by Ed Mashburn
Properly equipped kayaks can be very effective crappie fishing boats.
It turns out that converting a stock fishing kayak into a crappie-catching machine is really not that hard or expensive. When rigging a kayak for dedicated crappie fishing, the main thing to keep in mind is that you need to be able to present a number of rods with different lures or baits at different depths. Determining the depth crappie are holding and what they are eating is crucial, and it varies greatly from day to day.
Rod holders are the key. Most stock kayaks have “rod holders” built in, but these are nothing more than rod transporters, and they don’t have much use for crappie anglers. Kayak anglers will want to install some kind of mounting system on the kayak. There are many brands and kinds of these mounting tracks, and they all work well. These tracks allow crappie anglers to mount different numbers, sizes, and positions of rods to allow maximum bait presentation.
Some kayak anglers can manage a bewildering array of rods. Their kayaks look like giant bugs with antennae sticking out in all directions. I admire these folks, but I can’t keep up with that many rods at one time.
My old blue Hobie kayak is equipped with rod tracks on both sides of the foredeck, so I can switch a holder from side to side as my needs change. I can keep up with a single long “rod holder rod” and a short ultra-light spinning rig which I use to toss jigs.
Give Them a Choice
By presenting baits and lures at different depths, kayak anglers can usually find the best presentation fairly quickly. Crappie are very sensitive when it comes to their depth preferences, and by using long rods, short rods, rods horizontal to the water and rods more vertical, anglers can give the crappie the choices they sometimes want.
I have found that by using a long crappie pole – 8 feet long or more -which presents my bait a good distance from the boat and holds the bait at a selected depth, and at the same time casting my ultra-light spinning rig, I can cover a wide range of depths to help locate the schools of feeding crappie.
And since the long pole holds the bait stationary and the spinning rig presents an actively moving bait or lure, I can find out whether the crappie want movement or non-moving bait.
Another good thing about setting up a kayak for crappie fishing is that none of the necessary equipment is terribly expensive. The crappie rod and reel rigs run less than $50 each, and the tracks and rod holders are not terribly expensive either. Once installed, the track and holders last a long time.
Use the Wind in Open Water
Once the spring spawn is over, crappie will leave the shallow, brushy shallows and head out into deep, open water where they spend the rest of the year working bait schools. These schools of feeding crappie can travel far and wide, and a kayak helps anglers cover the open water to find the feeding fish.
The wind can be used to move a kayak slowly over open water flats where anglers can find the best concentration of slabs. I’ve seen kayak anglers who used their paddle boats in some of the very big Tennessee River lakes to drift fish the deep flats once the crappie had left the spawning shallows in late spring, and these folks were extremely successful with post-spawn crappie.
If the kayak is equipped with a sonar fish finder, kayak anglers can move upwind of the main feeding schools and let the wind move the kayak over the feeding fish.
Spring fishing- Shallow Structure
Probably the classic crappie fishing situation occurs in spring when the big slabs go in the shallows – often wooded and hard to reach shallows- where they spawn in massive numbers. That means in some locales kayaks can be the very best fishing craft for putting anglers in the right places to mop up the spawning crappie.
Some truly big bedding crappie – and lots of them – can be located and caught by using the kayak to find the most protected spawning shallows.
(Ed Mashburn is a retired public school teacher, outdoor writer and photographer. He lives in southern Alabama, but he fishes for anything – carp and trout in Arizona, smallmouth bass and crappie in Wisconsin to snook and snapper in the Florida Keys.)