Veteran crappie anglers including Billy Kilpatrick of Lake Lavon, Ricky Vandergriff of Lake Palestine, Weldon Kirk of Gibbons Creek Reservoir and lakes Fayette County and Somerville, Dave Cox of Lake Livingston and lure manufacturer and professional angler Lonnie Stanley of Huntington know how to load their boats with big crappie year-round. Here are some of the tactics they say work best for them:
“We fish a lot of brush piles at Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend after the spawn and when the crappie are moving back into deep water, one of my best methods to catch them is to use a 1/32-ounce jig head with a 1/8-ounce pinch-on sinker about 12 to 14 inches on the line above it.
At first, I may put a live minnow on the jig head with the hook through the minnow’s nose. I will cast it out and let it fall to the bottom. Since the sinker is heavier than the jig head, it will fall a lot faster and hit the bottom first. It sort of looks like the minnow is chasing after the sinker. It’s I call a baby Carolina rig. I let the minnow sit still at first but then jig it up and down.
“Once I have caught a couple or more crappie on the live minnow this way, I will switch to one of my Wedgetail Crappie Minnows in place of a live minnow. It will slaughter the crappie. It is one of the best crappie rigs I have ever used.”
Stanley said pattering crappie is relatively easy. “They are in the middle of the creeks in January and February and then very shallow around brush to spawn in March and April. After that, they move back out and will hang out and feed around brush piles, which may be those out off points, on edges of the channels or under bridges next to their pilings.”
During transitions, such as in-between moving from the channels to the shallows to spawn and suspending along ledges in 10 to 12 feet or so water, Stanley loads the boat with big crappie on his Mini Wedge Runner, a close-pin type spinnerbait with a soft plastic Wedgetail Crappie Minnow. It is what Stanley calls “the world’s smallest spinnerbait” and comes with both willow leaf and Colorado type blades.
Crappie action is good year-round on Lavon but summertime is one of Kilpatrick’s favorite times to go after the paper-mouths. “Small minnows and black and blue jigs is all you need,” Kilpatrick said. “The crappie suspends one to two feet off the bottom on any structure because that’s where the coolest and most productive water will be,” he said.
“I like to use seven-foot medium light rods with 12-pound test line, 1/8-ounce jig heads and No.1 crappie hooks,” Kilpatrick said. “Lots of fish will hang you up on structure and this will allow you to hold the fish until you can work the fish loose.”
Kilpatrick said the time of the day makes no difference in the fishing action at Lavon during hot summer temperatures. “Once the (outside) temperatures reach 100 degrees, the fish bite all day and all summer, “Kilpatrick said. “It is not unusual to catch 100 to 200 crappie per day, if you can stand the heat.”
Also in Lavon’s favor is a lack of fishing pressure. “Lavon has been a great crappie lake for years but it has been overlooked by a lot of fishermen,” he said. “It’s a secret a lot of people don’t know about.”
During the summer, Vandergriff switches from the ultra-shallow waters of spring spawning to deeper brush piles, mainly on Lake Palestine where he has guided for years. However, he doesn’t necessarily switch lures.
“One of my favorite lures for crappie is the Mr. Twister Mr. Mino,” Vandergriff said. “It definitely catches the big ones. I start in the early part of March using a slip bobber rig. The slip bobber is either a wooden or foam bobber about three inches long with a hole all the way through it so it will slip up and down your line. I position it with a Bobber Stop (a string on a plastic tube). Slide the Bobber Stopper on your line first, and then add a plastic bead and then the slip bobber followed by your jig on the end of the line. Slide the line off the tube and pull both ends tight so that the string makes a knot on your line. Set the knot at the depth you want to fish.”
Vandergriff targets spawning grounds such as stickups and brush along shallow shorelines, especially those in creeks.
“Later in about late April or May, the crappie move out into deeper water and I use the Mr. Mino on the same slip bobber only I will slide the Bobber Stopper further up my line to fish the deeper depths, which may be 20 to 30 feet,” Vandergriff said.
“The other way I like to fish the Mr. Minnow is on a tight line. We catch a lot of summertime crappie from brush piles, both under the bridges and in the creeks, during the summer. When fishing the brush piles, I will drop my Mr. Mino straight down to the tops of the brush pile and jig it with very slight twitches to make the jig look alive but crippled.”
During mid-fall to winter when the crappie are not moving as much, Vandergriff will stay with the deepest brush piles or, as spring re-approaches will target suspended fish in the channels awaiting the water to warm once again.
“As the water temperatures reach between 70 and 75 degrees, most crappie are done (spawning),” Kirk said. “Most post-spawn fish will hang around bedding areas for several days until the water temps rise a little more. Post-spawn crappie will be on isolated pieces of cover adjacent to spawning sites. I target these fish in 6-12 feet of water around structure. Curly-tail jig baits or minnows should entice them but if not try grubs.
“As the water gets to 80 degrees, I look for them in deeper water, 18-30 feet, on ledges, deep brush piles or around docks,” Kirk said. “At this time, I rig a ½ to one-ounce bell sinker on the bottom of my line with two leaders coming off the main line, the first about 18 inches above the hook and the other above that. I bait one hook with a minnow and the other with a tube-tail jig. I bounce this rig off the bottom in deeper water or troll it about two-thirds down in the water where the bait fish show on my sonar unit.
“When the water temperature stays around 80 degrees in late summer, I look for crappie holding there until the water temperatures begin to drop in the fall,” Kirk said. “For suspended crappie, slow-trolled crank bait can produce, but if they are holding tight in deep structure the double-hook rig will work best for getting the baits down deep.”
Most crappie anglers know to go ultra-shallow for spring crappie but have problems catching them during the heat of the summer because they aren’t used to changing tactics, Cox said.
The creeks on the north end of Livingston _ White Rock, Harmon, Nelson, Village, Chaulk and Bedias_ all can produce outstanding catches during the summer,” Cox said. “Most have low levels and are very clear but you can overcome that by fishing the deep holes in the cut banks around lay-downs, wood and brush.
“The river channel also has some log jams suspended over deep water. I like a black and chartreuse tube jig on a slip cork about 3 ½ to 4 ½ deep. You may only catch two to three fish and then have to move around. We used to call that “Jump Stumping.”
Cox suggests getting on the water at first light while it is cool and then getting off before 11 a.m.