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Crappie fishing is a great activity for all ages. It’s the perfect opportunity to take a kid fishing or get a senior out for the day. The simplicity and fun of bobber fishing seems to come full circle with age. In between crappies biting, there’s plenty of action with nibbling perch and sunfish to keep things exciting. Don’t get too focused on catching fish yourself. Be their guide and enjoy the outing through their eyes. I can’t think of a better description of quality time. Bring snacks and lots of patience, and keep it fun! You’ll not only be creating valuable memories, you’ll be bringing up the next generation of fishermen. Pass it on.
Keep it Simple
I love to fish crappies. I love the simplicity of catching pan fish. Sure, you can make any sport technical and complicated, gearing up with specialized equipment, depth finders, fish finders, specific purpose crappie rods and tackle boxes loaded with lures. No doubt, that kind of preparation will elicit bigger catches. But for me, I’ll leave that approach to the tournament anglers.
When I think of crappie fishing, I think of relaxing. Don’t get me wrong, I like to catch fish, and the action can be intense. But somehow, etched in the back of my mind, I think of my youth and the sheer joy of fishing off of a dock. I think of Old Jack’s Pond and push- button Zebco reels, a coffee can of bait, and bobbers being pulled under. I’ll reserve my serious preparations for bigger game fish.
12 Tips for a Better Crappie Catch
Seems contradictory, my reminiscing on past simple experiences, and then offering ideas on how to maximize your catch. You’re probably not reading this for a walk down my memory lane, but to glean a couple of tips for your next outing. Try these:
1. Find the School
Usually, if you catch one crappie, you’re in store for a bunch more. If you’re not fishing from a boat, you can simply park yourself on a dock, cast out a couple of bobbers and hope the school moves your way. If you are confined to one spot, fan cast to improve your success. Work both sides of the dock. This will help you locate fish so you can concentrate your efforts. If you get no bites, move past your previous circumference, and fan cast again.
2. Fish the Depths
Crappies are notorious for suspending. The shallower the water you’re fishing, the easier it is to find them. Now, if they’re hovering somewhere in a 20-foot column depth, it’s a different game. When jig fishing out of a boat, methodically count down the lure as it sinks after your cast. Jig it a few times every few feet as it drops. Note the depth when you get a strike and continue fishing at that level. Use adjustable floats or slider floats to keep the lure at the selected depth. If the fish are holding in less than 6 feet of water, set your bait or jig 18 to 24 inches beneath your float. You’ll put more fish in the bucket with long, thin bobbers. They offer less resistance on the bite than round styles. Thin bobbers are more important when the crappies aren’t aggressively feeding.
3. What goes up, doesn’t necessarily come down
Crappies’ eyes are large for their relative size. They are positioned best for viewing above. Old timers will tell you crappies will swim up 3 feet to take a bait, but not move an inch down to feed. If they’re just holding in a suspended state, that’s generally true. So, when setting your float depth, better to be a little high than under the fish.
4. Crappie fishing can stink
Now, we’re not talking catfish and hooking on a rotten chunk of chicken gizzard, but Calicos are attracted to scent. Appealing to their sense of smell will definitely add to your catch. There are several manufactures that make good attractants. Some of the plastic jigs come with the scent right in them. And of course, don’t forget the diy trick of keeping your lures in a container of garlic salt. It really works!
5. Vary The Presentation
If you’re fishing jigs, try a variety of shapes and colors. The weather, cloud cover, and water clarity are factors to consider. When the fish are fussy, subtle changes can make a big difference. It’s funny though, some days they seem to grab anything. Light penetration in the water is probably the biggest issue for lure color section. The old adage goes, “bright lures on sunny days and dark lures when it’s cloudy.”
Silt-stained water makes fishing tough. Lure action helps trigger bites. Although the vibration is small, try grubs with curly tails, twin tails, tube jigs, and club tails. Try different sizes as well as different head weights. And don’t forget about the old classic, chenille-body, marabou-tailed jigs.
Smaller sizes are usually better. Offer solid colors, sparkle grubs, two tone, fluorescent, and even glow-in-the-dark versions. Tip the jig with a small bait. The name of the game is to find what they want that day and keep fishing it to them.
