Catch Crappie Under Summer Stars
It’s been hot here in Arkansas the past few weeks – Africa hot. For some folks, the scorching summer weather meant it was too uncomfortable to even consider going crappie fishing. But for me, my son Josh and our friend Alex Hinson, the blazing August temperature wasn’t a deterrent. It just meant we’d plan our fishing at a different time than usual: in the middle of the night. And we knew exactly where we’d go: a dock on one of our favorite crappie lakes.
All of us own boats, so we might have night fished from one of those crafts. But we agreed it would be safer and more enjoyable to fish from the dock instead of launching a boat and motoring in darkness. That we did.
When we arrived, the temperature had fallen from 100 degrees to a more tolerable 90. The first order of business was lighting lanterns to see by, setting up lawn chairs in which to sit and sorting tackle so we’d be ready to fish. We then dropped some floating and submersible crappie lights near a brushpile in the water adjacent the dock and started rigging poles while we waited for the action to start.
It wasn’t long before we saw small baitfish swimming around the lights. At first, the shad and minnows were few in number, but soon the schools grew in size, and hundreds of baitfish swirled about the crappie lights. This was what we’d been waiting for.
Josh had rigged up a minnow beneath a bobber. Alex was tightlining a jig, and I decided to fish first with a small jigging spoon. Each of us was fishing with a long jigging pole, and as we used the poles to position our baits in three different spots around the lights, only seconds passed before each of us had hooked a nice crappie. We placed those fish on a stringer, and Josh, a bit quicker than Alex and me, was soon tussling with a slab that was determined to break his line. My son somehow got the better of the fish and swung the 2-pounder onto the dock, letting out a whoop of joy that surely woke some of the nearby campers.
We didn’t limit out that night, but when we headed home several hours later, we had several dozen crappie in our cooler, including 10 in the 1 1/2- to 2-pound range.
Hot-weather crappie fishing can be tough. When the water temperature soars, our favorite panfish often sound, heading for deep-water realms few anglers are much good at fishing. If you fish at night, though, you can find success. And as I’ve learned, you don’t need a boat to do it.
Where to Fish
You could do your night fishing from a boat, of course – if you have one. But boating in darkness comes with inherent hazards, and if you’re like me, you’d just as soon avoid those.
To do so, scout in daylight hours for docks, piers, boat slips, marinas and other such structures where crappie fishing after dark might bring success.
On many waters, government agencies have built public fishing piers that are ideal sites for some witching hour slab hooking. Typically, brushpiles or other fish attractors attractive to crappie are sunk in several spots around the pier, and your scouting can help you determine where they are so you can readily fish them at night.
Although usually in shallow waters, lighted docks, boat slips and marinas are also first-rate night-fishing spots. Overhead lights attract flying insects and baitfish, and many dock owners place crappie-attracting brushpiles nearby. You should, of course, be certain to get permission before fishing from privately owned structures. Many owners will grant permission to courteous anglers, however, especially those indicating a willingness to share some of their catch.
You can use the same crappie tackle you use during the day: the same poles, same line, same terminal tackle, same baits. You will, however, need some good crappie lights for successful night fishing. These work by attracting insects and zooplankton, which attract shad and minnows, which in turn attract predator fish such as crappie. Crappie gather around the circle of light to feed. You drop in a bait to catch them.
Lanterns have long been used, including the venerable Coleman lantern, a mainstay for many night fishermen today. Also popular are traditional floating lights featuring a Styrofoam flotation ring surrounding a white, sealed-beam light. These are inexpensive and widely available. Most run off 12-volt systems, with alligator clips attached to battery posts for power. The angler places the lights beside the dock or other structure where they float with the light beam pointing down to attract baitfish and crappie.
Floating lights with more energy-efficient LED or fluorescent illumination also work great, including green lights in addition to white, which often work better at drawing crappie. Power for these models may come from standard 12-volt alligator clips or alkaline batteries.
Also consider using submersible lights that slide beneath the surface and light up the depths. Battery-powered, 12-volt, LED and fluorescent models are available, with white or green lights.
Ideally you want to place your lights near some type of cover or structure beside your fishing spot – over a brushpile, for example, or a bottom drop-off. Floating and submersible lights can be used separately or in combination, but combinations – a pair of floating lights positioned above two submersible lights, for example – tend to be more versatile, lighting multiple levels of the water column to attract crappie.
You can start fishing immediately, but bear in mind crappie probably won’t show up until baitfish appear. This may take anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more. So relax, have a soda and chew the fat. If you’ve chosen a good fishing area, you’ll soon notice baitfish around the light. At first there may be only a few, but where shad and minnows are plentiful, a whirling mass of small fish soon will be swimming in the lighted water. If the water is clear enough, you may actually see crappie picking off the baitfish.
A weighted live minnow beneath a slip cork is a good enticement, and jigs the size of the predominant baitfish almost always prove productive. Some anglers like casting and retrieving spinners through the circle of light, or working jigging spoons vertically on a tight line.
Regardless of what you use, night fishing 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 try night fishing from a dock, pier, boat slip or marina this season. It’s a sure cure for the sultry summertime blues.
Note: Keith Sutton is the author of The Crappie Fishing Handbook. To order an autographed copy of this 198-page, full-color book that’s full of fishing tips, visit www.catfishsutton.com.