Large crowds fish for crappie in the spring when they are easier to find. But crappie after the spawn become more elusive. You just have to look a bit harder.
I learned this lesson with an old friend in the 1960s before any type of sonar was used for freshwater fishing. The late J.A. Robinson asked if I wanted to go crappie fishing on an exceptionally hot evening when walking out the door made you sweat. I accepted while wondering if this was a waste of time.
Robinson brought a bucket of minnows and soon we were anchored over an old crappie bed. He lowered his minnow down to the bottom and I did the same. He told me to reel up five times and he would reel up 10 to determine at what depth the crappie were suspended. I reeled, clicked my bail shut, and then waited while sweat dripped down my cheeks.
Almost immediately a crappie tipped my rod with a surprisingly hard thump. I set the hook and started reeling. My minnow was probably 20-feet deep. I soon reeled up the pound crappie and added it to what would soon be a full live well. Soon another crappie was soundly hooked.
An occasional night breeze felt good while we continued catching crappie. Other lights around the lake showed that we were not the only crappie fishermen anchored over crappie beds on a hot August night. The bite stopped and we moved to another bed and started catching crappie after the correct depth was determined. We easily limited out that night.
Successful fishermen agree that anyone can catch hot-weather crappie – if they can find them.
Crappie move from the shallows to deeper water when summer heat takes over. Then submerged standing timber found on deep flats becomes a favorite crappie haunt. They have better oxygen, more bait fish and a more comfortable place to live.
Strangely enough, of the hundreds of trees scattered around a flat, only a few may hold crappie. Experienced fishermen know to fish around the trees with more branches. Heavier cover attracts more baitfish and crappie.
Sonar is useful in determining how many branches are on a submerged tree or even how many fish are suspended around the trunk. Fishermen without sonar learn to find likely looking cover and drop anchors and minnows or jigs.
Determining fish productivity around a tree is easy with sonar. Circle the tree while making sure your transducer, the submerged part that sends signals back to your screen, passes within a few feet of the trunk. This will allow you to see where the branches are thickest and where fishing will be the best. Then anchor off close to the tree and continue watching your screen.
Crappie can sometimes be located close to cliffs and submerged rock islands. Small pockets of brush around these long, rocky expanses attract crappie and are easily located by sonar.
I discovered this by fishing in a small lake in the Missouri Ozarks when the air temperature was over 100 degrees. The crappie had disappeared from the beds and a friend’s depth finder found fish scattered in groups along a long, rocky flat. We cruised back and forth, watching the depth finder and caught a crappie every time we stopped over a spot that showed fish on his screen.
Open water crappie usually school in big numbers and are easily found on a sonar graph, especially today’s modern versions that can almost count the spots on a fish. Piers and floating docks with submerged crappie beds can be productive summer water when the beds are deep enough to support a good source of oxygen. Relentless summer sun beats down on the surface, stripping oxygen out of the shallows.
Years ago we found crappie and other game fish suspended and feeding around giant bridge pillars or suspended bridges on lakes and in rivers. Some pillars are well lit from the bridge lights attracting insects and small fish. This sound structure with or without illumination attracts game fish feeding on shad and minnow that visit the pillars for food.
We anchored off close to the pillars early in the morning or late at night and casted a 1/16-ounce plastic jig just past the concrete. We retrieve after the jig sinks a few feet and rubs against the pillar.
Crappie structures like bridge pillars are visible and easier to find. Finding other hot-weather crappie feeding areas requires electronic aids. Sonar units are important for navigating at night, a common time to fish for hot-weather crappie. The human eye loses some perception at night, making shoreline reference points less reliable than during the day.
Trolling is another great crappie fishing technique during hot weather. Many troll under structure like bridges and along submerged creek channels. Suspended crappie hit passing bait fish. But they are not generally aggressive, so move your bait slowly. I prefer at least 1/16-ounce jigs. They are heavier and sink deeper faster.
Bait for the techniques mentioned is about the same as spring baits. Minnows, jigs tipped or not tipped and small lures work best. Again, try heavier jigs when fishing depths. You can tip jigs with minnows, generally hooked behind the head, euro larvae, mealworms, small pieces of nightcrawler, commercial crappie baits and some even use crickets. The key is an extra incentive for the crappie to bite your jig.
Scents are used for two reasons: to smell like natural bait or to cover human scent. Many fishermen do not realize the importance of camouflaging odors on their hands. Have you ever noticed that some fishermen catch fish while the person sitting next to them using the same bait and technique without success?
We use commercial scents on jigs or lures. But when none are available, we wipe a small bit of slime from crappie sides on our jigs or bait. We only use slime off fish we keep to avoid injuring released crappie.
The second phase of cover scents are odors that imitate shad or other live prey. Crappie are well acquainted with the strong odor of shad that they follow in large schools throughout the year.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.