Story & photos by Keith Sutton
“How can I catch more crappie?”
All who enjoy crappie fishing want an answer to that. Most who pursue America’s favorite panfish—experienced and novice anglers alike—do so not because they hope to catch a wall-hanger, but because they want some crappie to eat—the more the better. However, those just learning to catch crappie may need more basic fishing information to assist them.
It’s for this latter group this article was written. The tips presented may seem very basic to crappie anglers with an in-depth knowledge of the sport. But for those trying to learn the ropes without benefit of an experienced crappie-fishing mentor, this advice should prove enlightening. There’s no magic formula to ensure success on every crappie-fishing trip. But these suggestions can greatly increase the number of crappie you catch in the months ahead.
#1 Fish year-round
We all love to fish during the spring spawn. When crappie are laying eggs and guarding nests, they stay in shallow shoreline waters where they’re easy to find, eager to bite and easy to catch. There’s no better time for loading a cooler with “eaters.”
This is not to say, however, that crappie are exceedingly difficult to catch the rest of the year. They’re not. In fact, it’s likely you’ll catch just as many fish, maybe more, if you fish the proper cover and structure during summer, fall and winter. You just have to learn what types of cover and structure that might be, and learn to fish those areas properly. The articles in Crappie Now will help in that regard, and you can find additional information online and in books. Better yet, find a knowledgeable friend who will take you fishing and show you the ropes during “off” seasons.
#2 Fish with jigs
Many beginning crappie anglers want to fish one way: with a live minnow under a cork. That’s a great way to catch these calico panfish, of course. It’s simple and works well in many situations. There’s a reason why jigs also are favorites of experienced crappie anglers, however. Under many circumstances, these small leadhead lures can be worked much more easily than a lively baitfish wiggling around and getting tangled. For example, if you take your time, you can drop a jig right in the middle of the brushiest hideout without getting hung up. And it’s in such hideouts many crappie lurk.
Jigs are available in many colors and styles as well, a fact that provides an advantage when fishing under differing water conditions where a particular color combination works best. With minnows, you’re stuck with what you have. With jigs, you can change color and/or style until you find what persnickety crappie will hit.
#3 Expand your lure arsenal
While jigs are very effective crappie lures, don’t limit your lure selection to jigs alone. Other artificials may work better in certain situations. For example, if you’re fishing from a pond bank, a spinner may be easier to cast and retrieve longer distances without snagging. A jigging spoon falls more quickly than a jig to deep-water summer and winter crappie. A vibrating bladebait often nabs more crappie in moving river waters. Carry a selection of different crappie catchers, and use each when appropriate.
A plain jig, minnow or other lure might not work as well as one embellished in some way. If crappie won’t hit your jig, for example, try tipping the jig with a small minnow. An added scent product also may help—on spoons and other lures, too. Not getting a nibble on your minnow? Try clipping off one corner of its tail so it swims like it’s injured. Such embellishments often mean the difference between no bite and lots of bites.
#5 Buy a quality pole
Still using a cane pole or clunky spincast rod for crappie fishing? Then you’re probably missing some light-biting crappie. A quality graphite or graphite-composite crappie pole provides more “feel” to help you hook fish you might not otherwise know are there. A good pole also provides sensitivity that allows you to know what’s happening with your lure or bait, thus lessening hang-ups and increasing hook-ups.
#6 Get a fish-finder
Every crappie angler who fishes from a boat should have a good sonar fish-finder. This equipment provides eyes underwater, helping you pinpoint fish on good cover and structure each season. It’s not enough to own a fish-finder, however. You also should learn to fine-tune your electronics so you can identify the exact depth and structure where fish are holding. Study your owner’s manual thoroughly. Know the unit inside and out. Your catch rate will soar.
#7 Learn a good lake
One of the best ways to catch more crappie is to find a nearby lake with a healthy population of slabs and then learn that lake like the back of your hand. Fish as often as you can year-round, determine what locales produce the most fish throughout the seasons, and return as often as you can to fish more and learn more. An intimate knowledge of your home water can boost your catch substantially.
#8 Double up
Crappie are school fish. Where one is found, there usually are others. That being the case, you often can catch more fish simply by using more than one hook or lure on your line. It’s probably simpler than you think to rig one jig above another, to prepare a double-hook rig that allows you to fish with two minnows or to tie a crappie-jig trailer on a spoon or spinner. On good days, doubling up this way can literally double your catch.
#9 Learn spider trolling
Spider trolling is another way to make your catch rate rise. The name originates from the use of multiple poles jutting from the front, back and/or sides of the boat, which gives the craft the appearance of a colossal spider. Learning to fish with several rigs in the water at once can intimidate novices, but those who study and employ this time-honored tactic invariably find fish quicker and put more in the boat. Start with two to four poles, then increase the number as you become more comfortable with your ability to handle everything properly. Practice makes perfect.
#10 Hire a guide
Employing the services of a good crappie guide can be a very worthwhile investment, especially when fishing unfamiliar waters. Guides are on the water hundreds of days each year. They know where to go and what tactics to use to catch crappie throughout the seasons. If expense is no object, you enjoy guided fishing trips on a regular basis. Or you can observe what the guide does and emulate his tactics when fishing on your own.
Bonus Tip: Connect online
In today’s world, crappie anglers are more connected than ever through online outlets such as social media and bulletin boards. A little research can lead you to great resources for learning crappie-fishing basics and advanced tactics, too. By connecting with fellow anglers through services like Facebook or crappie.com, you can even ask specific questions, find out where the fish are biting, and learn the best ways to make the most of your fishing time on a particular body of water.