How to catch crappies year round
Crappie can be caught throughout the year. Each season of the year dictates where crappies will be located and the types of prey they are pursuing as their forage.
Crappie can be flighty and finicky one minute and then turn into aggressive miniature predators the next. Being able to adjust tactics as they transition from season to season can be the key to catching more crappies.
Spring crappie fishing
Locations: Finding deeper water adjacent to spawning habitat early in the morning when water temps are coolest and then following fish up shallower as the day progresses and water temperature warm up is a solid approach.
An example of this set up could be starting in a 12’ drop adjacent to a 4’ spawning flat with reeds and then using sonar to follow schools of fish as they move shallower throughout the day.
A location to consider when searching for spring fish is a shallow north bay, especially in smaller lakes. Bays with 6’ of water or less in the northern part of the lake warm fastest because of sun exposure from dawn to dusk. These are areas that can hold some of the biggest and most aggressive fish.
Presentations: When chasing crappies during spring it is imperative to have a variety of lure choices and sizes available because of the constant state of change the fish can appear to be under during this time of year.
Having a variety of insect imitations like Angler’s Emporium’s Stonefly, Multi-Nymph, and Mayflies can be highly effective in getting crappies to bite early in the morning in colder water or during cold fronts. These morsels can be fished on a jig, small spoon, or even under a Thill Float with a plain hook and small split shot. These are all great ways to entice more finicky or lethargic fish.
Preparing for the afternoon bite can include lures as big as Johnson’s Beetle Spins to Berkley Pinched Crawlers. Beetle Spins work great for drifting over schools of fish with a lift, pause, and fall retrieve and the Pinched Crawlers can be effectively fished with jigs, spoons, or plain hooks under a float cast right into cover the fish are using.
Summer crappie fishing
Locations: After crappies have spawned in spring and water temperatures continue to rise in early summer, crappies can be found in and around distinct weed lines. An example of a solid early summer weed line scenario is cabbage in 9-12’ of water adjacent to a drop into deeper water. This is a perfect place for crappies to feed on invertebrates as bug life often centers around the vegetation.
As summer progresses, and water temperatures reach their peak, fish will remain in the lush vegetation of the weed lines, but there will also be fish that seek refuge from the heat over basins. A classic example of a basin location in late summer would be crappies that are suspended 15’ down in 30’ of water.
Presentations: Whether early or late summer, one of the keys to catching crappies is going with bigger presentations. Insect imitations like the Angler’s Emporium Hellgrammite (available in 2.25” or 3”) are a great option as they are larger profiles of aquatic life fish are keying on, making it easier for fish to see and then feed on them.
Miniature crankbaits up to 3”, Johnson Beetle Spins, and larger Berkley Gulp! Minnows can be great options into and just outside of the weed lines in early summer; and they can be great larger profile lure choices for trolling or drifting out over schools in the basins. The key to any presentation in the basin in late summer is keep the lure above the fish. If a lure is run through the middle of the school it can spook crappies, but if it is maneuvered above the fish, they often will come up to feed on it.
Fall crappie fishing
Locations: While there will still be fish holding in the remaining weeds that are left in the lake, many crappies will move to deeper water if they have not already done so during the late summer period. Deeper water can mean flats that are 20’ deep, or it can mean they are suspended 20-25’ down in 40’+ water.
Presentations: Fishing for crappies in fall often means that it is time to break out mini-cranks and soft plastics and staying versatile. Whether using hard or soft baits, the key is to present them 2-3’ above schools of marauding crappies with light line.
The line must be strong, abrasion resistant, and sensitive enough to detect even the slightest of bites. Four pound test monofilament tied to an Angler’s Emporium Painted Ball Jig in 1/32 oz tipped with a 1” Berkley Gulp! Minnow can be a dynamite presentation during the fall period. The fish can be more focused on minnows at this time of year due to their preparation for the upcoming winter months.
Winter crappie fishing
Locations: During the winter months, crappies will oftentimes be in the same places they were found during late fall: suspended over basins. However, as winter progresses, it is a good idea to look at flats in shallower water adjacent to the basin.
For example, a 25’ flat shelf that extends 100 yards adjacent to water that drops into 40’ can be a great place to locate some of the larger crappies in a system. These shelves are solid locations because they are deep enough to have the mud that hold aquatic invertebrates that fish feed upon, but they are shallow enough to have less smaller crappies roaming them, which decreases the competition for food supplies.
Presentation: As winter progresses and the ice thickens, sunlight is lowest, and snow accumulates on the ice, the fish can become outright lethargic. This means it is time to downsize significantly. Tipping a Marmooska Ice Jig with an Angler’s Emporium Stonefly, Multi-Nymph, Mayfly, or Maggot works well to pull more crappies out of their respective schools.
Using small diameter line is the key to drop heavy small jigs to the fish as quickly as possible and catch more crappies from the school before they move out of your spot. Berkley’s Micro Ice line in 2-4 lb test works great for these kinds of presentations that require a lot of depth be covered rapidly while still maintaining the sensitivity necessary to detect light bites.
Adjusting your presentations can put you on the fish and keep you on the fish throughout the year! Tight lines and safe fishing!