When crappie go deep to escape temperature extremes, anglers sometimes need to spoon-feed finicky fish.
In deep water, crappie might not chase baits far or aggressively, but they may hit something dangling in front of their noses. In addition, deeper water makes crappie difficult to catch with traditional live bait rigs. Therefore, anglers need something to get down to the fish quickly. Enter the chrome jigging spoon!
“I’ve caught fish down to 40 feet,” said Jerry Blake, a crappie guide. “It takes a little bit of time to get bait down to that level and live bait becomes a little more difficult to use in really deep water. Vertical jigging with a small spoon is a great way to catch deep crappie.”
Essentially, vertical jigging consists of positioning a boat over a likely spot and dropping a metal spoon into the water. Small, heavy and compact, a jigging spoon sinks to the bottom quickly. A spoon fluttering down resembles a dying shad or shiner, and a crappie likes nothing better than slurping shiners. Facets reflect sunlight and mimic the flash of baitfish scales, creating sparkles in clear water.
Let a spoon flutter all the way to the bottom. Most of the time, fish hit on the fall. After the spoon hits bottom, bounce it off the bottom a foot or two, keeping it fluttering in the strike zone. Even in deep water, fish often look skyward because they can see prey silhouetted against the bright surface better than they can see something hiding near the dark bottom.
“Make a little flash by lifting it up and letting it drop,” Blake said. “Crappie look up and might come up two or three feet to ambush their prey. Ideally, we like to put baits right above their heads. Spoons are also good for casting.”
When casting, attach a split ring to a barrel swivel to keep the spoon from twisting the line too much. Just like in vertical jigging, let the spoon flutter to the bottom after casting it. Retrieve it with a series of jerks and pauses, letting it drop a few feet with each pause. Sometimes, a fish follows a spoon, waiting for the time to strike. Spoons also make excellent tools for casting at schooling fish feeding on the surface.
Experiment with different retrieves and drops. Sometimes, deep crappie become very finicky and don’t want to see any movement at all. Just hold the rod as still as possible, only allowing the boat movement to make it twitch.
“Often, it doesn’t take a whole lot of movement to make a fish bite,” said Darryl Morris, a crappie guide. “Sometimes, I jerk it up and down two or three times and then stop. Sometimes, the spoon twists on the line, and I just stop it and let it unwind. You keep the rod still, but the spoon twists and unwinds at the end.”
Fish don’t always sit on the bottom. Although they’re usually found near brush piles, humps or other cover, crappie sometimes suspend in open water. Frequently, they suspend under baitfish schools, waiting for the proper time to attack or pick off wounded fish.
Knowledgeable anglers can detect baitfish schools on their depth finders. Some depth finders can actually detect a spoon jigging up and down in the water. You can watch as it descends to the proper depth and possibly watch as a fish approaches it.
Not finding any action on the bottom? Experiment with different depths. Crank the reel handle two or three times to lift the spoon a few feet off the bottom and dangle it there. Keep moving up the water column, pausing every few feet.
Some anglers mark their lines in intervals and count the marks as the lure sinks. Others slowly let sinking line slip through their fingers. They fish their spoons all the way down and count until something bites. Then, they drop the spoon back at the same rate and stop at the magic number.
Most anglers use 1/8- to 3/4-ounce faceted chrome spoons because of their highly reflective properties in sunlight. Some anglers use gold, green or other colors. Try different sizes, colors retrieves and drops. When fish become extremely finicky, they might want a smaller bait that sinks more slowly.
“Often, I use 1/4-ounce spoons for crappie,” Morris said. “Crappie feed with a very light bite in deep water so it’s very subtle. Sometimes, we use a 1/16-ounce jig, even down 25 or 30 feet when crappie are biting very subtly.”
A jigging spoon works because it mimics a dying shiner and creates flash. Besides crappie, a vertically jigged spoon might catch largemouths, bream, catfish and just about anything that might eat a dying shad or shiner, and that includes just about everything that swims.
—story by John N. Felsher