Crappie Kirby has made quite a reputation by being successful on all seasons. (Photo: Kenneth L. Kieser)
Kirby Ham’s Tactics for More Crappie
by Kenneth L. Kieser
Searching for productive crappie fishing in a new lake is a challenge. Recently I joined Kirby Ham on a lake neither of us had fished, then watched him go to work.
This top crappie guide and fishing electronics expert studied lights on his Garmin Echo Map. The 122 SV graph showed crappie suspended around and below submerged wood.
“Watch the screen,” Ham said.
A strange shape on the graph started dropping down the screen that was his 1/32-ounce Crappie Magnet jig with silver glitter, a chartreuse tail and hot pink jig head in the middle of many lights he identified as fish. One of the lights rose and took his jig, small fish on. It was not the BnM Rod bender Ham was looking for so the crappie was quickly returned to the water.
This same pattern continued until Ham decided to go exploring.
“Let’s check out some uncharted waters,” Ham said. “There are said to be schools of big crappie here, so let’s find them.”
He ran several hundred yards before slowing down, the outboard motor idled while Ham studied his Garmin graph.
“Look at this screen,” he said. “See those colored lights rising from the lake bottom. Those are probably crappie suspended and from the looks, good sized ones. Let’s see if they are hungry.”
Jigs dropped vertical beside the boat and “Bam,” a good-sized fish immediately hit the Crappie Magnet jig. Soon the fifteen-inch crappie splashed in his Ham’s livewell. This continued for an hour, most released and a few kept for dinner.
Ham is a fishing electronics expert. The top crappie fishing tournament experts and guides go to his seminars at trade shows and hang on every word. This reputation and an amazing knowledge of crappie fishing tactics has made him a future star in the fishing world.
“Search out new areas,” he said. “Electronics paint a picture of what is under the surface and hanging around brush, bridge pilings, other structures or cover. Crappie move at different times of the year, but some may stay and suspend if the cover makes them feel safe and there is plenty of forage.”
Here’s some seasonal tips on how Ham will fish a new lake.
“Sometimes you just have to go find the big crappie,” Ham said. “The earlier fish off brushpiles were too small. I thought we might find the roving school of big ones that settled on this brushpile.”
Spring Crappie Fishing: Big schools of winter nourished male crappie head to the shallows first, with the warming of the water. Male crappie search out good locations to build a nest and soon females will follow.
“I look for areas that have a sharp rise from three to 14-feet where it goes from a muddy bottom to a predominantly rocky, brush or sandy area close to the shore,” Ham said. “Buckbrush or standing timber in the shallow area is a huge bonus as crappie not only have a good nesting area but have some form of structure to evade predators like walleye or large catfish.”
He has found that female crappie normally suspend in six to 14-feet depths. He says prime time is when conditions are adequate and the water temperature averages 59 to 62 degrees.
Summer Crappie Fishing: This time of year is based on temperature, structure and areas that hold bait fish. On larger reservoirs crappie wander in open water or suspend on flats off points that offer the proper depth. Most people fish for crappie during the spring, but Ham catches more around the thermocline during hot summer temperatures.
Crappie can very easily ambush bait fish above them when sitting comfortably in the thermocline. Add structure within this area, usually nine to 14-feet, and you will find summer crappie.
“The temperature outside may be hot but the fishing will be even hotter,” Ham said. “I suggest getting out early from 7:00 to 1030 A.M. or 5:30 to around 8:30 PM. I graph points off the main lake at proper depths from 16 to 23-feet, then hunt for structure with side imaging. I circle around and use my live imaging to find schooling fish on that structure that generally are crappie.”
Ham drops a buoy marker or sets his trolling motor on spot lock. Then his challenge is to present favorite baits in front of crappie faces at the proper depth. He uses small Crappie Magnet Baits with a 1/8-ounce head or a minnow on a hook under a slip bobber.
Fall Crappie Fishing: “Crappie in the fall are either all female or males, unlike the summer and winter patterns when you’re catching both of the sexes schooled together,” Ham said. “I usually catch the males suspended around 12-feet of water as the females tend to move shallow in four to five feet depths around brushpiles off points.”
Winter Crappie Fishing: The colder the better! Ham has portable heaters on his boat and is usually sold out for clients two weeks prior to Christmas or until it freezes.
Large crappie schools up tighter in the winter because resources become slim and they all depend on one another to stay alive. They are also very lethargic so he uses the smallest jigs possible, like Trout Magnets.
Ham looks for timber or bridge pilings with depths of 16 to 28-feet, because at those depths there is still algae on the pilings and sunken or standing wood which smaller bait fish eat. Schools of shad or minnows move slowly because of the cold conditions and make easy pray for the sluggish crappie.
“The first ice thaw of winter is the one day of fishing to never miss,” said. “Smaller baitfish get caught in the ice and when the ice thaws, it creates a falling buffet for all fish including Crappie. On a windy day when the ice is melting, set up on the area or cove where the wind is blowing towards you and catch tons of crappie.”
Try Ham’s technique for more success on new lakes. For more information about fishing with Crappie Kirby, (913)-461-3752 or check his website at: CrappieKirby.com.
(Kenneth L. Kieser has been the Outdoor columnist for the Independence/Blue Springs (Missouri) Examiner since 1987. He has been a freelance writer for more than a dozen hunting and fishing magazines; hundreds of credits in various outdoor magazines with a laundry list of awards to his credit.)