Story & photos by Tim Huffman
Late spring and early summer mean fish have spawned, gone through post-spawn and are in transition from spring to summer patterns. Whether you live north or south determines the water temperatures and stage of this transition process.
Catching crappie is a matter of picking the right spot and making a good presentation. That sounds simple, but there are many factors in picking the right place for the season and knowing crappie movements. The presentation includes the right depth, speeds, baits and several small but important details.
Picking baits is part of the fun of fishing. Minnow choices include large, medium and small; types include silver, rosy red and a fathead/tuffy. Jigs choices include: diameter size; length; plastic, hair, mylar or other materials; and shapes that include a basic grub or tube, minnow/shad shapes, and critter designs. Since jigs are the most fun, our article will focus upon the artificial side of fishing.
“Today we are pulling six poles out the back and two out of the front,” says
Alabama fisherman, Jay Johnson (pictured on the magazine cover). “The rods out the back are short but we use long poles out the front to get the jigs out away from the boat and where they won’t interfere with the back lines.”
Johnson uses 6-pound test line with tandem jigs. Two 1/32-ounce jigs are common and so is a 1/32 and 1/16 combo to add a little more weight. Casts are made with the length being kept as consistent as possible, approximately 20 yards.
“We fish at 0.7 to 1.2 mph depending upon the depth we want to fish. We will stay at a consistent speed if we are catching fish. That means the depth of the jigs are where they need to be. If we get into deeper water we slow down to put them deeper. If we come up into a shallow area or go over a hump we speed up to bring the jigs up higher in the water. “
Jig depth is a combination of line length, bait weight and boat speed. Line diameter and the type of jig makes a difference but when kept consistent they can be ignored. By keeping the line length the same along with consistent jig weights, the boat speed is used to control bait depth.
“I’ll use a variety of heads and I pour my own,” says Johnson. “Sometimes a Road Runner head used with a jig body is good for adding flash and more bites. When trolling I prefer paddle tail and curly tails styles. When the jigs are moving it’s an advantage to have something with a lot of action.”
Two jigs we included on our trip were the Panfish Assassin 2-inch Curly Shad and 2-inch Crappie Dapper. They both met the requirements of good tail action when pulled and they caught fish.
“My color choices are simple and determined by water color. I use a lot of chartreuse in stained water. In clearer water I switch to blue-white and light colors.”
How long will the pattern hold? The pattern holds throughout the summer with depths ranging from 9 to 24 feet in Johnson’s home waters. Favorite spots to search are the drop-offs, humps and flats near channels. On our trip in early June, we were in Swift Creek, a large creek off of the main river. The fish were on the first drops just outside spawning areas. The post-spawn crappie were lethargic but we caught fish.
James Wesson, another local fisherman on our trip, talks about the bite. “A lot of times it’s easy to see a bite but other times the pole will barely wiggle. The fish do not set the hook on themselves so you need to raise the pole up as soon as you see the bite. Don’t jerk, just raise the rod and start reeling. Mixed with the speed of the boat, the fish will be hooked.”
Johnson says, “Another tip proven to be important is the use of scents. They help hide our human scent and odd scents we accidently get on the baits. Slab Slobber and Mo Glo Slab Jam are two of the best.”
Another method when the water warms is vertical jigging laydowns, brushpiles and other wood covers. A percentage of crappie will congregate tight to the cover making them easy to find.
There is no rule of thumb for the perfect depth because water temperatures, thermoclines, shade, water color and other factors play important roles in crappie depths.
Electronics are important for helping solve the fish depth puzzle. Fishermen should start by looking in potential areas paying attention to fish depth, contours and cover. Gaining information before dropping a line is important for smart fishing.
Equipment for jigging is simple. Many tournament pros use a sensitive 10-foot graphite. A popular model is the BnM Sam Heaton Super Sensitive. This lightweight pole is easy to fish with for hours without fatigue and the sensitive tip telegraphs light bites. Rig with 10- or 15-pound braid for added sensitivity, toughness and strength to bring a slab into the boat.
Jigs for vertical jigging are different than for trolling. Tube and shad/minnow imitators are good choices. The Panfish Assassin Tiny Shad and Pro Tiny Shad are good examples of the shad imitator. Every fisherman should have a few different sizes and several colors, including light, medium and dark shades.
Jay Johnson says, “The best tip I have is to be persistent. It’s fishing. You may catch several fish and then go 20 minutes without much action. Then you come to a spot and have fish on four poles at once. You must be persistent and stay after them.”
-Panfish Assassin: bassassassin.com
-BnM Pole: bnmpoles.com
-Mo Glo Slab Jam: bobbygarlandcrappie.com
(Above 3 items available at Bass Pro Shops)
-Slab Slober at malcomslabslobber.com.