In the dog days of summer, fishing starts to become less enjoyable for a lot of anglers. The fish are recovering from the pressures of spring and early summer and they are lethargic due to hotter water temperatures and usually an onslaught of angling pressure. With crappie many anglers only fish from November to about April for crappie and then give it up when the temperatures climb and the fish spread out after the spawn.
Thanks to a friend who also happens to be one heck of a stick with a crappie rod in his hand, I have been chasing crappie all summer and loving my time chasing them early in the morning. He gave me some real general tips that turned out to be gold nuggets of information on catching summer crappies. The results have been a lot more fresh fish fries for the family this summer. So here are 6 tips I learned for catching more crappie during the hotter summer months.
Go Early (and Late)
The old “early bird gets the worm” colloquialism certainly was coined by a fisherman in the summer. No doubt in my mind. Because there is no time that is more true than in the summer—at least for crappie fishing. It’s not because it’s cooler although that certainly makes it more enjoyable. It’s because crappie are just more active in low light situations.
“They just seem to shut down after about 10am,” Tony Sheppard said. Sheppard is who got me going early in the summer to chase crappie and I’m grateful he did.
Absolutely, they will still bite in the middle of the day, but it seems like you can set your watch by their activity level tapering off around 9 or 10 am this time of year. I try to be on the water by at least 5:45 or 6 am. I want to do most of my damage in 3 hours in the morning.
You can do the same thing in the evening, but it seems to me the window is shorter. When the sun gets down behind the trees around 7pm, you might get until 8pm to fish for them in low light. So I definitely prefer the morning as darkness has cooled the water several degrees and they low light is longer in the morning usually.
Stick with Natural Baits
“I try to stick with real natural baits in the summer,” Sheppard said. “The Jenko Big T Smokeshow color is one of my favorites in the summer now.”
Natural means natural profile as well as materials and color. Mimic bugs. Mimic baitfish. Crappie are affected by small fry of baitfish in the system you are fishing in the summer. They are affected by mayfly and other bug hatches on the system in the summer. So knowing there is an abundance of food to choose from, they will get conditioned to very natural looking profiles and colors.
A small baitfish colored jig like a Jenko Fry Baby or Jenko Little Mermaid is hard to beat.
Downsize Your Line
“This time of year I will downsize my line because I’m usually downsizing my baits,” Sheppard said. “I want the bait to be real natural, and smaller baits are easier to throw on lighter line.”
Personally, I often revert back to 4-pound mono this time of year. Fluoro is obviously fine too, I just have more luck with 4-pound mono on my spinning setups. I can do a little more with my mono rods as well than I can with braid like shoot with them. So I always have a couple in the boat. But a 1/16-ounce jig throws awesome on Jenko Trick Stick Light or new X-Series spinning rod with 1000 or 2000 size spinning reel and 4-pound monofilament.
I still use my 8 or 10-pound braid with 6-pound fluoro leader rods as well and want to if I can get away with it. But if I see fish on my graph not reacting, I will put the braid down and pick up the mono rod. It has helped me get a bunch more summer crappie more times than I can count.
Downsize Your Lure
The bait gets smaller this time of year. And it changes a lot this time of year. While the conventional notion is to be bold and stand out in the bait, it seems with crappie that less is more.
“The fish are real pressured by this point, and they get really finicky this time of year,” Sheppard said. “More than any other time of the year. You can still get the occasional fish fired up with big 1/4-ounce jigs burning through there, but most of the time it’s 1/16-ounce or lighter and fishing slow.”
Mostly it means dropping from 1/8-ounce down to 1/16 or 1/32-ounce heads and using smaller plastics or hair jigs than you did in the spring when they were feeding and aggressively defending spawning areas.
“One of my favorite plastics is a Jenko Big T Mermaid Jig,” Sheppard said. “But in the summer, I will switch to the smaller Jenko Little Mermaid Jig.”
Fish Slow But Don’t Stay
Even though the water is warm, the fish are not as app to chase in the late summer. They will make a quick move but don’t want to come from a long way to get a jig. So you have to keep it in their face as long as possible.
“You want to reel the jig really slow. So using a lighter jig, and lighter line and reeling really slow you can hit the same depth range you had been with heavier jigs in the spring,” Sheppard said.
I’ve also found that you want to make a move without moving the jig. By that I mean, sometimes if you will just pop the jig a little and let it flutter a split second, you can break a crappie out of his trance, and they will react to your jig. So I try to stutter or flutter a jig a lot. Don’t jerk it hard and move the jig away from the fish. Just cause it to change it’s action for just a split second to get the crappie to react. That’s what moving it without moving it means.
Look for dark days and water
One thing I’ve found lately is overcast days are a blessing as are rain run-ins dirtying up a creek. It seems like darker water from overcast skies or added water color seem to keep crappie shallower and more active than clear water on ultra sunny flat calm days. A little break up and little less light penetration will usually equal a few more fish.
It also seems that fish won’t go as deep. While plenty of crappie are out on the main lake deeper than 20 feet. You can find pockets of fish much shallower in creeks and bays if you follow low light and darker waters.
I’ve been getting up early once or twice a week this summer to snag a few crappie with plenty of time to put in a full week’s work. I get enough for a meal for the family every time I’ve gone.
Throw your fish on ice instead of the livewell and clean them when they are nice and cold for superb summer time crappie. I tried this Egg Roll recipe this weekend, and we loved it.
While I still love Late Fall / Early Winter best for crappie fishing, Summer is coming in a close second now with these tips I’ve learned and been taught from guys like Tony Sheppard.