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Crappie Weather: Late-Summer Patterns Can Produce Hot Fishing

Paying close attention to the conditions can pay dividends when chasing crappies.

Crappie Weather: Late-Summer Patterns Can Produce Hot Fishing

Plus-size crappies are often the reward of anglers who hit the water just before or right after a summer storm. (Photo by Jim Gronaw)

You know the score. The last three weeks have seen nothing but scorching, 95-degree temperatures with just an occasional thunderstorm to cool things off in the evening. Those thick slabs you caught back in the spring seem like a distant memory. To make matters worse, recreational boaters are whipping the surface of your favorite crappie lake to a froth, sending the fish deep and turning them tight-lipped.

Let’s face it, summertime crappies can be tough customers. But by recognizing weather patterns conducive to catching crappies, you can predict their behavior even during the hottest of summers. By recognizing these key patterns, you can capitalize on peak feeding times and catch more crappies on your home waters.

crappie caught at pond
The author shows off a fine crappie caught at a local pond as a major weather event moved into the region, firing up the fish. (Photo by Jim Gronaw)
PHOTOPERIOD PLAY

It is certainly no secret that crappies are notorious low-light feeders and routinely feed heavily at night and during the cooler hours of dusk and dawn. However, with the aid of live-imaging sonar, many crappie anglers have all but forgotten this rule-of-thumb that has been the standard for slab seekers for decades. Whereas nighttime was once heralded as the “right time” for summer crappies, both sunset and sunrise can be just as good, if not better.

During the cooler hours of dusk and dawn, insect activity is high as the lakes calm down from the daily onslaught of recreational activity. Baitfish and minnow activity increases in and around shallow coves, weed beds and flats. Naturally, crappies often follow, taking advantage of foraging opportunities that did not exist in these shallow areas during the heat of the day.

During the low-light periods, anglers can utilize kayaks, wade or even fish from shore as crappies can move extremely shallow, becoming vulnerable to a variety of baits and lures. At this time, the use of a full-sized vessel with outboard, sonar and a trolling motor is overkill for spooky fish that can be as shallow as 2 or 3 feet. Many bodies of water do not have shad species as a forage option to support their crappie populations.

Often, it is young-of-the-year bluegills and bass that make up a large part of the menu for adult-sized crappies in the 12- to 14-inch range. Following that lead, you’ll have good results with smaller crankbaits that imitate these baitfish. Lures like the Rapala Countdown Minnow (CD5 and CD7) are always good bets during low-light outings.

Using quality monofilament in 4-pound tests enables longer casts, thereby spooking fewer fish. At times, 8-pound braid is incorporated, which allows better hooksets when using longer 7-foot to 7-foot 6-inch, light-action spinning rods like the St. Croix Panfish Series or the Fenwick Eagle lineup. Slab crappies are migrating from deep to shallow now, so the Rapala Countdown series allows deeper lure presentation to intercept the fish as they move up.

Although the evening bite can be good and often aligns with many anglers’ work schedules, I have found that the early-morning hours routinely produce greater numbers and larger fish. This may be due to the preceding several hours of darkness and lowered temperatures that dropped water temperatures just enough to keep them actively feeding.

Every waterbody is different and has its own characteristics that can trigger a low-light bite. Factors such as permanent nighttime dock lights, shade from the morning sun or seasonal wind patterns should not be overlooked. An incoming wind of 10 mph can push insects, plankton, baitfish and crappies extremely shallow, setting up a dynamite pre-dawn or evening feeding spree.




FISHY FRONTS

Throughout much of the summer and early fall, there are times when large coastal systems hit various portions of the Southeast and Gulf coasts. These create extended periods of windy, rainy weather that sweeps inland. With late summer being the height of the hurricane season, this weather phenomena can be a catalyst for some insane action as crappies sense the dramatic weather event and go into full-on feeding mode.

I have fished such events in recent years where a dull, listless bite was energized by an oncoming massive storm event that sent the barometric pressure crashing. Most notable was the August 2020 arrival of Hurricane Isaias. This system ventured inland, making landfall in North Carolina, and traveled north, eventually dispersing over the span of several days.

During that time, however, multiple days of rain, cloud cover and wind prevailed throughout great expanses of mid-South portions of the country, even prior to its eventual landfall. By fishing some of my favorite crappie waters during the “magic time” four to eight hours ahead of the front, I was able to enjoy remarkable catches.

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I had started fishing in mid-afternoon, a time that is not traditionally the best for summer crappies. With Isaias still 400 miles to the south, and not even close to landfall, those high, circular clouds started blocking the sun. As the clouds and wind intensified over the next several hours, the slab crappies moved shallow and pounded small crankbaits.

