Fishing for nighttime crappie gets you out of the summer heat and puts more fish in the cooler.
By Keith Sutton
With summer's sultry weather upon us, those who love crappie fishing become night owls. You can catch crappie during daylight hours this season, but hardcore fans know you'll usually catch more when bats are flying and the moon is bright. During hot weather, many crappie work the late shift. Crappie anglers should, too.
If you're venturing out for a darkside crappie-fishing excursion, try these tips that are sure to help you hook more slabs.
Have a Plan
Take some time to plan where you will fish when the sun goes down. Good summer spots include creek channel and bluff edges, deep points, fish attractors/brushpiles in 10-25 feet of water and channels running beneath bridges. Mark the spots on GPS or memorize the route to each, then you won't be struggling to find your spot in the darkness.
It's also a good idea to organize your poles and tackle during daylight hours so you can easily find what you need in the dim glow of a lantern. Wear a life jacket and kill switch, and be sure you have the proper running lights on your boat.
Know the Process
Night fishermen use floating and submersible lights that aid in attracting crappie to their fishing spots. The lights attract plankton. The plankton attract baitfish. The baitfish attract crappie.
Understanding this process is important to night-fishing success. And understanding that the process requires several minutes to an hour or more to work will help you avoid frustration when the crappie don't start biting immediately after you place your lights. Give the process time, and when you see baitfish gathering in the lighted water, you know it's time to drop a bait or lure.
You can use floating lights alone, submersible lights alone or a combination of the two. Combinations tend to work better, though, with one light shining down from the surface and another lighting up the depths.
You'll also want a lantern, headlamp or spotlight in the boat to provide illumination for tying lures and hooks, baiting your rig, removing fish and such.
Today's night-fishing lights are available in white and green. There's a good reason lights that are red, blue, yellow or other colors aren't manufactured. White and green wavelengths of light are most attractive to plankton.
Plankton is a primary food of many baitfish, so when plankton gather in water around your crappie light, baitfish move in to enjoy the banquet. The baitfish in turn attract crappie for you to catch.
Here's the thing, though. When possible, you should always use green lights, not white. Why?
Studies have shown that plankton migrate to light for reproduction, and green has the best ability to cause this to happen. White works, too, but white light is absorbed very quickly in water. It doesn't penetrate very deep so it's less effective than green, which maintains its color character at much greater depths.
One researcher put five different colors of lights in the water at the same time, and green always attracted bait (and thus sportfish) far better. So using green is the best option. If you still have white lights you use, adding one or more green lights will increase the effectiveness of your illumination efforts.
Serve a Buffet
Jigs and minnows are the best crappie baits, day and night. But at times it pays to vary the menu for discriminating nighttime diners.
If crappie are feeding on shad attracted to your lights, shad may outproduce minnows. Where legal, catch them with a dip net or cast net, then clip the tail or fins to give them an erratic, crippled action. Crappie can't resist.
Swarms of mayflies or other insects may be attracted to your lights. And at times, crappie gorge on the bugs while refusing baitfish. Be watchful for such phenomena and act accordingly.
Among artificials, small jigging spoons and spinners compete with jigs. When allowed to fall on a slack line through schooling baitfish beneath your lights, they'll quickly garner a bite from opportunistic crappie.
Two Rigs Are Better Than One
When you start fishing, it may be hard to tell where crappie are in relation to your lights. Having several rigs in the water (where law permits) helps pinpoint them.
Fish with one lure or rig near the light, and have your companions fish other spots spaced along the length of the boat. Or, if you're fishing minnows beneath bobbers, place them at different spots while you wait for a bite.
Often the best fishing spot is near the light. At other times, crappie bite better on the fringes. This may indicate there's structure near the place they're biting and none where there's no action. Moving the lights or boat to get positioned more directly over the fish may help.
Get Down But Not Out
Until you determine the crappies' preference, set baits at different depths using water clarity as a guide. If the lake is clear, crappie may be at 20 to 30 feet, in stained water 10 to 20 feet and in muddy water 5 to 10 feet. Remember, however, your lights will draw the fish closer to the surface. The key is to get your bait down to the level where fish are feeding, but not beneath or too far above the strike zone. If you start with rigs at different depths, figuring the pattern is easier.
Targeting crappie after dark provides lots of time to sit and socialize with your fishing buddies. Anglers of all ages enjoy the thrills, the laughs and companionship an after-hours crappie junket provides. So give night-fishing a try this season. There's no better way to catch crappie when the heat is on.
Autographed copies of "The Crappie Fishing Handbook" by Keith Sutton can be ordered by visiting www.catfishsutton.com.