Jigging With Plastics For Crappies

Modern-day plastic lures are catching just about as many papermouths as the real McCoy. Here's why you should try them this spring!

One of the most underrated fish that can be found just about anywhere is the crappie. Called by a dozen different monikers throughout the country, from slabs, calico bass, papermouths, etc., crappies are just plain fun to catch and real table treats, too. Likewise, they are an all-season fish, though most of us think about seeking them during the spring season.

This scrappy crappie was fooled by a Panfish Assassin lure.
Photo by J.B. Kasper.

One of the best ways of catching crappies is with small jigs and plastic baits and using ultralight spinning tackle. The evolution of crappie fishing with plastic baits has been a 50-year process that dates back to the 1960s; the end products we now use offer us some of the most deadly soft baits ever developed. Modern injection molding processes now produce the tiny, soft, natural looking and feeling goodies that crappies find irresistible. Let's take a look at five of the best plastic baits that have come along in recent years.

If I had to pick one plastic bait that defies logic when it comes to catching crappies, it would have to be Uncle Buck's Crappie Minnow. This bait comes in several basic and metal flake colors that are nothing fancy. This 2-inch slim minnow looks like something a kid would make from a plastic molding kit. But you know something? It sure does catch crappies! Its simplicity is the key to its productivity.

Uncle Buck's Minnow is ideal for working shallow waters when retrieved with a slow, steady motion while tapping the tip of your rod to give it a flutter. This 2-inch flat plastic bait makes a good choice in waters that have skinny type minnows present.

The best types of jigs to use with the bait are ones with long shank hooks in 1/64-, 1/32- or 1/16-ounce weights. Another good way to fish this particular plastic is to hook it up with a long shank wire hook and place a split shot or piece of strip lead about a foot to 18 inches ahead of the lure. You can then retrieve it with a stop-and-go motion that imitates a minnow moving from place to place.

Our next plastic bait is produced by Lunker City. The Fin-S Shad is the junior member of the Fin-S Fish line of plastic baits, which have been very effective for a variety of fish both in fresh water and salt water. This 1 3/4-inch plastic comes in 13 colors and natural patterns. A chunky body and thin forked tail make for a good imitation of all types of minnows and baitfish. Crappies, even the bigger ones, prefer smaller baits; this lure's small size is one of its big pluses. Its thin tail provides lifelike action that makes it ideal for dead-sticking crappies that are suspended in deeper water. A gentle breeze that causes the boat to rock up and down will put a dancing motion into the bait's tail, which crappies find very inviting. Here, too, you will want to keep your jigs small, 1/64, 1/32 or 1/16 ounce, and a short shank hook makes a better choice for this short bait.

The newest of the small plastic baits we are discussing is the Tiny Beaver, which is produced by Bass Pro Shops. The Tiny Beaver comes in 12 colors and natural patterns and it is a very durable bait. Tiny Beavers are a cross between a nymph and a crayfish, two prime forages for crappies. Their chubby body makes them an ideal choice when you need a slow-sinking plastic bait, especially in the early and late season.

Cold water is much denser than warm water, and as a result, Tiny Beavers dressed on 1/64-ounce jigs will cause the plastic bait to drift to the bottom at a slower pace. Flat- nosed jigs, such as a shad dart, will cause them to drift side to side as they fall, producing an enticing action.

Tiny Beavers are good early and late day baits when the crappies move closer to the surface. Since, when dressed on light jigs, they take longer to fall into the depths, they'll stay in the strike zone longer. Another place they are a good bet is in and around submerged weedbeds and along the edges of weedlines. In this case, you should allow them to fall to the bottom, and then either hold them just above the weeds or bounce them up and down off the edges of the vegetation. They are also a good choice for fishing vertically, in close off a dock or bulkhead.

A plastic bait that has been taking some crappies in recent years is the Berkley Power Nymph. The Power Nymph is a scented bait that smells just plain awful to a human, but it sure must smell like a table treat to a crappie.

Crappies are members of the sunfish family and are notorious for feeding on aquatic insects, especially nymphs. They are also fond of bright colors and flashy sparkles, and the Power Nymph comes in several colors, including orange and yellow, and chartreuse, as well as some sparkles on a couple of colors. Shaped like a nymph, its two long, curly tentacles can really do a dance when falling after being cast, or when being picked up and dropped on a retrieve.

The best way to fish the Power Nymph is as a dressing on a small 1/32- or 1/64-ounce ball or shad dart jig. In particular, a shad dart will give the nymph a little extra action. The Power Nymph is especially effective when the water is cold, as the impregnated scent will cause crappies to hold onto the nymph longer.

One place where the Power Nymph can really dig some crappies out of is around submerged vegetation. As mentioned, crappies feed on aquatic insects a good part of the time, and it's around these submerged patches of vegetation that nymphs are commonplace. A lot of times you will find crappies suspended over the vegetation. This is when you want to hold your boat over the vegetation. Fish the Power Nymph-jig combinations vertically for good results.

The Panfish Assassin is a small minnow imitation made by Bass Assassin. It comes in a multitude of colors and natural patterns. The way its chubby body slims down into its skinny tail gives it an uncanny action that makes it look like a small chub or minnow. Its flat bottom also makes it swim from side to side when it is fall­ing after being cast, or when being fished by raising and lowering the rod tip to pick it up and drop it back down.

There are several ways to fish the Panfish Assassin, the first of which is as previously described as a dressing on a small jighead. Another way that can be extremely effective, especially in shallow water, is to snell a single hook on your line and hook the plastic bait through the head about halfway though the body and out the top. This works especially well when crappies are on the spawn or in a post-spawn pattern. This will turn the P

anfish Assassin into a free-swim­ming bait that can be retrieved very slowly through the spawning areas. Some anglers even effectively fish this type of rig on a fly rod.

The plastic bait revolution in crappie fishing has come a long way. Modern plastic goodies are some of the deadliest ever for crappies. They offer you good versatility for an inexpensive price. What more could you ask for?

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