Outdoor Journal: Crappie are still biting, but you might need a few tricks
The number of crappie fishermen seem to have dwindled during these hot, humid and rainy days.
I’ve seen a few with bobbers and worms awaiting a panfish bite, but not many serious crappie anglers like those in May.
Crappies are easier to find in spring, but they’re still out there in schools, and they still have to eat. All you have to do is locate and catch them. In spite of what you hear about their
being tight-lipped in summer, it’s not true, and here are a few summertime crappie-catching tips that will fill a bucket.
Let’s begin with where to look. Most anglers think deep in lakes and rivers. It’s not necessarily so. Several years ago, I visited a friend in North Carolina and we fished Lake Norman for crappie during a few August dog days and had very good success without fishing any deeper than 10 feet. And these methods will work here too.
We began by working the points that gradually descended into deeper water, bouncing tiny tubes, starting shallow and hopping down the incline. If they’re there, the bite should come before the bait reaches 10 feet.
I found this works well in Lake George and the Great Sacandaga Lake, but you might have to put up with a few smallmouth bites. Other areas to look are isolated underwater stumps in the deeper water, humps like those in Saratoga Lake and brush piles. In the Mohawk River, fish the island points and channel drops. Should bass be in any of these locations, it would be a good idea to have a five-inch wacky worm handy.
According to the pros who fish crappie tournaments, the water can never get too hot for them to bite, but you have to know where to look for them. I found this to be true in North Carolina when we fished and caught crappie from fallen trees, slopping banks and lake/river drops. All our local lakes have this type of structure.
I found trees with trunks still on shore held crappie more than when the entire tree was in the water. The reason, I was told, is because the branches have an algae coating which attracts small baitfish, which in turn attract the crappie.
Those good old boys know their stuff. One day, we loaded the boat with crappie by pitching small minnows without a bobber into the branches from just two of these fallen trees. I’m sure tiny tubes and little twister tails would also work. Don’t forget, in New York, all crappie must be at least nine inches, and the daily limit is 25.
Most fishermen don’t enjoy fishing in the wind, especially when fishing with small bobbers and/or lures, but a good windy day pushes plankton, organisms that live in the water column and are a source of food for fish, into the shore. It makes an easy meal for the crappie, and they know it. When the wind blows, head for the nearest wind-blown shore.
I was one of those who really hated the murky, muddy waters we’ve experienced lately, but I recently read that anywhere there’s an in-flowing murky water tributary, it carries worms, microscopic organisms and insects with it. These are all excellent foods for all species of fish. I recently followed that theory in the Great Sacandaga Lake, tossing two-inch chartreuse tube baits in front of a small overflow and caught 10 keeper-sized crappie before the bite ended. I didn’t release those tasty little fillets.
There’s another group of crappie anglers who prefer trolling to fishing stop-and-go style. I recommend trying this, as well as still-fishing, and use the one that works that day. Remember, when fishing, you must keep an open mind.
The key to trolling for crappie is to go slowly and quietly. The best way is with an electric trolling motor, or even better, rowing.
Every boating angler should have a depth/fish finder. It doesn’t guarantee fish will bite, but at least you’ll know they’re there and you’ll be able to see drops, humps, grass and other underwater structures. In the case of crappie, the fish finder will help find schools of bait and crappie.
I have a Humminbird LCD unit with the transducer attached to the bottom of my electric motor mounted in the front of my boat. It cost less than $80 locally, and tells me everything I want to know about what’s under the boat and the water temperature. When trolling for crappie or any fish, they show up on the LCD screen, along with the depth at which they’re holding, and you can adjust bait/lures accordingly.
Everyone has favorite baits, but when it comes to trolling for crappie, there are many choices. My first lure choice is the Crappie Thunder by TT-Blakemore, a lead-headed jig with a crappie attracting tear-resistant, pulsating tail and a small bright vibrating blade. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes 1⁄16-and 1⁄8-ounce. My favorites are the chartreuse pumpkin with sparkles and a fluorescent red head. If this doesn’t work after an hour or so, I switch to something else. Keep an open mind.
Live bait, minnows and worms, can also be trolled. Hook the minnow first through the bottom lip, then the top — carefully so as not to kill the bait. Live bait is a bit harder to get down to various depths. I use split shot attached three to four feet above the bait. When drift trolling, the small bobber and bait method can be used.
Current Department of Environmental Conservation regulations allow the use of up to three rods per person and when trolling, I recommend using three, allowing the use of varying depths.
After hooking up with that first crappie, there are two things that should be done: toss out a buoy to mark the area and note the depth at which the fish was caught. Carefully remove the hook, and if the fish is legal, put it in a bait bucket or live well.
Now, start fishing with live bait, preferably, or your lures, all around the buoy. Crappie are schooling fish, and there should be more in the area. When the bite is over, the school will have moved off and you’ll have to move on. However, there’s something else to try.
Remember that first crappie you kept alive? He’s going to be your scout. When I was 8 years old, my uncle, a diehard crappie fisherman, took me with him to Fish Creek Marina at Saratoga Lake where we fished all day for crappie. When the bite stopped, he’d take an 8-10 foot piece of line, attach a bobber to one end and a crappie we kept alive (hooked through the back in front of the dorsal fin), to the other and turn it loose. Quite often this scout found the school, and we continued to boat fish.
There was no limit on crappie then, but today there is, and that scout, once caught, has to be at least nine inches and counted as one of your 25. Stay about at least 25 yards from the scout and when it stops, make long casts around that bobber and see what happens.
Rods/reels and hook setting are three very important things that all relate to the crappie angler’s success. As a bass tournament angler, I have a difficult time adjusting the power of my hook setting when fishing for species other than bass.
Crappie, whose nickname is “paper mouth,” require a much more gentle set (a quick, but gentle snap of the wrist) and slow continuous retrieve, and this all starts with the equipment.
I recently fished with a friend and used his Bass Pro Shops Crappie Maxx Signature Series one-piece, 6-foot, 6-inch medium light rod and reel combo. The reels have a 5.6:1 gear ratio, the rods, a soft tip and strong backbone — just what’s needed for crappie fishing. I plan to have a pair of these shortly. They retail for $40. (www.basspro.-com)
Get out there and have a crappie summer.