During the sultry part of summer we know as the Dog Days — the hottest, most uncomfortable part of the year — crappie fishing can get real tough ... unless you know the secrets for success this season. These tips could help.
Work the Thermocline
In lakes that stratify during summer (most natural lakes and those without power facilities), it's easy to zero in on the depth where most crappie lurk. Stratified lakes have a layer of cool, unoxygenated water on bottom and a layer of hot, oxygen-rich water on top.
A layer of fairly cool, oxygen-rich water called the thermocline is sandwiched between the two. Regardless of whether the thermocline is eight inches thick or eight feet thick, that's where you'll find your quarry.
The thermocline's depth varies from lake to lake. To find it, watch your sonar while moving around the lake, and look for suspended fish — any fish. You'll notice most are within a specific stratum of water at about the same depth. That's the thermocline. When fishing, start at that depth, and stay at that depth unless all else fails.
Try Bottom Fishing
When you know the thermocline's depth, look for areas where crappie-attracting structure covers the bottom at that depth, then bottom-fish a live minnow. Thread a slip sinker on your line, and below it, tie on a barrel swivel. To the swivel's lower eye, tie a 3-foot leader of light line tipped with a crappie hook. Add a minnow, then cast the rig and allow it to settle to the bottom. When a crappie takes the bait, the line moves freely through the sinker with no resistance to alert fish to a possible threat.
Be Patient When Using Night Lights
If it's jungle-hot outside, fishing at night using specialty crappie lights can increase your catch. But be sure to allow plenty of time for your set-up to work.
Inexperienced night fishermen often move after 20 or 30 minutes, thinking a lack of bites indicates a lack of nearby crappie. But you should stay in one spot longer than that before relocating elsewhere.
Relax, have a soda, and chew the fat.
Be patient long enough for the light to attract insects, for the insects to attract baitfish, and for the baitfish to attract crappie, a sequence that may take more than an hour.
Attract Minnows, Attract Crappie
When fishing is slow during daylight hours, try an approach that duplicates the use of a crappie light at night. A light attracts insects, which in turn attracts minnows. But minnows also can be attracted by chumming with dry dog food, bread crumbs or similar offerings.
Scatter the chum by handfuls in several shallow-water areas, then move back to the first place you put chum and drop in a minnow. Fish each consecutive spot and see if your catch rate doesn't improve. Often, it will.
When trolling for summer crappie — a tactic that works great for finding tight summer schools — try mounting your trolling motor on the side of the boat instead of the front. This allows you to move in a very slow, controlled fashion so you can mine deep structures more efficiently.
Summer crappie often suspend in 10 to 20 feet of water around the branches of standing submerged trees. To reach them quickly, lower a small jigging spoon on a tight line directly down through the branches. Give the spoon a short upward pull at every three feet of depth. Crappie often inhale the lure as it falls, and the jerk will hook it.
Fish Storm Fronts
Summer weather tends to be stable, with minimal effects on crappie activity. But when conditions are such that afternoon thunderstorms are popping up day after day, plan an outing that allows you to fish just before a storm hits.
Don't be on the water during periods of lightning or high wind. But if you can do it safely, be fishing when the clouds start to thicken and the wind picks up.
Just before a storm hits, crappie often move to surface strata and feed actively. The action may last only a few minutes, but during those few minutes, you may catch more fish than you will the rest of the day.
After the Storm
When a summer storm ends, look for crappie in the thickest available cover — buckbrush, willow thickets, etc. Allow the wind to blow your boat against the cover. Use a long pole to work a jig into the brush, then fish little pockets most folks miss. Fish the jig with little movement, and work each hole thoroughly.
Bass Baits for Big Ones
If you want to target the biggest crappie in a lake — let's say you want to catch that 3-pounder you'd like to put on the wall — try throwing a spinnerbait made for bass. You probably won't catch many crappie, but if the body of water you're fishing has a healthy population of big slabs, you could find a real whopper on your line in addition to some nice bass.