I knew the odds would be just a little, if not a whole lot, on my side as I turned the alarm off at 5 a.m. last week. A weather change had come, and the morning low was 58 degrees, a far cry from the extended 90-plus degrees we have seen for weeks here in central Maryland. Plus, there was a slight northerly breeze and overcast skies were predicted until mid-day.
Still, I had to get my aging frame out of the cozy bed and get moving. The goal was simple … find and catch some decent-sized crappies and maybe hook a giant. A “giant” would be a fish measuring 17 inches and would be a personal best, if captured. I had already reached the “sweet sixteen” mark in both 2020 and spring of 2021. But that 17-incher had still eluded me.
Summer crappie fishing can be tough or amazingly productive. Depending on the water and the conditions, it can be outstanding. In many mid-south reservoirs, anglers troll successfully over vast flats with jigs and crank baits to catch numerous and big fish. In the northern tier states and the upper mid-west, fishing deeper weed line edges produces fish. Still, other regions resort to night-time fishing around lighted docks or deep brush pile fishing during the day. Depends on where you live and what the trends are.
For me, the game plan was simple: fish during low-light periods of dawn to mid-morning on cloudy, cool days and imitate what the fish are feeding on. At this body of water, and at this time, adult 11- to 14-inch crappies were feeding on this year’s hatch of bass and bluegills. These YOY (young-of-the-year) juveniles are 1-2 inches long and ideal bait fish for larger crappies. They remain shallow for most of the summer of their first year and hang around weed beds or fallen brush for safety. Adult crappies tend to be nocturnal and will actively feed on dark, overcast days even after a night of foraging.
Many lure types accurately resemble these tiny fish. During the last two summers I have had success with several crank bait patterns that represent size rather than color. They are the ultra-light patterns that include the Strike King Bitsy Minnow, Crème Hard Bait Minnows, Matzuo Kinchoe Minnow and the classic Rapala Floating Minnow. All of these come in micro-sizes of 1-2 inches in length and cast well with quality four-pound test monofilament. To deliver these small baits I like to use ultra-light spinning rods from 6.5-7.5 feet long that have a soft action. The softer bending of these rods allows cushioning when a big, slab crappie powers off with a mouthful of tiny treble hooks and helps keeping them from pulling out.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
Other lures that can produce well are the classic twister-style plastics on 1/32nd or 1/16th ounce jig heads fished below a fixed bobber. Tube tails work well too, and the variety of soft plastics in the 1.5-2-inch range are too numerous to mention. As far as colors go, we like silver and pearl as they just seem to take more fish during the low-light time frames. Experiment with colors as crappies can show a preference to color from time to time.
Retrieve speeds can vary depending on the activity level of the fish. For most scenarios, we use a straight, slow and steady retrieve with the crank baits and avoid any twitching or erratic retrieves to entice fish. Reel the micro-lures too fast and they tend to sway to one side or the other. Slow it down when that happens. Crappie have good eyesight, but they need to “home in” on a lure in darker conditions.
With the bobber and jig retrievals, we like to give the lure short twitches and stop-and-go movements, literally just the opposite of the crank bait theory. And of course, it has to be light enough to see a float that is suspending your jigs, usually at the 2-3 feet below the bobber. Set the hook when the bobber plops under. Strikes almost always occur just after a twitch or movement and sometimes as the jig is still … go figure!
One exciting aspect with the crank bait tactic is the powerful strikes that can come from a big, 14-inch class crappie followed by a sizzling, drag-peeling run on its initial burst of speed. Way stronger than what one would think, big crappies can give a good account of themselves with light or ultra-light gear. The biggest issue with the mini-crank baits is that the small treble hooks are often impaled on the outside portion of the mouth or near the nostril area, offering less than adequate holding power for a 1-2-pound class crappie. Yet other fish manage to get the entire lure within the mouth.
Admittedly, large crappies have gaping mouths that can take baits far larger than one might think. I’ve caught modest, 9-inch specimens on #5 Mepps spinners … sheesh!
Jig fishing often results in better hook up ratios and the catch rate is improved with the single, larger jig hook. I like a 1/32nd ounce Eagle Claw ball-head jig with a #6 Pro-V hook for consistent hooksets. There are many other jig fishing options for crappie out there with all of them laying out their claim to fame. My options are certainly not the “tell-all, end-all” solution to summer crappie fishing, but they are a good place to start. Experimentation may be needed.
So, how did I do on that early morning gig last week? Not bad, something like 11 crappies altogether with three over 13-inches and a chubby 14-incher for “fish-of-the-day” honors. I kept six 11-inch fish for a couple meals for Linda and I and released the big girls, or boys, to prime the gene pool. No, that “giant” 17-inch fish remained secure, as I would have released it anyway even if I was to be so blessed. Summer crappie fishing … give it a shot.