When in doubt, a 1 1/2″ white and red tube jig is a good starting point.
6. Add a twitch
A stagnant presentation, even with live bait, doesn’t get much attention. Try a slow retrieve. Make a cast, let things settle, give a twitch, reel a few turns, wait a couple of minutes, and repeat. Avoid big dramatic jerks (although you’ll probably encounter a few of those holding a beer can and sitting on a bucket). Seriously, save the big sweeping retrieves for Musky jerk baits. Too much action just spooks crappies.
Here’s a trick: use a long weighted bobber. Attach it to your line upside down, with the weighted end closest to the rod. Now, every time you reel or twitch your line, the bobber will impart more action to your bait. It will flip, making your bait do about a 5 inch vertical jig.
7. Crappie fishing with flies
Don’t forget about fly fishing for crappies. Usually you’re fishing them within easy casting range. Often the fish are within a couple of feet of the surface, so adding weight to the line is unnecessary. Besides, fighting and landing crappie on lightweight fly rods just adds to the fun.
Streamers are the perfect lure to mimic a minnow. Flies tied on long-shanked hooks, sizes 8, 10, and 12 are ideal. Silver-bodied zonkers with a white rabbit strip wing give flash and movement that triggers strikes. Other good fly choices are dace patterns tied with buck tail. Woolly buggers with a bead head and marabou tail work well. Small clouser streamers offer a jig/ fly combo.
8. Live bait double up
Try different techniques even when crappie fishing with live bait. Minnows, grubs, and small worms fit the bill. Double up with two hooks tied to your main line at different depths. Space them about 12 inches apart.
Sometimes with a light bite, you don’t notice that a fish has robbed your bait and gotten away. With a second bait, you’re still in the game. Two baits offer double the smell and double the visual appeal. Try the best of both worlds–a live bait on top and a jig beneath.
Here’s another tip for more bites: if fish are really fussy and only lightly hitting baits, use a tandem double hook rig. Tie it with two size 8 hooks. This rig works great when fishing salted minnows too. I’ve created a free step-by-step guide to setting up this rig. You can download it here.
9. Big Eyes Feed in Low Light
Crappies are most active in low light conditions. So if you’re only fishing part of the day, pick dawn for the first few hours or dusk to dark. After dark can be really good, so come prepared. There’s something fun about fishing after dark. It brings back simple memories of bullhead fishing, thermoses of hot coffee, and the glow of a lantern. Sorry, there I go reminiscing again.
Anyway, lanterns offer enough light to see what’s happening to the bobber. Don’t sweep the water with your deer spotting light or you’ll spook the whole school. Also, small headlamps are perfect to keep your hands free for fishing. Even better than a lantern are glow stick floats or battery-lit bobbers. These let you cast to different spots and be more mobile.
Live bait generally works better after dark than artificial jigs.
10. A Fine Line
Unless you hook into Mr. Jumbo, line strength isn’t a huge factor when crappie fishing. A decent reel with a smooth drag will take care of any fight. Two to four pound test is best. The light line gives good action to the small jigs and casts light presentations easily.
My favorite monofilament by far is Maxima Ultragreen. After testing many manufacturers’ lines, including fluorocarbons, Maxima is superior in strength, stretch, abrasion resistance, thin diameter, and transparency.
11. Bring a net
I know, it’s more equipment to lug along, but you probably should bring a net when crappie fishing. Most people just line lift them out of the water, but remember, a crappie’s mouth is paper-thin. If they’re just lightly hooked in the membrane, the hook can tear out easily. Better to net the big boys.
Don’t do like I did on my last crappie fishing outing. It was a little early for a major run of fish and to be honest, I only hooked a few. So, the big one I lost hurt a little more. It was a good 14-incher that shook off as I tried to lift it from the water. I should’ve known better. Yeah, I hear you saying, “Why didn’t you take your own advice and lug along a net?”
12. Get back to basics
If you want my opinion, this acronym applies to crappie fishing- KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to fool a crappie. Get some bait. Plan to stay after dark. Take a kid and better yet, take grandpa too. Have some fun.
Like I said earlier, if the crappies aren’t hitting, they’re still bound to catch a proud stringer of pan fish. And don’t forget your camera- it’s a golden photo opportunity.
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