the usual red and white that is used in shallower waters. This color shows better at the deeper depths we are at today."

(7) "One last thing to remember. Buy the very best rod and reel that you can afford. You will not be sorry. And, don't be cheap with your equipment. The best line, weights, and other items may only cost a few cents more."

Watching this video made me remember what a great sportsman Steve was and how much I miss his friendship. He ended the film by giving his best recipe for eating these great little fish.

"Dip the fish filet into a batch of beaten egg. Then roll into a pre-mixed batch of flour, seasoned bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, and salt and black pepper. Just fry to a golden brown for the best crappie ever."

Ken Barnes is a record setting shooter and longtime outdoorsman from Kern County. Email him at ken.barnes@aol.com with comments or column ideas.

(1) comment


That man was a saint. Maybe not a perfect one but Bakersfield’s Saint and thankfully Ken is remembering his dear friend.

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