May 19, 2022
The year was 1970, and I was being raised to be a crappie fisherman by a crappie fisherman—my father, Mick. We were live-bait fishermen. A 3-inch minnow hooked lightly under the dorsal fin on a No. 4 Eagle Claw hook, with a small split shot and a red-and-white round bobber above it, was our go-to.
Occasionally, however, my pop would break tradition and tie on a 1/8-ounce marabou jig tipped with a minnow. The color always the same: chartreuse. No whites, no reds, no yellows, no multi-color schemes. Just chartreuse.
So, I grew up thinking chartreuse was the only color needed when it came to crappies and jigs. Truth is, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of viable color options when it comes to catching crappies on jigs and jig hybrids. Chartreuse will work often, but is it the best choice on a sunny day? What about a cloudy day?
Let’s take a look at two theories about selecting the right color jig for the given conditions when crappies are the target.
It’s a common misconception among some anglers that crappies are always easy to catch. Throw a jig of any color and you’re bound to catch a slab. Experienced crappie anglers know better.
Tim Deaver, 50, is a resident of Silver Lake, Wash., and lives within walking distance of one of the finest crappie waters in the Evergreen State—Cowlitz County’s Silver Lake. He serves as the hunting buyer for a sporting-goods store in Longview, Wash. Deaver caught the crappie bug 40 years ago and has been hunting slabs ever since.
In Washington, anglers aren’t allowed to use minnows for bait. Deaver, like others, relies on jigs to fool crappies.
"I believe color is the key to catching lots of crappies," Deaver says. "I have my tried-and-true half-dozen colors that I go to depending on the conditions. On sunny days, I’m sticking with my brighter colors. When there’s a lot of sun, those fish are going to be underneath something. Some type of [shady] cover. Early morning and late evening, you might find them in open water, but for the most part, shade-producing structure is going to be key.
"Day in and day out, I don’t have a (combination) that’s as consistent as black and chartreuse. But for big crappies? It would be straight chartreuse."
Unlike some anglers, Deaver doesn’t change tactics dramatically when daylight conditions differ.
"I catch a lot of my crappie in open water on cloudy days," he says. "Now, and I know it goes against tradition, but I’m still going to be throwing those bright colors—hot pink, hot orange, maybe something with a chartreuse tail."
The style of soft-plastic body used on the jighead also can make a difference. Not surprisingly, Deaver has his go-to rig. And, like his color choices, it’s not what some might consider traditional.
"Honestly," he says, "about 95 percent of the time, I’m fishing a Freaky Frank’s 2 1/2-inch worm, especially in May. Far and away, Freaky Frank’s, for me, have been a game-changer when it comes to crappie fishing."
MATCH THE HATCH
About 625 miles south of Deaver’s home water, Ed Legan holds his own theories on crappies, color and what it all means. Legan, 69, calls Clearlake, Calif., home, and the nearby 44,000-acre Clear Lake his home water. An avid–some might say fanatical–crappie fisherman, Legan has been guiding anglers for five decades, today operating both the Clear Lake Crappie Guide Service and the Clear Lake Family Guide Service on the big lake. Legan, like Deaver, has his go-to jigs for fooling crappies.
"I’m torn between two baits," Legan says. "The first is a Keitech 2.5 Swing Impact on a 1/16-ounce jig. It has a wonderfully slow fall (rate), and I’m just watching that fall and waiting on that ‘tick.’ The other one is Bass Assassin’s Pro Tiny Shad."
For Legan, color selection and time of day go hand-in-hand.
"Early morning, I’m throwing white because of the low-light conditions," he says. "Later in the day when the sun’s up, I’m using that Keitech 2.5 Swing Impact in a color they call Pro Blue/Red Pearl."
Another hue Legan likes is Bobby Garland’s interestingly named Monkey Milk, a silvery-white/black-flake combination that mimics Clear Lake’s natural forage base.
The bottom line to this discussion on colors and crappies? It’s okay to have your favorite colors and favorite baits. But it’s also important to have other options in your tackle box, and the willingness to switch gears when the fish aren’t biting. Being versatile as conditions change—throughout the day, week and year—could help you catch more fish.
A lot of things have changed in the crappie fishing world since I started pursuing these fish more than 50 years ago. And a lot have stayed the same. Chartreuse or white curly-tail grubs or marabou jigs will never go out of style with some crappie anglers, while others will always be on the lookout for the next super bait or funky color. The beauty of crappie fishing is anglers from both groups might experience success on the same day. And maybe in the same boat.