Hang around this country's top crappie anglers and you'll learn something that may surprise you.
During summer, when crappie move to deeper haunts, many of these anglers don't fish with jigs, minnows or other baits you might expect. Instead, they use crankbaits to entice hot-weather slabs.
Three primary reasons are cited by every crankbait aficionado.
- First, crankbaits quickly reach the strike zone and stay there, allowing you to thoroughly work the band of water where summer fish stay.
- Second, with crankbaits, you can cover lots of water quickly to find scattered summer crappie schools.
- And third, crankbaits are excellent big-fish lures. Smaller fish also hit cranks, but crappie 1-1/2 pounds and larger, which often refuse smaller offerings, rarely ignore a crankbait.
If you want to try crankbaits, here are some tried-and-true tactics that can help you nab slabs this season.
Carry the Right Lures
The best crankbaits for crappie are those that mimic the natural movements and colors of shad, minnows or other baitfish. Smaller versions — 1/10- to 1-ounce — tend to work best, but if you're willing to forego catching lots of fish for that chance at some true barn doors, remember big cranks often entice bigger crappie.
It's also a good idea to carry a variety of crankbaits that can be worked at different depths. Carry some shallow-running models, some that suspend and others that are deep divers.
Crankbaits are very effective in summer when crappie are schooling on the surface.
During the dog days of July and August, crappie that normally hold in 15 to 25 feet of water will occasionally feed at the surface near dawn and dusk. Find them by watching for rough patches on otherwise smooth waters in large wooded coves.
They'll be chasing schools of small shad you'll see leaping from the water. By quietly positioning your boat near the feeding school and tossing a shad-imitation crankbait into the melee, you can sometimes fill an ice chest with a mess of fat slabs.
Stop, Drop, Reel
Don't expect crappie to attack crankbaits with the ferocity of bass. Often, a crappie only nips at the lure rather than hitting it hard. When you feel a crappie tapping, stop reeling, drop your rod tip, and take up slack. Then raise the rod on a tight line, and you usually will have the fish hooked. When the lure stops, the crappie thinks it has injured the prey and quickly attacks before one of its schoolmates grabs the easy meal.
Test the Greenery
Summer crappie often hold around submerged beds of green aquatic vegetation such as coontail and elodea. Test these waters for slabs by drifting or fan-casting crankbaits over the weed beds.
If the vegetation rises near the surface, use floating-minnow imitations and work them with jerky retrieves so they tickle the tops of the cover. When weed tops are separated from the surface by a few feet of water, try a suspending minnow crankbait. Where weed tops are deep, and in places where weeds are sparse, try a deeper-diving, shad-imitation crankbait worked between the stalks.
Get to the Point
Summer anglers frequently find crappie holding on points sloping toward bottom channels. Among the best lures for fishing these areas are small, deep-diving, baitfish-imitating crankbaits.
It's difficult to keep crankbaits at favored depths and still move them slow enough to entice lethargic crappie, but using neutral buoyancy or sinking crankbaits eliminates these problems. Using 4- to 6-pound-test line, crank the lure down to the proper depth and then slowly crawl it across the bottom, retrieving the lure from shallow water to deep, or working across the point toward the deepest side. Crank your lure fast several turns to get it near bottom before slowing to an effective pace. If possible, bump the lure against stumps, logs, boulders, etc. to elicit strikes.
Jigs and minnows will be the mainstays for crappie anglers as long as there are crappie to catch. Papermouth fans love to see the bobber go under, to feel the bow in their jigging pole. But when crappie are just a little bit finicky, when old-fashioned techniques just won't produce, try the crankbait option. You may be glad you did.
Autographed copies of "The Crappie Fishing Handbook" by Keith Sutton can be ordered by visiting www.catfishsutton.com.