by Tim Huffman
CrappieNow is read by fishermen in the north, south, and Midwest; those who fish clear, stained, shallow and deep waters. Few rules apply to all waters and that includes the ideal depth for the season. Therefore, this “rule of thumb” depth zone can be adjusted for the waters you fish.
A perfect cool-water depth zone is 12 to 18 feet deep. The depths are easy to fish and the crappie are not too spooky. Fishing can be done with standard weights and rigs. A variety of methods can be used to fish the zone. Bites are easier to feel than when fishing 30 or 40 feet deep. There are many advantages to fishing the 12 to 18 foot zone.
Finding submerged wood cover requires electronics. Two required items are sonar and GPS. Today’s electronics are so advanced an inexpensive unit will accurately show depth, cover and fish. You can use sonar (also called by other names including graph, locator and depth finder) to scan for general spots and then to pinpoint specific spots within the general area.
The second requirement is a GPS unit. One with mapping is ideal but a basic GPS allows marking of a good stump, brushpile, drop or other specific fishing spot. These waypoints allow a fisherman to return later without all the wasted time searching for a spot. Since productive covers often produce year after year, a list of hotspots can be accumulated on home waters.
A third item that is not required but will improve fishing if properly used is an advanced graph. They are expensive but an item every serious fisherman needs. Quality in-the-unit mapping provides safer navigation and also provides updated contour mapping for finding good ledges, channels and other contours. Side Imaging, 360 and other scanning options allow a lot of water to be viewed in a short period of time. For example, instead of viewing an 9-foot path with sonar while idling a 100 yard stretch of water, Side Imaging can look at a 200-foot path, detail objects and allow a waypoint to be placed on the spots. The key to better electronics is to find fish faster leaving more time to catch fish.
A variety of methods can work for catching fish 12 to 18 feet deep. Vertical jigging and slow trolling are probably the top techniques especially in southern regions where multiple poles are allowed. However, casting is good way to catch these deeper fish, too.
Casting is a good technique but has lost favor because of spider rigging or slow trolling. Except for a few specific situations, casting can’t compete with multiple pole fishing. However, it is fun, is good for reaching spooky fish and can be used as a primary tactic for those who enjoy the simpler way of fishing.
Casting requires patience and is best done from an anchored boat when fishing deeper water. Anchoring near a good set of stumps or a log allows repeated, pinpoint casts to be made. Another advantage is you can put your back to the wind so you stay warmer. Anchoring eliminates having to fight the trolling motor.
Anchor to get within casting distance but stay far enough away to give you plenty of fishing room. You also want to get a little cross-current or cross-wind so your baits will have a natural presentation.
If a fisherman chooses not to anchor it is best to carefully mark a spot with a buoy. Do not place a buoy directly on the cover because it will be in the way. Place it away from the spot, maybe 10 feet to the left. Repeated casts will be easy to make in reference to the buoy.
Casting can be with a freefall jig or float. A freefall jig can be counted down to obtain the starting depth. Or, it can be allowed to go to the bottom when fish are holding near bottom. For example, stumps in 18 feet of water sticking up to around 15 feet can be reached by letting the jig hit the surface, fall until it hits bottom and then returned with a steady retrieve or hopping action. This tactic lets a fishermen feel the jig bump cover and feel the bite.
A slip-float is good for casting a minnow. The float aids in longer cast by being near the hook but after the rig hits the water it allows line to feed through the float until reaching the bobber stop. The stop is usually a thread or tiny piece of plastic on the line for setting depth. On the stumps in the example, the minnow can be set to 15 feet so it is at the top of the stumps.
Casting may have lost favor with many fishermen but it’s still a productive and fun way to catch crappie. Good wood cover in the right depth zone will do the trick.
Wind: A light wind is a good thing. Fish are less spooky when a little ripple is on the water. Too much wind makes boat control and fishing more difficult. Heavy wind requires vertical presentations with heavier weight.
Cold Front: Like in other seasons, crappie are less aggressive after a front but deeper fish are not bothered as much as shallow fish. Experts often recommend downsizing when the bite gets tough due to a front.
Clouds/Rain: Fish may scatter compared to a bright sunny day. Rain is no problem for the fish but it can be brutal for the fishermen if air temperatures are cold.
Sun: When wood cover is present the fish might move up in the water column if the water warms a little. They stay in the same spot but suspend up. They might also move deeper due to too much light penetration.
Current: A very light current is okay when fishing. However, as current increases it becomes a problem. A stronger current puts fish behind structures and can move them to other areas. Current forces a fisherman to use heavier weight presentations to get down to the fish. The best situation is to find nearby areas with little current and plenty of wood cover in the right zone.
Fishing Pressure: There will be very little fishing pressure on lakes that retain most of their water during the winter. Lakes with drawdowns to lower levels means all fishermen will be forced to less water and usually near a major channel. These lakes can be crowded because of the situation and the good fishing the ledges create. Drawdowns often begin in the fall in some lakes and mid-winter on others.