Summer crappie fishing is for night owls. You can catch crappies during daylight hours this season, but your odds for success will improve if you fish between dusk and dawn. During hot weather, many crappies work the late shift, and crappie anglers should, too.
The extent to which you are familiar with a lake and its crappie habitat is important when night fishing. If you search for good fishing spots in the darkness on an unfamiliar body of water, you could get lost, wind up on top of a stump or sandbar, or something worse.
Fish waters you are already familiar with, or do some advance scouting during daylight hours. You’ll catch more crappies if you can travel safely and directly to prime fishing locales that you’ve previously identified and marked. Putting waypoints in your GPS is helpful, and before fishing, you also may want to flag your fishing areas with marker buoys.
The best places are near woody cover and provide crappies distinct travel routes from deep daytime haunts to shallower reaches used for night feeding. These include points, humps, creek channels, ledges and ridges. Lighted docks and marinas also are first-rate night-fishing spots. Overhead lights draw baitfish and then crappies, and many dock owners place crappie-attracting brushpiles nearby.
Ultralight spinning combos and graphite jigging poles with 4- to 6-pound line work great for night fishing. Jigs, live minnows and jig/minnow combos are the enticements preferred by most anglers, but small spoons and spinners also nab darkside slabs.
Get your fishing outfits rigged and ready to go before launching, and organize your tackle box so you’ll know where everything is. You’ll need anchors to hold your boat stationary and insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes.
Lights are an important part of nighttime crappie fishing. They work by attracting baitfish such as shad and minnows, which in turn attract predator fish such as crappie. Crappies gather near or in the circle of light to feed. All you have to do is drop in a bait and catch them.
Three primary types of lights are used:
1. Lanterns - propane, liquid-fueled or battery powered. These are hung near the water’s surface on boat-mounted brackets.
2. Floating crappie lights - Traditional models feature a Styrofoam flotation ring and have a white, headlight-type beam that points down in the water to draw baitfish and crappie. Newer lights feature LED or fluorescent illumination with green and/or white lights. Power is from alligator clips on a 12-volt battery, a cigarette-lighter plug or alkaline batteries.
3. Submersible crappie lights - These sink to light up the depths. Battery-powered, 12-volt, LED and fluorescent models are available, with white or green lights.
All three light types can be used alone or in combination, but combinations are more versatile, lighting multiple levels of the water column to attract crappies no matter where they are, while also providing above-the-water lighting for tying knots, hooking bait and unhooking fish.
When you arrive at your fishing spot, anchor or otherwise secure your boat so you can fish over primary structure and cover. Then position your lights on one side of the boat and turn them on to illuminate your fishing area. You can start fishing immediately, but bear in mind that crappies probably won’t show up until baitfish appear. This may take anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more.
So relax, have a soda and chew the fat. If you’ve chosen a good fishing area, you’ll soon notice baitfish around the light. At first there may be only a few, but where shad and minnows are plentiful, a whirling mass of small fish soon will be swimming in the lighted water. If the water is clear enough, you may actually see crappies running through the schools of baitfish and picking them off.
These crappies may be caught in many ways. A weighted live minnow beneath a slip cork is a good enticement, and jigs the size of the predominant baitfish almost always proves productive.
Some anglers like casting and retrieving spinners through the circle of light; others prefer working jigging spoons directly beneath the boat. At times, the best fishing is within the circle of illumination created by your lights, but on some nights, you’ll catch more crappies by fishing dark water at the edges of light.
Determining the proper depth to fish is perhaps the biggest challenge. If the lake is clear, crappies may be at 15 to 30 feet, sometimes more; in stained water, 5 to 15 feet; and in muddy water, typically less than 5 feet. The key to success is presenting your bait at the level where fish are feeding, but not too far beneath or above the strike zone.
Targeting crappies after dark provides lots of time to sit and socialize with your fishing buddies. Anglers of all ages enjoy the thrills, the laughs, the delectable meals and, most of all, the companionship an after-hours crappie junket provides.
So give night-fishing a try this season. There’s no better way to catch crappies when the heat is on.
When boating at night, always follow these safety precautions:
• Be sure your boat is outfitted with proper navigation lights, all of which are in working order.
• Carry a spotlight so you can watch for obstacles and signal your presence if another boat approaches.
• Operate your boat at a slower speed and watch for the lights of other vessels.
• Wear a lifejacket and kill-switch at all times.
• Let a friend or relative know where you plan to fish and when you plan to return.