By Darl Black
“Where did all the crappies go?”
On many northern reservoirs, bridges are a magnet for summer crappies. Be sure to fish the complete water column of each bridge pier.
That’s a question many anglers ponder come August when summer’s heat reaches its peak burn on northern waters.
Across the northern tier during the spring, tens of thousands of anglers flock to lakes and reservoirs when papermouths move shallow to spawn. After the reproductive rituals, crappies usually linger in the shallows to forage on minnows and insects. Although making minor shifts in location, calicos continue to be relatively easy targets for the average angler into early summer.
But as water temperature climbs through the upper 70s, crappies eventually abandon the shallow cover where anglers had become accustomed to finding them. No longer able to catch them with ease, many fishermen simply hang up the rod until next spring.
Of course the crappies didn’t really disappear but simply moved into a new neighborhood. For fishermen willing to make adjustments, crappies are catchable through the heat of August. Those adjustments usually include moving deeper while relying on electronics to find the right structure/cover. The process takes more effort and a different skill set than simply pulling up to shallow cover and tossing out a bobber with a minnow.
How deep crappies will be encountered depends on the structure characteristics of the water body, the water clarity and, believe it or not, the species of crappies.
With regard to crappie species, I routinely find blacks situated shallower than whites even when both inhabit the same body of water. Pymatuning Lake in northwest Pennsylvania is a perfect example. An offshore hump cresting around 10 feet with some scattered rocks and sporadic weed growth will likely hold black crappies in the summer. Meanwhile a 16-foot deep stump row along the old river channel is more likely to host white crappies.
Furthermore, mid-summer crappie location is dramatically different between natural lakes and man-made reservoirs in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
On most glacier-created natural lakes, water clarity is very clear to moderately clear with abundant weed growth on the flats. Depending on the particular lake, weedbeds usually extend to a depth somewhere between 9 and 15 feet. However, if a particular natural lake is always stained, weed growth will not be as deep.
Natural lakes are dominated by black crappies. The fringe of deep weeds is the number one spot for black crappies in the summer, but with the entire lake ringed by weed-covered flats finding the key spots takes some time.
First, seek out a defined point in the weedbed or a flat that extends further out into the lake. Then slowly cruise from one inside turn out to the tip then back to the other inside turn, scouting for an area where the deep vegetation is sparse as opposed to a solid weed wall. Crappies prefer a broken erratic weed edge or slowing tapering site with sporadic weed clumps.
Check out each site by casting a 1/16-ounce jig head with a shad or minnow-colored action tail grub, such as a Charlie Brewer Crappie Slider or a Bobby Garland Swimmin’ Minnow. Crappies will be suspended among the sparse weeds or just outside the weeds rather than hugging the bottom, so target your retrieves from about feet under the surface to about three feet above bottom.
Count the jig down and retrieve it very slowly. In my experience, black crappies in clear natural lakes (versus dingy water reservoirs) will ignore a jig that is moving at a moderate speed; slow down. It’s not uncommon to completely miss a crappie jackpot area by retrieving a jig too fast.
Weed capped mid-lake humps act as a drawing card for black crappies just as shoreline associated weedbeds, so don’t overlook this option, too.
Northern reservoirs vary considerably in water clarity, bottom configuration and depth. While steep-sided clear-water mountain impoundments may offer a marginal crappie population, the flatland and hill-land reservoirs maintain much stronger white and black populations.
For August, consider these three options on the flatland and hill-land reservoirs:
(1) Bridge areas. Built over a river channel or major tributary, bridges with multiple concrete pillars area a reliable draw for crappies. No sonar required. See a bridge and fish the piers along with associated riprap. Just be sure to cover the entire water column on each pier to locate crappies.
(2) Deep Brushpiles and Ledges. While old news on southern reservoirs, I think the term ledge fishing confuses many northern crappie anglers. When I explain it’s simply another term for offshore breaklines, particularly on the edge of submerged river or primary creek channels, they get it. I tell them “Find the brushpiles (often put in by bass anglers) or remnant stumps on the edge of a drop and you’ll find summer crappies.” Besides channel edges, any rise on a large deepwater flat that features an old stone foundation, stumps or brushpile is a crappie magnet as well. However, you’ve got to invest in a decent depthfinder to locate these sites; that $99.00 unit sold in the typical boat/trailer package isn’t going to cut it!
(3) Shallow Summer Dipping. Dipping select cover – on some northern reservoirs it pays off, but on others it does not. I’ve had my best summer success dipping crappie jigs (i.e. pitching) around shoreline deadfalls on two distinct reservoir types. Ironically, the reservoirs are totally opposite in nature. First, relatively shallow dingy water reservoirs with gizzard shad population. Focus on laydowns buffering deeper water; crappies will be tight to the wood. Second, laydowns on clear-water mountain reservoir; in this instance, crappies will be in the branches hanging over deeper water or suspended in open water just off the tree.
Northern crappie anglers have August options for fish in both natural lakes and reservoirs. Don’t wait until next spring, go fish now!