April 2021 Techniques

Cast & Retrieve Crappies, by Darl Black

Marilyn Black with a nice post-spawn black crappie caught by casting a jig to scattered shoreline cover on Pymatuning Lake.


Cast & Retrieve Crappies

by Darl Black

Simple still works.


When I travel to southern states to fish, I expect to see most crappie anglers pushing or pulling jigs, or trolling crankbaits. There are single-pole anglers, but most places I visit, they are the exception to the rule.

When I fish for crappies in northern states, I know the vast majority of anglers will be casting jigs.

Admittedly, each year I witness an increase in anglers on my local waters in northwestern Pennsylvania engaged in some sort of multiple rod spider rigging (particularly when there’s a tournament going on), but every-day casters still substantially outnumber the multi-pole crowd.

Retrieving a crappie jig over a mid-lake submerged weedbed on Conneaut Lake, Bryan Stuyvesant maintains a steady retrieve which just ticks the tops of the weeds. one of PA’s many natural lakes.

Traditions and resource agencies limitation on number of rods are likely reasons northern anglers do what they do. For the most part, anglers who cast are completely comfortable with what they do – I know I am. And I’ve been doing it for 60 years.

Casting is the hands-on method of fishing that doesn’t cost a small fortune in equipment. Typically, jigs in the 1/32 to 1/8-ounce range are employed by northern crappie casters.

However, I observe a lot of anglers using a rod-reel-line combo that does not suit the baits they are fishing or the species they are fishing for. Here are my basic recommendations for a jig casting outfit.

An all-around spinning rod for casting crappie jigs should be a light action model between 6.5 and 7.5 feet with line recommendation of 4 to 8 pound. Avoid a wimpy noodle often found in rods labeled as ultralight. The tip action should be medium-fast, meaning the bend extends roughly one-third of the way down rod blank. This provides the best action for propelling lightweight jigs, yet sufficient power to set a hook. When using light line for soft-mouth fish like crappie, I rarely employ a quick snap set; a steady pull set is the way to go.

“Slow and steady usually wins the day when it comes to retrieving a jig for crappies – but not always.”

For the past six years (including five years of guiding), I have been using a B’n’M 7-foot Sam Heaton Super-Sensitive Rod. This reasonably priced rod ($76.28 MSRP) has what I consider superb action for casting small jigs, along with very good sensitivity, durability and power in the lower section for landing those incidentally hooked larger fish. I match it with Shimano Sienna 1000 Reel or B’n’M ProStaff Spinning Reel.

Stuyvesant with Conneaut Lake crappie taken by swimming a jig over weeds.

As for line, I opt for a quality copolymer line. The stretch in copolymer allows me to employ the sling shot method of freeing a snagged jig. Fluorocarbon is okay, but expensive and does not lay as well on a small spool. Since braid has no stretch, I never use it on an outfit used for casting crappie jigs because I can’t free a snagged bait other than with direct pull – which may break apart some of the cover holding crappies.

In my experience, Gamma 4-pound Optic Yellow Panfish Copolymer Line is an outstanding line for crappie fishing. With standard diameter of 4-pound test line, the actual test strength of molecularly-altered Gamma 4-pound is 8.5 pounds – making it stronger than regular 4-pound test category lines…but very manageable.

Generally, the size and action of crappie jigs are intended to represent forage fish species devoured by crappies; therefore, the most productive jig presentation is swimming rather than bottom bouncing.

The basic retrieve is to cast out and count the jig down to the desired depth. Then holding the rod tip at approximately 9:00, begin turning the reel handle fast enough that the jig does not drop deeper. You may have to go to a lighter weight jig to maintain a constant retrieve depth at a slow speed.

Like the parable of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady usually wins the day when it comes to retrieving a jig for crappies – but not always. Variations on this theme can also be productive. When a straight-line retrieve doesn’t seem to be working, try the lift-n-drop. This is accomplished within the water column, not on the bottom. Cast and count down, then lift the rod tip from 9:00 position to roughly 10:00, thereby pulling the jig upward. Pause and let the jig fall back on a tight line a short distance, then reel in the slack line and repeat. This oscillating jig path may be the trigger needed to draw strikes.

Minnow-imitating soft plastic body jigs as well as hand-tied hair/chenille/tinsel jigs in the 1/32 to 18-ounce range are effective for crappies when casting with light line.

My wife has difficulty winding a jig in a straight line for very long without a bite. She wants to see it dance, so she holds her rod tip high and constantly jiggles it as she retrieves the bait. This method certainly works for her, and on occasion I’ve followed suit when she starts welling more crappie than me.

There are situations when crappies only want a jig that is barely moving – slower than you can possibly wind. This typically occurs up north during the ice-out bite in extremely shallow water. With water depth of only two to four feet in cover-laden black-bottom bays, a very small hair jig under a float can be trickled along at ultraslow speeds.

Of course, there are occasions when a speedier than normal retrieve will generate the strike. These instances likely involve crappies actively chasing a school of baitfish near the surface, often resulting in minnows jumping out of the water. A fast-moving jig represents a single escaping prey separated from the school.

(Darl Black has been fishing since he was old enough to pick up a fishing rod. He penned his first angling article in the mid-1970s on a now-extinct writing device called a typewriter. During his career as an outdoor writer and photographer, Darl has fished throughout the US and Canada for many freshwater species but still enjoys fishing for crappies.)

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