“What can I do to catch more crappie?”
Many anglers want a simple answer to that question, but unfortunately, there’s not always one to be found. I’ve been chasing crappie for decades, and I’ve learned that no magic formula will insure success every time we fish for America’s favorite panfish.
One thing is certain, though; when we’re having an unproductive fishing day, as often as not it’s due to our own errors, not because crappie are exceptionally evasive or tight-lipped.
The cure? Do some self-analysis and determine if you’re missing fish because of bad habits. If you are, it’s never too late to change.
Bad Habit #1: Fishing the right place at the wrong time.
When spring arrives, crappie invade shallow-water spawning habitat. This makes them much easier to find and catch than during other seasons and results in more anglers fishing for crappie during this period.
Crappie also feed actively during summer, fall and winter, but during these seasons, they’re less likely to be concentrated in the shallows. Nevertheless, many anglers continue fishing the same shallow-water locales that produced big stringers of fish earlier in the year. They think spring hotspots should be just as good at other times as they were during spring, but this seldom proves true.
You’ll catch more fish if you learn where crappie are most likely to be during each season and tailor your fishing methods to finding them. In summer, warm weather drives crappie to comfort zones in deeper or shadier water. Autumn crappie roam like nomads, often feeding shallow one day and deep the next. During winter, most crappie move to deep cover and structure again. Savvy crappie anglers recognize these seasonal tendencies and follow the fish from one place to another as seasons change.
Bad Habit #2: Failure to focus.
Crappie are light biters. Seldom do they strike a bait or lure with the power of a bass or trout. They’re more likely to inhale the bait with a flare of their gills, then quickly spit it back out if the hook isn’t set. For this reason, many bites go unnoticed by inattentive anglers, and the fish escape before the angler even knows they were there.
To overcome this problem, ardent crappie anglers know they must focus their attention constantly on their line and/or bobber. They watch closely for slight twitches or slackening in the line that signal a taker. And they use small, sensitive floats that detect strikes better than other types. Brightly colored, fluorescent lines are easier to see, so these are considered standard terminal tackle by many hardcore crappie fans as well.
Bad Habit #3: Fishing brush and only brush.
Many anglers think to find crappie you must fish some type of brushy cover such as an inundated treetop, a manmade fish attractor, a willow thicket or other dense, woody cover.
Crappie do frequent brushy cover. In some situations, however, crappie – especially big crappie – may be in areas with no brush.
In big reservoirs with abundant schools of threadfin shad, for example, crappie weighing 1 ½ pounds or more are more likely to be found near schools of shad than holding around brush. Unlike small crappie, which find a safe haven from predators in a brushpile’s maze of branches, these giants aren’t on the menu of many predators. Their own appetite is substantial, however, so they follow roaming shad schools, feasting on these high-protein baitfish.
In this situation, therefore, you’re likely to catch more and bigger crappie if you fish places where shad are schooling, such as underwater ledges, riprapped banks or even the bottom. Use your sonar to pinpoint the baitfish and the crappie are sure to be nearby.
The lesson here is to think outside the box now and then, especially when fishing gets tough. Crappie may not always be where you expect.
Bad Habit #4: Ignoring water clarity issues.
Many crappie anglers use the same baits and presentations regardless of whether the water is clear, muddy or in between. It’s important to change your tactics, however, as water clarity changes.
For example, crappie hold tighter to cover when water is muddy, so it’s important to work your bait or lure right against the cover.
In clear water, you may have to do just the opposite to avoid spooking fish. Back off and cast your lures or minnows from a distance.
The point to remember here is that variations in water clarity have dramatic effects on crappie behavior, and to catch more fish, you must adapt presentations to the conditions you encounter.
Bad Habit #5: Giving up too soon.
If hours pass without a crappie bite, it’s common to assume the fish must have lockjaw and aren’t going to bite regardless of what we do. In fact, the crappie may simply be more finicky in their habits than usual, and the angler has failed to determine a fishing pattern that will garner strikes on that particular day.
For example, if you start fishing around mid-morning and haven’t caught a fish in several hours, it’s easy to convince yourself it would be best to try again some other day. There are times, however, when crappie feed most actively near dawn and dusk. If this is one of those times, you may see feeding activity increase considerably in the hours around sunset. If you give up too soon, however, you’ll miss the bite.
There also are times when crappie are persnickety about the lures they’ll hit. I remember, for example, fishing with a friend on a clear mountain reservoir and failing to get a single bite after trying every color and size of tube jig in our tackle boxes. We couldn’t buy a bite on minnows or spinners either. But when my buddy cast a little deep-diving, minnow-like crankbait and ripped it back to the boat, he nabbed a slab that weighed close to 1 ½ pounds. Over the next hour, that same lure produced 15 more slabs.
Be flexible in your presentations. If one thing doesn't work, try another. Change the color, size or type of lure you're using; vary the speed of your retrieve; fish at different times around the clock; try a variety of cover and structure types. Keep changing up if bites aren’t forthcoming, and sooner or later, you should pinpoint something productive.
Don’t give up too soon.