Spring crappies can make anybody a hero. But come summer, steadily locating slabs can be frustrating. Good news is it doesn’t have to be—if you devote just a bit of the preseason to formulating a game plan for summertime success.
When water temperatures soar, crappies often go deep, suspending in an abyss few anglers are good at fishing. Not all crappies go off the deep end, though. Some stay shallow, if they find areas with food, protection and shade.
Targeting these fish requires an understanding of their primary feeding patterns. What are they eating? When? Where? Answer these riddles and you’re on your way to shallow slabs all summer.
Where threadfin shad abound, crappies weighing 11/2 pounds and up cruise near shad schools more often than they visit brush piles and other thick cover. Unlike small crappies, which find a safe haven from predators in the maze of branches, jumbo crappies have much less to fear.
As they shadow shad, large crappies often move shallow near secondary creek channels, flooded roads, points and riprap banks. Early and late, watch for them surfacing to feed on threadfins in protected bays. Look for rough patches on a smooth surface, as well as shad jumping to escape the jaws of death.
Use a trolling motor or paddle to approach the school, then make long casts with a 10-foot crappie pole rigged with an ultra-light spinning reel and 4-pound mono, to avoid spooking the fish.
I fish shad-imitating presentations close to the surface, such as a Stanley WedgeTail Minnow on a 1/32-ounce jig head, or 3/16-ounce Booyah Pond Magic spinnerbait. Cast beyond the school and retrieve fast, right through the middle.
Shad and crappies often move deeper as the day progresses. To stay on ’em, watch your sonar for a compact band of pixels that betrays the bait. Crappies register as blips around and beneath. Note the depth and lower jigs to the strike zone.
One of my favorite setups is a pair of 2-inch Yum Wooly Beavertails on 1/8-ounce Crappie Pro jig heads. Use your favorite color combinations, tying one on your line’s end, and rigging the other 18 inches above on a tight dropper loop.
Lower jigs to the depth of the fish and maintain a boat speed that keeps the line perpendicular to the surface. Lift and drop the jigs as you follow the shad, and feel for any “heaviness” on the line that indicates a strike.
Weedbeds can also provide outstanding shallow summer crappie action. Minnows and their fry swarm in these environs, and crappies follow—hiding in the weeds to ambush bait, or cruising the edges in search of prey.
The Charlie Brewer Weedless Crappie Slider jig head was tailor-made for weeds. When properly rigged with the hookpoint buried in the grub, it does exactly what Charlie Brewer intended it to do; it eliminates the aggravation of constant hang-ups in dense cover. Lindy’s Veg-E-Jig, tipped with a Muchies tail, is another weed warrior.
You can cast into pockets or along an edge, and slowly retrieve the lure across the bottom. This works, but I like to rig my jig under a slip float so it runs over the tops of the weeds, at mid-depths or along dark edges near bottom. I use a jerk-stop retrieve, pulling with a hard tug so the jig rises toward the surface, then stopping long enough to let it sink perpendicular to the surface.
Another way to slay crappies in salad is fish small cranks over the top. If the weeds rise near the surface, use a floating minnow imitation such as Mann’s Tiny 1-Minus and work it with a herky-jerky retrieve so it tickles the canopy. When two or more feet of water cover the greens, try a suspending crank like Rebel’s Suspending Ghost Minnow.
Boathouses and piers often attract summer crappies, but they’re not all created equal. The best are built on wood pilings in five to 15 feet of water near cover and structure, have been in the water several seasons and have decks close to the water’s surface.
Structures like this attract crappies because they provide shade throughout the day. The wood pilings provide security and harbor a smorgasbord of bugs that attract fatheads, shiners, silversides and other preferred crappie forage.
During the day, when crappies hide beneath piers and boathouses, try sling-shotting to get at them (see sidebar for how to do it). A 1/32-ounce jig is right for most situations, and you’re better off using solid-body jigs because they stay on better than tubes.
Nightfishing also produces around docks and boathouses. Put a floating or submersible crappie light in the water in a boat slip or beside a dock, and wait for baitfish to start circling the light. Then, drop a lively minnow, small jigging spoon or crappie jig through the baitfish and get ready for a wake-up call.
In the March issue, we covered another key summer crappie scenario—fishing the backs of tributary creeks (“Bass Pattern Crappies”). Don’t forget it. The best creeks have a steady flow of current and plenty of woody cover like fallen trees and sunken stumps. The flow attracts young-of-the-year sunfish, minnows and even shad, and crappies move in to feast.
Many of my go-to creek spots are too shallow for a boat. I fish from the bank whenever possible, or don waders and slip quietly around the cove, using a 12- to 16-foot pole to place a minnow or jig near likely cover.
Creek crappies often feed on juvenile sunfish, so it pays to try lures that mimic tiny bream in color or shape. Jigs with some combination of red, gold and green work especially well, as do small sunfish-imitating cranks and spinners with gold blades and bright bodies.
These are just a few of the many patterns you should know to catch shallow summer crappies. The key, no matter where you fish, is figuring out what’s on the crappies’ menu, then putting your own lures in the chow line. Do that and you’re on the way to beating the summertime blues.