I got a call from a friend, “let’s go crappie fishing.” I am always ready to fish, but it was July and pushing 95 degrees during the day. Not what I consider perfect crappie weather, but regardless of weather conditions, crappie are still there and while most anglers won’t give crappie a second thought during summer heat it is possible to catch them.
We immediately moved out in the middle of the lake following the GPS to a spot where he had placed brush the previous winter.
Dropping minnows and jigs sometimes tipped with minnows, crappie began slowly biting. Even with the 90 plus heat, crappie were hanging just below the thermocline in more comfortable water.
Throughout the afternoon we kept adding crappie to the cooler at least until the sun began dipping on the horizon. Just like flipping a switch, the crappie shut down.
It seems normal for summer fishing. Everyday around dusk, our brush pile crappie will shut down. I thought, why?
Fisheries researchers have verified what I suspected, summer crappie activity patterns tend to increase at dusk, peak at night and decline at dawn.
The crappie we were hooking were hanging in a brush pile taking advantage of the shade. However, as the sun dropped, crappie moved out of the brush to go on the prowl.
Exactly how far and how deep crappie move all depends on lake structure and of course, water temperature. Once the sun drops, crappie will move around on the average of about 20 feet to 150 feet each hour. Not as much as you think, but they are intently looking for food items.
In most cases, plan on crappie staging in 15 to 18 feet of water during the day and moving up into the 10-12 feet range at night. Over the course of a normal summer day, a crappie can cover about 1.5 acres of surface water, but during the night crappie will generally double this area covering around 3-acres.
Although it doesn’t seem like it, the heaviest feeding activity for crappie takes place in June and July, but why don’t they bite more?
Crappie really have a wide range of food items but it’s nothing you find on the store shelf. Small fish are the dominant food items in the spring, summer, and fall but during the winter, insects are very important food items. It is tough to duplicate this unless you are a fly rod enthusiast and can duplicate aquatic insects crappie are keyed in on.
Just like a deer returning to its bedding area, crappie will tend to return to familiar cover during the day and this is the perfect time to locate and fish structures holding crappie.
Other crappie may be suspended along steep gradients. This is the perfect scenario to consider trolling if there are a range of structures including rocks or stumps which hold more crappie. Don’t overlook these steep gradients even if structure is lacking as crappie spend a lot of time here.
Trolling is not a method normally associated with crappie, but once the spawn pattern has ended you have to go on the hunt for them.
Truth told, most anglers give up on crappie by early summer, but Ron Wong said, “Why not chase them into their summer haunts.”
Wong is the Public Relations person for the American Crappie Trail and fishes nationwide for crappie. Wong told me that once crappie start moving into summer patterns this is the perfect time for getting into crankbaits.
Wong said, “During the late summer months, start the day with deep diving baits. Contrary to popular belief, crappie don’t go all the way to the bottom, but rather suspend just above the thermocline. “
Wong recommended setting out at least six to eight rods. Set one rod with 90 feet of line out, another one at 110, 120 and even 150 feet of line out. Remember crappie feed up, not down, so if you are just above the school they will come up.
It’s important to keep track of which rod you catch a fish with. If you catch several then adjust every crank bait to that depth. Also use the same method testing which colors are working best. Wong always starts with at least four colors.
If you hit fish, remember most of the school will face the same direction so turn and go through the school from the same direction but make wide sweeping turns so you don’t tangle lines. Wong said, “the idea is to fire them up into feeding.”
As summer begins heating up the lake is pushing the thermocline down, switch to a Strike King 3XD. By letting out 125 feet of line this bait will dive to around 15-feet deep. This small-bodied medium diver is a perfect match for schooling crappie and although bait specifications indicate it runs 6-8 feet deep.
Wong said, “If you let out 110 feet of line, it should drop the bait down to around 10-11 feet which in most cases is just above the thermocline.” In fact, the more line you put out the deeper this bait runs.
The Strike King Series 3 also has a rattle inside for added attraction, but if you need a quieter approach, there is also a Silent Series model which does not have the rattler. This silent bait is a game changer on heavily fished waters or when an active school turns off.
The Series 3 also comes in a myriad of colors needed for every situation.
Overall many lakes across the U.S. are beginning to show some age. When reservoirs are impounded, the response of fish is unbelievable. Cover is unlimited. Stumps, logs and weeds create a mecca for fish production.
However, as reservoirs age, cover begins deteriorating to the point that once productive fishing spots are devoid of cover. That’s why many state Game and Fish Agencies are working on habitat improvement projects creating “artificial reefs.”
If you can locate these reefs and mark them on your GPS, you will be able to return throughout the year regardless of weather conditions. Additionally, you should be willing to branch out and try some new methods. In either case, going deep, but not too deep, may be the ticket for adding fish to the cooler during the heat of summer.
(h/t Great American Wildlife)