Of all the panfish species, crappies are the least structure-oriented. You know exactly where to find them at spawning time, but they’re a lot less predictable the rest of the year. They go wherever they must to find food and don’t hesitate to swim far from any kind of structure or cover to feed on zooplankton (or baitfish that are eating the zooplankton) in open water. In most cases, the zooplankton are suspended and so are the crappies.
Most anglers have no idea of where to start looking for crappies in open water, so once the spawning period is over, they focus their attention on other kinds of fish. Finding and catching crappies in open water can certainly be a challenge, but there are some things you can do to tip the odds in your favor:
• Although the fish may not appear to be relating to anything, they’re often within a few hundred yards of a weedline, treeline, rock pile, creek channel or other type of structure to which they can retreat when not feeding.
• Take full advantage of your electronics. Because the fish are often suspended, they are easy to see on a good graph or flasher.
• Remember that crappies in open water are feeding and usually moving, so you must be ready to move with them.
• Pay attention to the wind. Because the fish are relating to plankton concentrations, you’re more likely to find them along a downwind shore than an upwind shore.
• Use techniques that give you precise depth control. You can use a slip-bobber rig and a minnow, count down a jig or spinnerbait, “spider-rig” using a variety of lures or vertically jig with a swimming minnow or jigging spoon.
“Prospecting” for Open-Water Crappies
Scout for open-water crappies in the zone beginning at the outer fringe of the submergent vegetation to the transition line between hard and soft bottom. You’ll also find crappies in a several-hundred yard zone surrounding structural elements such as rock piles and humps.
Before you start fishing, spend some time motoring around areas that you suspect hold crappies. When you see a good-sized school on your depth finder, note their depth and then toss out a marker.
When you’re no longer seeing fish on your electronics, motor around your marker in ever-increasing circles until you find them again. After a while, you may be able to establish a movement pattern.