by Jim Porter
Whether you call him Crappie, Freckles, Specks or Specked Perch, he sure is a tasty eating panfish. Rolled in a bit of cornmeal and fried to a golden brown, a platter of Mom's crappie sure were good when we were kids. Yep, that's one meal this old country boy likes year-round.
You do, too, huh? What's that - you have a problem?? Oh, that 'seasonal' problem thing has got your goat. You wonder where all the crappie go to in the summer? Hey, maybe we can help!
Anyone who fishes for crappie knows they are suicide-prone in the spring. When the spawning urge gets them into the shallow grass and stumps, crappies are probably the easiest fish of all to catch. All the angler has to do is locate a spawning area and they will be there by the hundreds. And, to top that off, they will be ferociously (well, as ferocious as a crappie can be) guarding their nesting area. Anything that comes into the area will be struck at.
Following that great fishing of spring, there comes the heat of summer. And, for many, the crappie seem to pull off a successful Houdini and just plain disappear. Well, they did not really disappear; they just changed locations.
Most of us think the crappie stays in the brush and grass. In shallow, grassy lakes, such as in Florida, that is often true. But, in deep reservoirs and rivers, it is NOT! That misconception exists because that grass and wood cover is where 99% of us always fish for them. So, since the only crappie we catch comes from cover, we think that is where they always must be.
The very first thing the angler needs to know is that crappie are a dedicated schooling fish. He lives in a pack of his like relatives and he generally stays in open water.
The crappie school, like any school fish, follows the baitfish schools for food. Occasionally, the baitfish will go into an area of cover for protections and/or to feed on the aquatic life that clings to the cover. The crappie may follow them and disperse within the cover. When that happens, and we come along and find them, we may catch crappie for a short period just as handily as during the spawn.
But, the open water is the real key to summer crappies.
Finding open water crappies in the summer months can be difficult. A depth finder may show something below the surface, but it might be any type fish, a baitfish mass, turtles, or loose wads of grass. A sonar signal can even be returned by a pocket of dense, cold water. So, we need to let the experience of others give us a timesaving head start in our search.
The depth summer crappies are found is usually a function of water clarity. In murky, stained waters, they seem to prefer depths of 8-15 feet. In waters with a normal algae content and visibility down to 4-6 feet, crappies appear to like the 12-20 foot range. In those gin clear waters where the Smallmouth bass also roams, I have taken them as deep as 50 feet. In my own mind, I think the crappie's positioning is based on the positioning and movement patterns of their local food supply.
The location of the crappie school in open water seems to vary by type water. In water that has some defined current flow (reservoir impoundments and rivers), crappie appear to like the main channel areas, or at least where there is a slight water movement. Possibly, this has to do with the fact that moving water has little or no temperature stratification because the water is always mixing.
In areas away from current flow, or a confined lake, they seem to like to school in open water adjacent to some cover or structure feature. I have seen this happen where a weedline bordered on a drop-off into deep water, such as where a submerged creek channel ran in close to a grass flat. I have also seen crappie key to the wall of a steep bluff bank, or off to the side of deep submerged timber.
Having a general idea as to depth and possible location, I recommend drifting live minnows as the quickest and most confident manner of finding open water summer crappie. No fish can resist live bait, whether hungry or not. And, it is easy to 'saturate' an area and eventually find the fish. Jigs can, of course, be used, but are not normally as effective as live bait during the warmer months.
I use three or four rods and put a small #2 wire hook on the line. I, then, go above the hook 10 inches and add split shot weights. Normally, I will use enough weight to make the baited hook stay generally directly beneath the rod. I do not use a bobber, but rely on watching the tip of the rod for signs of a strike. If there is a wind and the boat is rocking, you may need to rig a bobber with a bobber stop at the desired depth.
Once I have the rods set up, I bait them by hooking the minnows through the rear part of the body, near the tip of the tail. They will be very active and live longer when hooked that way, plus are not as likely to get pulled off as when hooked through the lips. I drop the bait down to the chosen depth and start to very slowly move about the area, trying to make contact with the fish. If I am using a number of rods, I will occasionally vary the depth of some of them to spread my depth search.
An interesting quirk about crappie is that they tend to school in a horizontal plane; that is, all at generally the same depth. Once we confirm a depth, that is where most of that particular school will be found.
When you catch a crappie in this manner, it is important to immediately note where he was in relation to any surrounding cover, structure or depth. The school could be associating with a drop-off, a deep brush top or the outer edge of the weedline. If you are able to add that final factor to allow you to pinpoint them directly, the livewell is as good as full.
Finally, keep this in mind: forget all of those old fables about fish not biting in hot weather. Fish are cold-bloodied creatures of Nature. Their bodily metabolism rate is highest when the water is the warmest. That means they use and, therefore, need more food during the summer than at any other time.
So, give them a break. Go feed them!!!
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