How can you catch a cooler full of jumbo crappie for your next fish fry?
Anglers throughout the country would like to hear a simple answer to that question — a silver bullet, some tight-lipped secret the people who are consistently catching slabs must know about but won’t tell.
Unfortunately, there is not one. But there are proven tactics you can try that increase your odds of success.
CATCHING HIDEAWAY CRAPPIE
Crappie love dense cover. Occasionally you’ll find these popular panfish in open-water habitat — when they’re gorging on schools of threadfin shad, for example. But crappie spend most of their time ambushing prey from within the gnarly tangles of brushpiles, willow thickets, weed beds and other almost-impenetrable habitat.
Fishing these hideaways can be daunting, even for experienced anglers. But it can be done with a 12- to 16-foot jigging pole that has line guides and a line-holder or small reel to hold plenty of line.
Tie on a crappie jig, pulling the knot up to the top of the hook eye so the jig hangs perpendicular to the line. Let the wind push your boat up against the brush, or, if you’re using a small boat, pull it into the thicket as far as you can, away from the heavily fished edge.
Next, grab the line near the line-holder, pull the jig all the way up to the rod tip, work the pole back into the brush carefully and release your line, lowering the jig down through an opening into the water.
Now, slowly raise and lower your rod tip, letting the jig down to the bottom, then gradually bringing it to the surface and repeating the process. If this doesn’t elicit a quick strike, lower the jig to mid-depths, then hold it at that level. A stationary jig quivers and “breathes” like a nervous baitfish, and that’s usually all it takes to entice a nearby slab to strike.
You still must contend with break-offs, and you’ll get hung up a lot. But using this technique you’ll be amazed how many crappie you can extract from similar hidey-holes you once passed by.
CHANGING WITH THE SEASONS
By applying information on seasonal preferences, you can scout for and find prime crappie-fishing areas year ’round.
Summer and winter crappie form large, loose schools and usually hold near cover in 10 to 35 feet of water. In oxbows, look for fish near old river channels or the basin of the lake. Reservoir fish like deep timber near channel breaks, points and humps. River crappie hole up in deep backwaters.
In spring, as the water temperature climbs into the upper 50s and low 60s, crappie move to their spawning grounds, usually in shallow, wind-protected coves with good cover. Most are found near shoreline cover like willows, cypress trees, blowdowns, stickups and weed beds. Larger crappie roam farther out over shallow, main-lake humps or near channel edges adjacent to shallow flats.
During cold fronts, spring crappie may leave shallows for deeper water. Deep timber along channel edges and underwater humps are favorite retreats. The more severe the front, the deeper the fish withdraw.
Locating autumn crappie can be difficult. Fish holding in 8-foot depths one day may move to 20 feet the next. They may hold over brushpiles in the morning and move to deep points by evening. Keep moving until you find feeding fish.
Regardless of season or location, you must establish a fishing pattern to be successful. Vary your tactics until you figure out what’s best.
In spring, fish visible shoreline cover first, moving until you find crappie beds. Deep-holding summer and winter crappie are harder to locate. Fish deep cover located with sonar or troll with several lines at different depths until you find fish. Here-today, gone-tomorrow autumn crappie require shallow- and deep-water searching.
WEED ’EM OUT
Some anglers never look for crappie in beds of submerged vegetation such as elodea and coontail, but they should. Baitfish and other forage animals flourish in these comfortable environs, and crappie gather to feed on them.
Because submerged vegetation grows best in clear waters, you typically can find underwater pockets simply by looking for them. Wear polarized sunglasses to cut glare, and as you drift over a weed bed, watch for openings in the vegetation. The best pockets encompass structure or cover features that don’t conform to the norm. Timber stickups frequently hold fish, for example, as may open cuts through vegetation and nearby points or humps.
Consider fishing these pockets with a Charlie Brewer Weedless Crappie Slider or similar weedless lure. When properly rigged, with the hook point of the special-made jighead buried in the grub, the Slider does exactly what Charlie Brewer intended, eliminating hangups in dense cover.
Some anglers cast into pockets and slowly retrieve the lure across the bottom. It’s better to rig the Slider beneath a slip-bobber, which allows changing depth so the lure hangs near the top of weed edges, at mid-depths or in dark corners near the bottom as conditions dictate. The rig is retrieved in jerk-stop fashion, pulling with a hard tug so the Slider rises toward the surface, then stopping long enough to allow the lure to sink perpendicular to the surface again. Repeat this process until the lure has been retrieved from one edge of the pocket to the other.
Picking pockets isn’t a lark. Fishing weed beds successfully requires hard work and patience. Don’t take the easy way out and go home empty-handed — work harder and catch some slabs.