3 Tactics for Catching Summer Crappies with Live Bait

Tips for Summer Crappie Fishing with Live Bait

The summer bite is on! Many anglers have just spent the last two months trout fishing and are looking for a new target now that the streams are warming and trout are becoming scarce. One option is grabbing a few rods, a container full of live bait and heading out to the water to find some crappies. Luckily wherever you may live, you can probably find a lake or pond full of crappies within a 15-minute drive. Crappies are one of the few fish species that are plentiful, can be caught throughout the year and make a great choice in your fish fry.

The crappie spawn is over so no more slab filled shallows, but rather big schools have broken apart to seek out submerged cover and steep drop-offs. Unlike during the spawn when just about any crappie fishing techniques worked, live bait will be your go to heading into summer. Live bait fishing for crappies is one of the most reliable lure presentations to catch crappies in warming lakes during hot days.

Summer crappies are still very much catchable but like other fish species, their patterns have changed since the spring. They are still feeding but have spread out and are no longer found in shallow water. To catch them during the summer months, start by following these three tactics for fishing for crappies.

Fishing with Live Bait for Summer Crappies

As the water temperatures rise, crappies will move deeper in search of creek and river channels. These areas have a little cooler water and typically hold more baitfish for forage than other warmer parts of the lake. To find these spots, use your electronics to locate the channels then look for submerged cover like flooded timber alongside them. Paired together, channels and nearby structure will hold both big crappies and lots of them.

Fishing with minnows for crappie is one of the most common and successful tactics in the summer. The best crappie jig is one tipped with a minnow. Crappies suspended along a channel will be stacked one above the other so you need a fishing bait with the ability to move vertically in the water column. Use a large enough jig head to reach the bottom, typically 1/8- to 1/4-ounce with a short shank. Rig the minnow through the mouth and slowly jig and reel it to the surface.

Follow the Weather to Find the Crappies

Weather plays a big factor in summer crappie activity. Typically, if you know the forecast you will have a good idea where to find schools of crappies. High sky and hot days push crappies close to cover and tight to channel bottoms. However, on days when clouds blanket the sky and the wind picks up, crappies will venture away from structure and disperse more making them easier to catch. These are the best days for crappie fishing with minnows and bobber with youngsters or from the bank because crappies will be less docile and more reactionary to live bait moving nearby.

Hot, sunny days are tough to keep minnows alive but with a good live bait container, you are better able to have a fresh, lively minnow to rig up. Fishing for crappies on these days requires you to take your bait right into the middle of thick structure and fish vertical. If the weather is cloudy and windy, find the same structures you would fish on sunny days but back off of it and use a live minnow hooked in the back on a drop shot rig. Finally, for days when there is an approaching front (check the barometric pressure stats), you will find schools along pronounced drop offs near shore and steep lake points. Cast the same drop shot rig here and work it from shallow water down off of the drop.

Cover is Always Key for Summer Crappies     

Besides the spawn, crappies can always be found around some type of cover. In the summer, they will be looking for any type of submerged cover they can find. Not all cover is equally desired, however. For instance, docks will be used by crappies if no other option is available but they are less preferred than submerged stumps, flooded timber or bridge piers. Crappies will also be found in deeper grass if no good structures are available or they have all been taken by other fish. Knowing the differences in cover will help you prioritize spots to fish, especially during times of high fishing pressure when all the other anglers head to the stumps and you head to the grass. Crappies will even move to grass cover on cloudy, cool days to find baitfish. Running live bait like minnows through the grass on a spinner rig or dropping one in on a jig can produce some large crappies in areas that many others anglers have passed by.

For those choosing artificial lures over live bait fishing for crappies, your arsenal should include a variety of small crankbaits in natural colors for fishing near sunken rocks and bridges. In addition, keep a collection of soft plastics (twister tails, tubes, etc.) in various colors and sizes (1-3 inches) for jigging structures in heavy cover. Vary speeds of retrieve and jigging as deep summer crappies can be slow to bite and changing speeds may be all is needed to trigger a reaction bite.

Bonus Crappie Fishing Technique for the Summer

Some anglers are either going to be live bait fishing or throwing artificial lures on any giving day on the water, but there is a benefit to fishing both. Crappies are highly sensitive to color, which means you can often trigger bites by using flashy colors and changing baits often. Having artificial lures with you gives you more options when various live bait choices like minnows and worms may not be producing. This is the only way how to catch crappies in the summer when schools are dense. They quickly catch on to the jig tipped minnow and throwing something different every few casts will let you stay on one school longer and catch bigger fish.

The easy times are over for crappie fishing, but you can still fill your frying pan trip after trip if you focus in on the above tactics when trying to figure out how to catch crappies in the summer. Live bait, a few artificial lures and good electronics are all needed when fishing for crappies in these next few months to consistently land slab after slab.

 

 

Live Bait Guide | Live Bait Selection by Fish Species

Live Bait Selection Guide for Various Species

 

Fishing with live bait is where it all starts. No fancy, expensive lures but only a worm or a minnow on a hook tied on the end of your rod. Almost every angler has used live bait in the past and still does today either when teaching kids to fish or going after a particular species of fish. Live bait selection is just as varied as fishing with artificial lures. To be successful, whether on the shore for panfish or downrigging for walleyes, you have to decide which bait is your best choice for the situation and the fish species you are targeting.

