A variety of lights are made for use by night-fishing crappie anglers. The lights attract plankton, which in turn attract baitfish and crappie. A combination of floating and sinking models to illuminate a variety of depths often works best. (Photo: Keith Sutton)
Catch More Crappie When the Sun Goes Down
by Keith Sutton
As summer draws nigh, the weather gets more and more sultry. And the sultrier it gets, the more likely crappie are to shift the bulk of their feeding activities to the wee hours of the night. It’s important, therefore, for hot-weather anglers to understand the ins and outs of night-fishing. These tips can help.
Choosing the Right Night Light
Lights are an important part of nighttime crappie fishing. They work by attracting plankton, which attract baitfish such as shad and minnows, which in turn attract predator fish such as crappie. Crappie gather near or in the circle of light to feed. All you have to do is drop in a bait like a minnow or jig and catch them.
Three primary types of lights are used:
- Lanterns – propane, liquid-fueled or battery powered. These are hung near the water’s surface on boat-mounted brackets.
- Floating crappie lights – Traditional models feature a Styrofoam flotation ring and have a white, headlight-type beam that points down in the water. Newer lights feature LED or fluorescent illumination with green and/or white lights. Power is from alligator clips on a 12-volt battery, a cigarette-lighter plug or alkaline batteries.
- Submersible crappie lights – These sink to light up the depths. Battery-powered, 12-volt, LED and fluorescent models are available, with white or green lights.
These light types can be used alone or in combination, but combinations are more versatile, lighting multiple levels of the water column to attract crappie no matter where they are, while also providing above-the-water lighting for tying knots, hooking bait and unhooking fish.
Keep this in mind, too: green lights tend to attract more plankton, and thus more baitfish and crappie. Use them whenever possible instead of white lights.
Where to Fish
Know exactly where you’ll fish when darkness falls. Survey the body of water you’re on during daylight hours, and be sure you can find each fishing spot after nightfall if you leave and return.
If possible, you should also study a bottom-contour map of the lake you’ll fish. Most hot-weather crappie congregate in deep, open water near breaklines (areas where there’s a sudden change in depth on the lake bottom), so look for elevation markings indicating deep-water ledges, creek and river channels, points, ridges and humps.
The map directs you to a likely position, then a sonar unit pinpoints breaklines. The drop-offs are then checked with a fish finder to locate crappie-attracting cover (stumps, treetops, brushpiles, etc.) and the crappie themselves. After spotting crappie on sonar, you can use buoys to mark the site so it’s easier to find after dark. This will also enable you to fish in the most productive water without straying off.
You could use these methods and do your night fishing from a boat, if you have one. But boating in darkness comes with inherent hazards, and if you’re like me, you’d rather 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 nighttime 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.
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.
Serve a Buffet
Jigs and minnows are the best crappie baits, day and night. But at times it pays to vary the menu for discriminating nighttime diners.
If crappie are feeding on shad attracted to your lights, shad may outproduce minnows. Where legal, catch them with a dip net or cast net, then clip the tail or fins to give them an erratic, crippled action. Crappie can’t resist.
“Keep this in mind, too: green lights tend to attract more plankton, and thus more baitfish and crappie.”
Swarms of mayflies may be attracted to your lights. And at times, crappie gorge on the mayflies while refusing baitfish. Be watchful for such phenomena and act accordingly.
Among, small spoons and spinners compete with jigs. When allowed to fall on a slack line through schooling baitfish beneath your lights, they’ll quickly garner a bite from opportunistic crappie.
Ideally you want to place your crappie lights near some type of cover or structure beside your fishing spot—over a brushpile, for example, or a bottom drop-off.
You could start fishing immediately after the lights have been set, 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.
Most of the time, to catch fish, you can just drop your bait or lure in the circle of illumination created by your lights. If you don’t get a bite within a few minutes, however, try fishing dark water at the edges of light. If crappie bite there, it may indicate there’s structure near the place they’re biting and none where there’s no action. In that case, moving the lights or boat to get positioned more directly over the fish may help.
Regardless of where or how you do it, night fishing provides lots of time to sit and socialize with your fishing buddies. Anglers of all ages enjoy the thrills, laughs and companionship an after-hours crappie junket provides.
So, try night fishing this season. It’s a sure cure for the sultry summertime blues.
(Keith Sutton is author of “The Crappie Book: Basics and Beyond,” a 198-page, full-color paperback loaded with hundreds of fishing tips. Autographed copies can be ordered by sending a check or money order for $17.45 (includes shipping) to C & C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002.)