There are a passel of good ways to catch crappie. On a scale of one to ten, soaking shiners or casting jigs around brush piles has to rank right near the top.
This holds especially true from summer through much of winter. That’s when the cover-loving panfish like to spend their time hanging out far from shore in water way over your head.
As reliable as it can be, fishing around brush piles isn’t the only way to put a few crappie in the box. Nor is it always the best way from one day to the next.
What follows is a laundry list of deadly crappie fishing strategies to try when brush piles just aren’t cutting it. If the humdrum practice of soaking shiners below an anchored boat just doesn’t get your energetic juices flowing, try one of these:
Taking a Stroll
Strolling is an aggressive jig fishing tactic that produces the best results when the tasty panfish are in transition from their shallow spawning grounds to deeper haunts. It works best on impoundments with vegetation such as hydrilla or milfoil submerged at mid-range depths of six to fifteen feet.
Sam Rayburn guide Stephen Johnston says the trick is to cast a small jig 30 to 40 feet behind the boat, then use the power of the trolling motor to inch the bait along the outer edge of the grass or just above it. It is important to watch the depth finder and keep the boat positioned right on the edge of the grass. This keeps the bait in the strike zone.
Trolling motor speed is critical, here. Move the bait too fast, and it will ride too high in the water column. Move it too slow, and it will sink too deep and snag in the grass. A No. 2 or No. 3 speed usually works best.
The best jig size can vary from 1/32 to 1/8 ounce. The tactic generally works best in combination with spinning gear and a light line, about six- to eight-pound test.
Once you locate a potential hotspot by strolling, you should fan cast the entire area to milk it for all it’s worth. Stanley’s Wedgetail Runner is a great bait to try in this situation.
You can almost always find a few fish hanging around bridge crossings. At certain times of year on some lakes, the fish really tend to stack up there. At Lake Fork, fishing guide Gary Paris says the FM Road 154 and 515 bridges always get hot in late spring and fall. This is when the fish are in transition from deep water to shallow, or vice versa.
Paris says the fish relate more to the cross members that connect the pilings beneath the water more than anything else. The best depth range can vary from 15 to 20 feet deep, depending on the water level of the lake.
Employing the proper presentation is critical. Paris says there are three support pilings to a set, one on each side and one in the middle. He likes to position his boat into the wind near the outside piling so he can cast a small jig toward the piling on the opposite side.
Paris allows the jig to free fall on a semi-slack line once it hits the water. “You don’t reel at all until you feel a bite or are ready to make another cast,” he said. “This lets the bait fall or pendulum beside the cross member, and it will eventually wind up right below the boat. They’ll hit it on the fall nine out of ten times.”
Paris says hair jigs or bald jigs tipped with a small shiner rule in this arena. He likes to perform the technique with a 4 1/2-foot ultra-light rod matched with 10- to 20-pound braid to maximize sensitivity and increase his chances should a big bass come calling. Six-pound fluorocarbon or high-vis green lines are preferred by some anglers.
Dabbling For Spawners
When crappie move shallow to spawn during springtime they like to set-up camp around shallow cover on flats, points and shorelines in the backs of creeks to do their thing.
Paris likes to dabble around the cover using a small jig or shiner beneath a slip cork affixed to the proper depth. He uses a 13-foot Black Widow telescoping crappie pole so he can fish away from the boat. You can employ the same tactic by casting toward the bank using an ultra-light rig. He prefers 15-pound monofilament in case he hooks a big bass.
If water levels are high, the crappie may move so far back into the cover that you can’t get to them in a boat. That’s when Lendell Martin, Jr. of Nacogdoches likes to take a wade on his home water, Sam Rayburn.
Martin likes it best when the lake is about two to three feet above normal. He’ll motor as far back into the rough stuff as he can. Then he’ll don chest waders and hop in. He says the prime areas are shallow flats one to three feet deep bordering secondary creeks and ditches that feed into the Attoyac and Angelina rivers.
Areas with big pines are ideal. “The pine straw on the ground makes a perfect bed,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to catch as many as 10 fish around one tree.”
Martin likes to use a nine-foot fly rod matched with 12-pound line and a 1/16-ounce jig. He doesn’t use a cork. Instead, he drops the jig into potential sweet spots, moves it up and down a few times, then repeats the process.
During the summer months, crappie can sometimes be caught around old stumps in 15 to 25 feet of water. The fish like to hold around limbs and branches somewhere between the surface and bottom.
Crappie pro Wally Marshall of Garland sometimes prefers to use a technique he calls “dipping’” when the fish are suspended around stumps. He performs the tactic using one of his 10-foot signature series jigging pole/reel combos matched with a 1/8 or 1/16-ounce jig.
Using the trolling motor to move stump to stump, Marshall will peel off about 10 feet of line and drop the jig beside the stump as he’s approaching. Bites will almost always come on the initial fall.
It’s wise to make note of the depth when you catch the first fish as it could be a reliable sign of the most productive depth all over the lake.
Shooting a Jig
Crappie love to hang out beneath boat docks and boat houses that are supported by piling and cross members. Often times, however, the fish will often bury up so far beneath them that it’s impossible get to them with a conventional cast.
It happens just about every spring on Cedar Creek Reservoir near Dallas. That’s when fishing guide Jason Barber reaches for his ultra-light rig and heads out for a little “shooting.”
Shooting is a popular jig fishing technique used around docks. It involves peeling off a few feet of line and grabbing the jig in one hand (making sure the hook is pointed away from you). With the rod tip pointed downward and the line bale open, pull the jig back toward you to create a bow in the rod. When you release the jig, the momentum of the rod slings the jig toward the target.
Barber says it takes some practice to master the timing, but once it’s perfected the jig will sail just above the surface. This tactic will reach isolated places you otherwise cannot reach.
Finding and catching crappie can at times test your skill and tax your patience. Give the aforementioned tactics a try and it might boost your chances of boxing a few fish when brush piles are paying off.
—story by Matt Williams