May 2021 Techniques

High Water Crappie Tactics, by Tim Huffman

high water

Charles Bunting gets back into a brushy, shallow pocket to find some high-water fish. Slow trolling and jigging using LiveScope are two great techniques.


High Water Crappie Tactics

by Tim Huffman

Don’t let high water scare you away


A spring cold front with heavy rains followed by high water… every fisherman’s nightmare. Crappie love stable conditions so a big front moving through does everything opposite of what a fish prefers. Barometer readings go down and up, fresh water pours into the lake and causes high, muddy conditions. The situation can be difficult but crappie have to eat and there are ways to improve your odds for putting some into your livewell.

Follow the Clearer Water

Charles Bunting is a three-time national classic champ and pro staff for Power Poles. He has fished high water in rivers, lakes and oxbows so knows how to improve odds for success.

Pulling crappie from willow trees during high water can be a challenge, but it’s a high-percentage spot. Willows provide cover, shade, cleaner water and insects that fall from the leaves.

“There are different types of high water,” says Bunting. “A small one-foot rise is usually not a big deal that causes major water color or current changes. Increase it to a two- to five-foot rise and things start to deteriorate. On a river system, look for eddies and heavy structure out of the current. A big lake will likely have muddy water but not everywhere at once. For example, get into a creek and you’ll find muddy water and a tough bite. Head to the lower end of the lake toward the dam where the mud hasn’t gotten to yet and you’ll find clearer water. When the lower end gets muddy, go to the back, uppermost part of a creek because that’s the water that will clear up first.”

Bunting says fishermen can still catch fish in muddy water but it usually requires a slower presentation and the bites will be slower. His top pick in the spring is flooded, live willow trees. He believes the green leaves provide cover but more importantly, they filter the water so it is a little clearer with the bonus of insects falling from the trees for food.

Wind and Bait Tactics

 Matthew Rogers, another classic champ, says several things make a difference including water color, current and wind. Wind follows a front so many places may not be fishable due to the wind.

“Don’t worry about places you can’t fish. Just go to places where you can fish and concentrate on those. I fished a lot of water that was new to me when I was at a tournament on Grenada Lake and caught bigger fish than I had expected. So, don’t hesitate working new areas because you never know what you might find.

“Don’t worry about places you can’t fish. Just go to places where you can fish and concentrate on those.”

“I was fishing at D’Arbonne in Louisiana and some of the fish would react to a plastic jig but wouldn’t take it. I would quickly switch to a spinner, even tried a Beetle Spin, and caught some of those fish that wouldn’t eat the plain plastic jig. The next day I went to a hair jig tipped with a minnow and they liked it.”

Rogers says the biggest thing about high water in a lake like Grenada is it spreads the fish out so much. Fish aren’t concentrated in one spot. Also, they can get into areas not accessible by boat. Too much high water can make catching numbers of fish really difficult.

Cast to Spooky Fish

Robert Carlile, a Bass Tank pro staffer, has won numerous tournaments along with a National Championship and Angler of the Year points championship. He says nobody likes high water because it gives a fish more room to roam. Another thing is current. If a river or lake creates current, fish don’t like it and will find places to hide.

Charles Bunting says dingy, high water can be bad. However, normally dingy water, like at Grenada Lake, doesn’t bother the fish and can lead to good slabs.

“I don’t believe fish do any one particular thing when the water comes up. When I’m fishing, my goal is to find a pattern, so I go out looking for the fish. I start at the channel and work toward the bank until I find them. Usually, I’ll find them somewhere in between.

“A fast rise or fall makes them skittish and they don’t want to eat. Also, spring is the time the fish get too much pressure put on them. They get really spooky so I’ve started casting a lot. I like hair jigs, plastics and often use minnows. I LiveScope, so I look for big fish near but not in cover, but out roaming around. They may be in ten feet of water suspended at two to four feet. They may be too spooky to get to them with a jigging pole, so I cast to them. I’ve had good success casting and I believe we will see more and more people LiveScoping and casting because it keeps a good distance between the boat and the fish so the fish don’t spook before seeing the bait.”

Carlile says he doesn’t pay much attention to muddy water when choosing a bait color. One of his favorite colors any time is a purple-chartreuse and it does a good job catching fish in muddy water. He also likes to use a shad-colored hair jig that mimics a baitfish. Experimenting with bait size is another part of his tactics when developing a presentation that works best.

Final Take on High Water

 High water often means the lake has changed colors, spread out and has some current. However, crappie are still available but your expectations should be realistic and expect fewer bites. The good news includes more spawning waters and fewer fish caught by fishermen, so fishing improves in the future.

(Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie fishing, writing and photography since 1988. He is currently the Editor/Senior Writer for Crappie Masters Magazine, freelance contributor to four magazines, book author and Senior Writer for CrappieNow Digital Magazine. Huffman’s books, Limiting Out for Crappie and 300+ Crappie Fishing Tips can be found at

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