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Waist Deep in Papermouths

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by Caleb Hensley, 903 Fishing

What’s going on LIFE AND LAND Magazine readers? It’s 903 Fishing here! Stay tuned for an exclusive Spring Issue to showcase how the 903 Fishing channel started, the milestones we achieved along the way, and learn a little about one of my favorite ways to catch crappie. Thank you for reading and God Bless!

How It All Began

I was introduced to fishing when I was five years old in the spring of 1997. My father, George Hensley, would take me fishing at the Lake Wright Patman spillway. When I was 10 years old, I often went with my grandfather, Jimmy Hanna, in the boat to fish the banks of Lake Wright Patman. I have fond memories of fishing for spawning crappie using a bobber and live minnows during these fishing trips. This was when the love of seeing a cork go down from a crappie bite started.

In 2016, I fondly recall a specific trip to Red Water Bridge, off Lake Wright Patman, where my brother, Jacob Hensley, and I caught a double limit of crappie. (In Texas, the regulated daily bag limit is 25 crappie per person.) This fishing trip was a bonding moment for us as brothers, and it reignited my love for crappie fishing. From this fishing trip forward, all I could think of was when and how I could catch my next crappie.

As a Physical Education Teacher for the Tyler Independent School District in May of 2020, I was unable to teach for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year due to the impact of a global pandemic. Despite the challenges and uncertainty that the height of the Covid-19 pandemic brought, I decided to focus on combining my passion for teaching and my love for fishing as I established the 903 Fishing channel on YouTube. Due to social distancing restrictions, I was able to dedicate the majority of my time to the 903 Fishing channel with just a GoPro camera and the outdoors, which created a strong foundation for the unexpected growth that came the following years.

As I got my footing in the digital influencer world, I knew I wanted to use my new platform to not only share my passion for teaching and my love for fishing, but I also wanted to use my platform to spread the gospel. As a Christian based channel, I truly believe this is God’s way of letting me spread the word about him to others. I have been able to reach a large demographic by creating informational and entertaining content for the whole family. Every Sunday, the 903 Fishing channel goes live via YouTube for a question-and-answer segment as it pertains to fishing. During this segment, I always take a moment for prayer requests so that I, and the 903 Fishing family, can exchange prayer requests and pray for those in need. My favorite bible verse can be seen on the side of the 903 Fishing boat, “And he saith unto them, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19

The Road to Success

As previously mentioned, I did not foresee the growth that came in the years following the creation of 903 Fishing. I started a campaign called #GrowTheFamily to help boost channel growth by employing the engagement of my subscribers and supporters. I firmly believe that “word of mouth” will continue to take precedence in marketing and advertising despite us living in a digital age. Due to the grace of God, my dedication, and the support of my subscribers, the 903 Fishing channel reached our first major goal of 5,000 subscribers in May of 2021, just in time for the one year anniversary of the 903 Fishing channel. From there, the momentum increased and the 903 Fishing channel reached the next milestone of 10,000 subscribers near Thanksgiving of 2021. The next campaign was for #Roadto25k subscribers and was achieved in July of 2022. I was so incredibly blessed already but continued to campaign for the next milestone, and the next one after that. The 903 Fishing channel reached the milestone of #Roadto50k subscribers in April of 2023; just in time for the three year anniversary of the 903 Fishing channel. With continued hard work and support of my following, we have recently hit the milestone of #Roadto75k subscribers in December of 2023. The campaign for 2024 is #Roadto100k. I never thought this day would come, let alone come this soon, but I continue to put my faith in God and in the support of my following. These achievements are not mine alone by any means. Again, the channel would not be where it is today without God, my family, and the 903 Fishing family.

I have since been featured in articles in the NETX Crossroads Magazine and the Bowie County Citizen’s Tribune.

Wading for Crappie in the Spring

My favorite time to crappie fish is hands down the springtime in the great Lone Star State of Texas. Specifically in East Texas, as the water temperatures rise to approximately 55 degrees, and the dogwoods start to bloom, I know that this is a sign that the crappie are spawning. Crappies are only known to spawn heavily for 4-6 weeks during the months of March and April in Texas, and I have found out that “timing” is very important while crappie fishing during the spawn. I have had success in finding spawning crappie in shallow coves, structure (more specifically buckbrush), and near the banks of East Texas lakes. Buckbrush is known for providing optimal spawning grounds for male crappie to come in first to fan out beds, then for female crappie to lay their eggs, and for male crappie to stay to guard the beds until after their fry hatch. These conditions are ideal to identify, and I take advantage of them in order to be successful when wading for crappie.

Next, I wade in these areas with my 10-foot ACC Crappie Stix that allows a 1/8th oz Slab City hand-tied crappie jig to be descended upon the crappie’s bed with minimal disturbance to their territory. I have come to notice that crappie tend to be very protective over their territory while spawning which results in a crappie “thump” or bite of the Slab City hand-tied jig. Although the “thump” can trigger a fisherman’s instinct to “set the hook”, it is of note that this poses as difficult due to the close proximity to the buckbrush. I have personally become accustomed to this challenge, and I am addicted to the “thump”. I would describe buckbrush as a very dense vegetation with a large root system that acts as a web of protection to the seasonal resident crappie. Due to this strong method of protection, the crappie are not as easily caught. I do not let this lack of a catch result in defeat, but rather I continue to make adjustments until the “thump” produces a large spawning crappie. I use 10# braid while wading for crappie considering this heavy/thick vegetation that these big crappie must come out of. It’s truly amazing to see the areas where crappie go to spawn, and even more amazing to pull a keeper crappie out of a foot of water.

The gear necessary for this method of fishing is quite minimal. A pair of leakproof chest waders is almost essential. I say almost because some guys wade fish in shorts and sandals. While it is possible, the water temps are still very cool in early spring. A pair of waders will make the trip much more enjoyable. You will need a jig pole or a cane pole. I prefer the 10 foot ACC Crappie Stix. You’ll need a small tackle box that will hold a few extra jigs, sinkers, bobbers, and supplies. Keep the tacklebox small and portable so it will fit in the pouch on your waders. Lastly, you’ll need a stringer to put your keepers on! Some guys use a floating wire basket with a spring loaded lid. They work well, too.

It is important to feel around as you take each step. Remember, this is a stealth approach. Walk slowly and try not to splash or make a wake. The goal is to get into range without the fish knowing you are anywhere near them.

I will say I do not go wading for crappie alone. Safety will always come first. I make sure to take a buddy along with me on these fishing journeys. Since I am wearing waders, and the bottom of the lake changes from year to year, I don’t want to take the risk of stepping in a hole which will result in my waders filling up, and we all know the result of that kind of accident. At least you will have someone with you to call for help, or to help you. I would even suggest wearing a life jacket while doing this type of crappie fishing. It never hurts to be “too safe”.

Where to Find 903 Fishing?

Stay connected on all social media platforms; Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. YouTube live Shows are held every Sunday at 7/8pm CST for questions, prayer requests, and giveaways. Join us in our #Roadto100k subscribers on YouTube.

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