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.