I was amazed at how shallow these fish were, while just an hour earlier the same areas were devoid of activity. Crappies up to 14 inches long were striking baits in as little as 18 inches of water. Sometimes large coastal events push deeper inland and can spawn potential life-threatening weather.

Obviously, this is not the time to be on the water for any reason. But when moderate precipitation, prolonged cloud cover and wind are predicted, they are almost always accompanied by a big barometric drop.

It has been my experience that once the barometric pressure has bottomed out, so has the fishing. Keep an eye on rising water levels and any tidal influences that could lead to flooding conditions. Play it safe by getting out ahead of major fronts or coastal storm events.

stringer of crappie
Strong winds push insects, plankton and minnows to the leeward side of a lake. Crappies follow the forage. (Photo by Jim Gronaw)
THE POST-STORM PLAY

With intense summer heat and humidity buildup, thunderstorms become another key weather scenario for summer crappie success. Unlike the larger tropical events—thunderstorms can be a weekly or even daily occurrence, bringing cooler air temperatures and colder precipitation to skinny water.

Big storms can drop water temperatures in the shallows by as much as 3 or 4 degrees, which can draw baitfish, minnows and crappies up shallow from deeper daytime haunts. Although thunderstorms can be associated with large oncoming fronts from the north and west, they are frequently spawned by localized conditions that create “pop-up” storms that can be more difficult for weather forecasters to predict.

Thunderstorms are shorter in duration than the coastal systems, creating brief but intense periods of rainfall that can lead to dangerous situations with powerful winds and dangerous lightning. But under most conditions, anglers can fish either side of a thunderstorm event by tracking radar with their phones and keeping abreast of any potential hazardous situations. But with these shorter, intense storms, crappies tend to feed heavily after the passing of the rainclouds when conditions, and safety, are improving.

Some of the biggest crappies of the year are caught during the post-thunderstorm bite. Where crappies like to hunker deep in weed bed areas, they abandon caution to take advantage of a heavy rainfall that pulls insects and minnow activity in close to shoreline areas.

SOFTIES

When fishing fronts, jigs and soft plastics can be just the ticket for success. Straight retrieves with a variety of 2-inch plastics on 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jig heads work well. Soft plastics made of super-durable materials are often good trailer options as they aren’t degraded by overly aggressive crappies. The Donkey Tail Jr. by Mule Fishing and the Z-Man micro finesse StingerZ and Shad FryZ are great options. The durability of these baits will enable you to catch more fish during a hectic, fast-paced bite.

With 4-pound monofilament, try casting and counting down these jigs according to depth. If the bottom is 5 feet deep, start the retrieve at the count of three. There are even times when you will get a strike before you finish the count. If you like to feel the “thump,” this is definitely thump-time fishing.

I like to key-in on a thunderstorm bite in areas where I can get out of the storm quickly—places like marina facilities or access points. Once the storm clouds roll past and the lightning is in the distance, the crappies tend to move to the chilled shallows for a feast. Often, this coincides with a late-evening setup, as the sun going down increases the drop in water temperatures and creates the perfect conditions for summer crappies.

CRAPPIE CRANKERS
  • Three crankbaits that do the trick for summertime slabs.
crappie crankbaits
Crappie crankbaits: Strike King Bitsy Pond (left), Minnow Bandit Series 100 (top right), Rebel Wee Crawfish (bottom right).

Many manufacturers now produce scaled-down versions of their popular full-size bass crankbaits that are perfect for crappies.

The Bandit Series 100 ($7.79; lurenet.com) is a 2-inch, 1/4-ounce crankbait with a long, spoon-shaped bill that gives summer slabbers a deep-water option when fish are transitioning to and from the shallows. The bait digs down 8 to 12 feet and accurately replicates smaller shad species that reservoir crappies often key on throughout the summer months.

The Strike King Bitsy Pond Minnow ($4.79; strikeking.com) is a true “micro crankbait,” and has been a panfish standard for ultralight enthusiasts for many years. At 1 1/4 inches and a scant 3/32 ounce, it imitates the smallest of forage and catches tight-lipped fish when other baits won’t.

The 1/5-ounce Rebel Wee Crawfish is a life-like representation of a crawdad. Its small profile and aggressive wobble creates a ruckus in the water, luring panfish to it. The diving lip is mounted in a manner that it appears the bait is fleeing while being retrieved, enhancing its ability to attract fish. It dives to 5- to 7-feet, making it great for deeper water applications. ($6.38; lurenet.com)

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