 

Catching Panfish with Live Bait

 

Panfish are some of the more common and easy to catch fish out there. They are found in nearly every lake, pond or stream across the country. With panfish, we are lumping in all species of sunfish, crappies, and perch. Besides making great table fare, panfish are the category of fish species where fishing with live bait makes the most sense.

 

When panfish are tight to banks of lakes and ponds, among all the different types of fish bait the best live bait selection is a worm. You want to choose a small worm such as either a red worm or trout worm so that the small mouths of these species can actually eat it. Hook the worm on a small single 8- to 10-size hook with the worm wrapped a few times through the hook so it stays put even after a few light bites. Add a small spilt shot about 12-inches above the hook so the worm sinks. Bobber or no bobber? It comes down to preference in most instances, but bobbers are great for kids or if you are fishing multiple lines at the same time. However, fishing without one gives you the ability to jig your worm or cast in tight cover.

 

If you are offshore fishing for panfish, like suspended crappies or schools of perch, your best fishing bait will be a small minnow. One option is to use a small painted jig head and hook the minnow through the mouth. This rig lets you work drop-offs over suspended fish and also allows you to cover ground until you find these fish. Another successful setup for fishing with minnows for crappies is one hooked in the back with a ½- to 1-ounce egg sinker attached about two feet up your line. Your minnow is free to move off the bottom and swim around areas where crappies may be hiding such as in submerged trees or shallow stumps.

 

Live Bait Selection for Targeting Bass

 

Bass, both smallmouths and largemouths, can be reliably caught using live bait techniques. For largemouths, there are several live bait options that work consistently better than the many types of artificial bait options. Instead of using plastic worms, replace them with large nightcrawlers. A nightcrawler hooked up on a drop-shot rig when fishing suspended bass on deep drop-offs is deadly. Nightcrawlers are also good live fishing bait for bass when targeting shallow spawning beds. Attach one to a jig head and slowly bounce it off the bottom to trigger reaction bites.

 

The best fishing bait for bass is minnows. Big shiners attract trophy caliber largemouths. Do not be afraid to go big either as bass will take minnows anywhere from 3- to 6-inches long. The bigger the minnow the bigger the bass in most cases. Depending on minnow size, use a 3/0 to 5/0 hook to rig a live minnow through the back if you are free-line fishing without a bobber over submerged grass flats or through the mouth for fishing with a small bobber near shore. It is important to keep your minnows alive as a dead minnow will seldom be taken by a bass.

 

Smallmouths love crayfish and if you can get your hands on some, you will crush them in big rivers. Have a hook as long as the average tail length and then hook them weedless by putting the hook through the end of the tail and up underneath the tail like you would rig a long plastic worm. The crayfish will crawl across the bottom naturally and you will stay snag free until a big smallmouth swims by and picks it up.

 

Live Bait Techniques for Trout Fishing

 

Fishing with live bait is one of the best ways to catch trout. For this fishing bait guide, the focus is on going after trout in streams. Fishing for trout in moving water, especially if you are wading, adds a whole new set of challenges beyond trying to catch fish. Wading, carrying live bait, pulling something squirmy out and rigging it up is all but impossible without a good live bait container. The first live bait technique for trout starts with a minnow. Thread one using a needle and a loop in your line through the mouth and out the back end with a split treble hook in size 14 or 16 to secure it. Cast it into moving water and slowly reel and jig as it comes in. This tactic works well in swift water in small creeks for rainbows and browns.

 

Without question, the worm is also a popular live bait selection for trout. The best technique for catching trout with worms is to hook one on a size 8 to 10 single hook with a part of the worm dangling off the shank. Add enough split shot to get it on the bottom and drift it naturally from upstream to downstream. Additionally, trout will take crickets and meal worms drifted in slower pools near the shore. Try floating these with no weight during the summer in streams that have a lot of pressure or in creeks that hold native trout.

 

Fishing with Live Bait for Walleyes

 

More and more walleye anglers are switching from one of the many types of artificial bait and coming back to live bait for catching walleyes. Reason? Because live bait is much more productive in various situations and conditions than artificial lures.

 

First, if you are trolling for walleyes, you want to ditch everything but the nightcrawlers. Get your depth and speed right then rig up a large nightcrawler to a spinner rig. Bottom bounce this setup for deep walleyes or add a snap weight to target suspended walleyes. The second best live bait selection for walleyes is the minnow. Similar to panfish, hook a small minnow on a painted jig head. Jig over deep structures and along the edges of grass. Lastly, leeches are effectively used as a trailer with artificial lures for walleyes. Bucktail jigs paired with a live leech are perfect for deep river walleyes around large rocks or shelving.

 

Live Bait Fishing

 

What fish likes what bait gets simplified when sticking with live bait. Live bait selection comes down to primary choices like worms and minnows and several other specialized choices such as crayfish, mealworms and leeches. Although by no means comprehensive, this live fishing bait guide should give you the basics when it comes to fishing for panfish, bass, trout and walleyes with live bait.