by Tim Huffman
Finding the right spots for summer crappie can be a challenge, but when found, they can create fun, exciting memories. A fisherman doesn’t have to spend a fortune to get in on the action. A small aluminum boat and basic gear will work. The following are some tips and tactics to try this summer.
Jigging… “The Thump”
Vertical jigging is a one-pole tactic that’s inexpensive, efficient and allows a fisherman to feel the bite and set the hook.
The biggest challenge for most fishermen is finding the right spot to catch crappie. It’s important to check on-line fishing reports and to ask at bait shops to learn the depth where crappie are being caught and the general areas. Knowing these two factors allows a fisherman to find fish.
Patterns are important, too. When a fish is caught, remember the depth, bait, type action and anything else that allows you to duplicate what was successful. Catching numbers of fish is often a matter of repetition.
Equipment includes a good 10- to 12-foot graphite jigging pole, simple light-weight reel and baits. A 10-foot pole is best for areas with overhanging limbs and waters that are stained or dingy. A 12-foot pole is good in clearer and/or shallow water to get the bait further from the boat to avoid spooking crappie. An 11-footer is a good all-around choice. Rig with 8-pound test monofilament or 15-pound test braid.
The bait can be a minnow, jig or minnow-jig combo. Jigs are best when fish are active and when thick cover is being probed. Minnows are good when fish are sluggish. Summer crappie are notorious for preferring minnows. However, it’s not easy to keep minnows alive in a bucket in the heat of summer.
Presentations can vary but in general, the less action the better. Inexperienced fishermen often give a bait too much action and don’t leave it in one spot long enough. A good tip for fishing a jig is to fish it the same as you would fish a minnow.
Fish prefer shady areas so be sure to fish the shady side of cover. Also, probe thick brush and other spots to get the bait to invade a crappie’s home.
Summary: Jig fishermen say they enjoy the technique because of “The Thump”. Feeling a fish hit, setting the hook and getting it in the boat is a one-on-one technique that allows most type covers to be thoroughly fished at any depth.
Casting a Slip-Float
You should be playing golf if you don’t like seeing a float disappear. But that’s just my opinion. Like many other things in today’s world, fishing seems to be a sport where it’s more important to go faster, spend more money and catch massive numbers of fish than it is to relax and enjoy. Casting a slip-float turns back the clock to more basic fishing.
Finding fish is very similar to fishing any other technique. It’s critical to find the right depth and the type of cover crappie prefer. Summer crappie may be very deep holding on ledges or flats. Another summer factor for depth is a thermocline that can move fish up to shallower water or cause them to suspend in open water.
A graph, or locator, is important to show depths, contours and cover. Advanced units show more detail and include great mapping, but basic units will do the job. The key is to learn how to use your unit and let it lead you to crappie.
Basic slip-float equipment includes any type rod and reel combination rigged with six or eight pound test line. Include a #2 minnow hook, split-shot, bobber stop and slip-float.
To keep it simple, drop an anchor to keep your boat away from the cover but within casting distance. If a brushpile is being fished, set the bobber stop to put the minnow at the right depth so the bait just above the cover. Cast to a spot where the wind and waves will drift the bait directly over the brushpile. If there is no wind, cast past the brush and slowly retrieve the bait until it is directly over the brush.
When the float disappears or moves across the top of the water, it’s time to take up slack line and set the hook. This is easy if the float is set at six feet or less. However, when the bait is down to 15 feet, the line must be reeled until the line becomes straighter between the rod tip and bait before setting the hook.
Summary: A slip-float rig allows long casts, basic minnow fishing and can be used at any depth. It keeps a bait positioned in the strike zone. One or more poles can be used when slip-floating from an anchored boat.
Easy Fast Trolling
A small outboard or a good trolling motor can provide simple crankbait trolling. A pole is hand-held by each fisherman. Do not mistake this for serious trolling, but it is a great way for a quick change of pace and economical way to crankbait when the action is hot.
Equipment includes a medium to heavy action rod with a moderately strong reel. Line should be about 10-pound test. Heavier line prevents baits from getting deep while lighter lines won’t withstand the pressure of a hit on a crankbait. Crankbaits can be a variety brands with Bandit 300 being the long-term standard. Having a few different colors is important, too. Different lakes have different “hot” colors. Good starting colors include pink, orange, white and firetiger.
Quick and easy trolling requires being in an area with fish. A big flat is often good. Channel ledges are good because they have deeper water in the channel and mid-depths on the flat, giving crappie a choice of depths. Channels are difficult to follow but swinging back and forth over them is usually a good tactic. Electronics is very important to make sure water is deep enough and fish are present.
There are many variables when pulling crankbaits. Bait depth depends upon the type crankbait but also line length and line diameter. Lines are often set from 50 to 200 feet. You can make a long cast and guess the amount of line let out. Or, the crankbait can be fed out by hand counting the number of pulls from the reel. Repeating a successful line length is very important.
Speeds are 1.4 to 2.4 mph with 1.7 being a good start speed. If action is slow, try speeding up and slowing down until the right speed is found.
Summary: Holding poles while trolling works. No special rigging is required. It can be a fun way to try another tactic, watch electronics to find brushpiles for the future and enjoy some easy fishing. There’s a big adrenaline rush when a fish hits a hand-held pole while pulling a crankbait.
Slow Trolling & Jigging Combo
Slow trolling works any time of year. It’s a method of using the boat to place baits into productive spots. An inexpensive, modified version is hand-holding two long poles.
Equipment includes two 12-foot poles rigged with 8- or 10-pound test line. Baits can vary with a small-medium jig tipped with a minnow being a good choice. A weight above the bait is important to keep the line vertical. Baits can be single or double-hook rigs.
This method will cause arm fatigue but is good when the boat isn’t set up with racks for slow trolling. An advantage of holding poles is being able to feel bites and react quickly. Also, the boat can be stopped on cover and the poles will be like using two jigging poles.
> Stay healthy. Drink plenty of fluids, keep a wet towel for cooling off and protect your skin from the sun.
> A thermocline is a layer of water that separates bad water from good. It can be seen on a graph with sensitivity turned high. There is a temperature change and pH difference above and below the thermocline. Fish will be in the “sweet water”, the upper layer just above the thermocline.
> Minnows are a more consistent bait in the summertime when fishing slow presentations.
> Summer fish can be suspended and scattered. Fast methods using jigs, spinners or crankbaits can be a great way to find fish and draw reaction strikes.
> Fish early. Start at daylight and fish until mid-morning. It’s safer because of cooler temperatures and most recreational boat and jet ski enthusiasts are still in bed.