For summer crappie, think like a spider!
By John N. Felsher
As the late summer Alabama sun bakes down on the Heart of Dixie, many anglers forget about chasing crappie, one of the most abundant and delicious fish anywhere. Many Alabama anglers consider crappie “cold weather species” and only target them during winter or early spring, but the fish must eat all year long.
“A lot of people think crappie fishing is seasonal, but I fish 52 weeks of the year and catch fish each time,” says Mike Baker, a professional crappie angler. “After they spawn, crappie scatter and are just harder to find, but they still have to eat.”
Frequently, the higher and hotter the sun goes, the deeper and cooler crappie go. To find crappie in deep water, first check the electronics. Modern depth finders can provide extremely detailed information. Not as subject to capricious weather variations, deep water remains relatively stable all year long and can provide cooling comfort even on blistering hot days. In addition, deep water does not suffer as much turbulence from boat wakes or other activities like shoreline shallows. Once anglers find the fish, they can usually catch a bunch rapidly.
“In the summer, crappie normally move from the creeks back out to deeper water,” says Janette Carter, a professional crappie angler. “We look for them 15 to 25 feet deep in open water. When it gets really hot, fish seek shady cover. Shade is more important than water temperature.”
Electronics can give information on bottom cover, but anglers still need to probe the depths to locate fish and determine what they want to eat. For finding crappie in deep water, many anglers fish several rods simultaneously in a spider rig. With eight 12- to 16-foot long rods arrayed in holders off the bow, anglers can plow a huge swath through the water. The angler looks like prey trapped in a web, but this technique can find fish and put a lot of them in the boat quickly.
“With eight rods up front, it looks like a spider web,” says Phil Rambo, a professional crappie angler. “It’s a really slow type of fishing, almost vertical. The line is at about a 40-degree angle with the bait dangling in a crappie’s face until it can’t resist.”
Many anglers bait their rods with multiple combinations of soft-plastic jigs or live minnows. Some anglers tip their jigs with minnows for double the temptation. With multiple rods holding various baits, anglers can zero in on what fish want to bite. With the rods arrayed off the bow, push forward slowly with an electric motor to locate feeding fish. After finding fish, keep circling a hot honey hole.
“Finding one fish is the tough part,” says Don Collins, a professional crappie angler. “Once we find good fish, we go over the same area several times. When I’m searching for fish, I look for rises, ledges or creek channels, anything different on the bottom contour. A creek or river channel coming into a lake is just like a highway to fish. We use several different bait colors until we determine what the fish want. If we start catching more fish on one color, we change most of the baits to that color. That allows us to continue to catch fish while still looking for other colors that fish might like better.”
With a spider rig, anglers can simultaneously fish just off the bottom or way up the water column to precisely locate where fish want to suspend at any given time. Always dangle a bait slightly above the depth where crappie suspend. Crappie usually look up to spot baitfish silhouetted against surface glare. Crappie might rise three or four feet to hit a jig or minnow, but might not even see a bait dangling just below them.
“In the summer, crappie hang around the river ledges, points and deep ditches,” says Cody Young, a crappie guide from Eufaula (334-687-3200, 334-370-3450). “In the summer, once we establish the pattern on how to find fish, we can catch a bunch of crappie all summer long. In August at Lake Eufaula, crappie are in the brush piles in 15 to 19 feet of water.”
Young frequently supplements natural cover by building his own fish-attracting artificial reefs. The guide drills holes in large wooden cable spools. He then sticks bamboo stalks in the holes and wraps wires around the bottom of the spool to secure the stalks. Finally, he fills the center of each spool with concrete to make it sink and stand up vertically in the water column. As a result, it creates a brush pile that provides cover from the bottom up about 15 to 20 feet.
More like hunting than fishing, searching for deep crappie normally takes effort and patience, but anglers could load the boat in a good spot – even on the hottest summer days.