The vast majority of crappie enthusiasts use either live baitfish suspended under a bobber or small soft-plastic jigs. Sometimes they tip jigs with minnows.
These methods catch fish, but anglers who want to try something different could catch a load of slabs with alternative methods.
In the spring, crappie move into the shallows to spawn, sometimes in places where anglers cannot reach them easily. In the shallows, they frequently turn skittish, especially in clear water.
For tempting these fish, anglers need to present small, subtle baits. However, extremely light baits don't cast very well. Therefore, adding a clear float about the size of a quarter to the line can increase casting heft. About 18 to 24 inches below the float, depending upon the water depth, attach a tiny feather jig, fly or soft-plastic temptation. Rig it to sit just above cover.
"In the spring, crappie spawn in about 1.5 to 2 feet of water," explained Lonnie Stanley, professional angler and lure designer. "During spawning season, we fish a fixed cork with a fly or a 1/8-ounce jig dangling about 18 inches under it. After the spawn, we switch to a slip cork and fish baits about 6 to 8 feet deep along the creek channel edges or by brush piles."
Let the bobber sit for about 15 to 20 seconds and then pull it a foot or two, just hard enough to make the bait rise in the water and sink again. To work baits faster, pause more frequently for shorter duration. When fish want more subtle action, let the float sit for longer periods so flies just twitch with water movements. People can also add a nightcrawler chunk, scented pellet or other enticement for added taste and flavor.
"Sometimes, no action is the best action," said Ted Takasaki, professional angler. "When fish get really spooky, we have to go with stealth tactics. The sitting part is the key. If I can use a bait that looks real and sits there for a few seconds between retrieves, the fish see it and that triggers them to bite."
With a slip bobber, many anglers use commercial "bobber stoppers," but people can also attach a tiny split-shot to the line above a bobber at a desired depth.
In a variation of the bobber jig rig, anglers can use long poles to deftly place tiny baits in sweet spots, like a pocket between two limbs on a fallen tree or an opening in a grass mat. Some folks use lines only 2 to 5 feet long to increase accuracy at reaching places others can't fish.
During spawning season, crappie gather around vertical structure, like standing timber, gnarled old stumps or dock pilings in 2 to 5 feet of water. Approach as quietly as possible, then, drop a 1/16- to 1/64-ounce fly, hair jig or soft plastic as close to cover as possible. Don't use additional weight or a float.
Let the bait slowly sink vertically, but watch the line for any subtle movements that might indicate a strike. Make a natural, subtle presentation without any added action. Crappie usually bite immediately or not at all. If the bait hits bottom, jig it back up toward the surface and move it just a few inches to repeat the procedure.
Whenever possible, such as around solitary standing timber, fish completely around the object. Fish might hold on one side or the other. On a cold day, fish might prefer the sunny side. On a hot day, they might hold in the shade. Whatever the reason, try to fish completely around each object to determine patterns.
Sometimes, anglers catch one or two crappie off each tree or stump. Sometimes, they might catch several fish off one tree and none anywhere else. Keep moving from object to object. After thoroughly probing all available spots at a location, look for similar cover and conditions elsewhere. What attracts one fish to a particular spot will likely attract more crappie. Anglers can also return to spots a few hours later.
Crappie Pro Brad Chappell on Lure Colors
When fish want more aggressive action, toss a spinnerbait on an ultralight spinning rod. Many bass anglers catch big crappie on large spinners, but smaller spinnerbaits produce more consistent action.
A perennial favorite, a beetle spinner, typically consists of a harness spinner attached to a jighead. On the jighead, anglers can try infinite trailer configurations. With harness spinners, people can easily swap out colors, trailer shapes or even blades to find the best combination. Anglers can fish beetle spinners almost anywhere, but they work particularly well around woody cover.
Among the oldest baits on the market, in-line spinnerbaits employ one or more blades revolving around a straight shaft. Most in-line spinners come equipped with a single treble hook, often adorned with fur or feathers. Others come with plastic minnow trailers or similar temptations. In-line spinners tend to snag more easily than beetle spinners, so they work best when crappie pursue baitfish in open water or when run parallel to shorelines, drops, rocks or riprap.
"When I was a kid, I fished a lot with in-line spinners like a Mepps or a Cordell Cottontail," recalled Jimmy Houston, legendary professional angler. "We just threw them out and wound them in and we caught tons of crappie and bass on them. Many people attach in-line spinners to swivels to keep them from twisting the line and troll with them."
Toss a spinner to a likely place, let it sink and count. Figure about one second for every foot of depth. After it hits the desired depth, slowly retrieve it. Keep it just over the bottom, above submerged grass or other cover. In deeper water, add a split-shot to the line about a foot or so above the lure to make it sink faster.
Anglers can also try the pop-and-drop method, which works particularly well around dropoffs. Cast it parallel to the edge and begin a slow retrieve. Occasionally, pause to let the bait sink. The spinner rotates as the lure sinks, creating flash. After it sinks a foot or two, pull it back up and repeat the process. Retrieval speed determines the depth the lure will run. This method works well when searching for scattered fish.
For penetrating into deeper water, small, heavy tail-spinners, like a Little George, can catch fish. Road Runners and similar jighead spinners look more like traditional crappie baits and work well for casting or trolling. When fishing sloping banks, let them hit bottom. Then, hop them along bottom contours.
Don't give up on the proven methods, but every once in a while, anglers just need to try something different. Who knows? You might just find a new favorite technique!
- When crappie go deep after spawning, tempt them with spoons.
- Anglers can vertically jig spoons or cast them.
- A metal jigging spoon sinks quickly, but crappie don't always hang on the bottom.
- Control the sink rate by only letting out a little line at a time to find suspended fish.
- When sinking, a spoon flutters down like a dying shad.
- Fish frequently hit on the fall. If nothing hits, drop a spoon all the way to the bottom.
- After it hits bottom, jig it up and down a few times, especially when fishing around brush or rocks, or next to a deep dropoff.
- If nothing bites at the bottom, bring the bait up to different depths until finding fish.
- Most anglers use 1/8- to 3/4-ounce chrome spoons with facetted edges, which give off flash.
- However, some people prefer gold, green, red or white spoons.
- At night, black gives off a good silhouette.
- Experiment with different colors, sizes, retrieves and depths.