Don’t quit crappie fishing when the bite gets tough. Make these adjustments and continue catching crappie through the hottest part of summer.
The latter half of summer can be a tough time to find consistent crappie bites. Water temps are at their warmest, air temps push the human body to its limits and the fish are lethargic. A lethal combination for filling any stringer.
This summer has been no exception, but nonetheless plenty of limits have been caught. Taking our first-hand experience into account, we’ve compiled a few subtle tips to help you hook into a few more crappie before we swing into fall.
Most Bobby Garland baits were designed with subtly in mind. Shapes like the 1.25-inch Itty Bit Swim’R, 2-inch Baby Shad, 2.25-inch Mayfly and 2.25-inch Baby Shad Swim’R require little to no rod movement to create life-like action.
Vertical and bobber presentations work well in the summer months when fish hold tight to cover, thermocline or shade. The tapered tails of these bait quiver with the pulse of the water, but erratic jigging or quick retrieves can spook or lose a fish’s interest under the late summer conditions.
Ross Barnett Reservoir, Mississippi guide and Bobby Garland pro staff member Brad Chappell has a great tip for adding action to your bait without busting the school. “Tap it,” he said.
Chappell uses the index finger on his rod-holding hand to occasionally tap the rod. “It makes the bait jump in a realistic way,” Chappell explained.
In addition to the tough temperatures, summer is usually a time of ample forage. Baitfish like shad, minnows and sunfish have spawned, and fry balls are everywhere. Crappie are naturally picky eaters, but they really key in on matching the hatch come summertime.
Live forward-facing sonar technology has allowed us a never-before view into how fish respond to a bait underwater. Size and action seem to play a big role in getting finnicky crappie to bite.
The difference in bite reaction to a rod tap versus a quick pop or pause was remarkable on the live screen. We saw immediate improvement using the same subtle tip while fishing vertically from docks and casting out with a slip cork. No electronics required.
Dip your bait just under the water where it is visible and try tapping the rod. Then pop the rod tip in a jigging motion and see the difference for yourself.
Vertical presentations like jigging, dead-sticking and slip-corking are popular summertime tactics for crappie and rightfully so. However, we’ve learned this summer that another vertical action needs to be added to arsenal.
“Swim it.” That’s the approach of Grand Lake, Oklahoma guide and Bobby Garland pro staff member Dustin McDaniel. Like many crappie anglers today, McDanel relies heavily on live forward-facing sonar technology to approach fish. Watching his bait on the screen as it falls beneath a dock or to the top of a brush pile, McDaniel can determine which vertical presentation is going to get the bites within seconds of closing his bail.
“It’s crazy what we can see now with the live tech. Steadily retrieving the bait from the top of the school seems to get them keyed in for the strike, especially ones that show a reaction during the fall,” McDaniel said.
On a recent outing to Grand Lake, McDaniel showed us how the fish would respond to traditional jigging or dead-sticking. While fish showed immediate interest during the fall, almost all retreated into the school when the bait was popped or paused.
When McDaniel started a steady vertical retrieve approach at the conclusion of the fall, the results showed on the screen before the line went tight. Crappie were locating the bait during the fall, approaching as it stopped and positioning directly behind the bait as it was retrieved upward. Most strikes came within two to five feet of the follow, but many fish were willing to chase the bait upwards of 20 feet before retreating.
The behavior was fascinating. Why would an 8- to 10-inch crappie put itself in that kind of open water danger only to see the bait off? Regardless of the answer, one thing was for sure: they weren’t putting that type of effort into any of the other techniques.
I’ve always been a traditional summer dock dead-sticker. Let the bait do the work for me, I thought. It works more often than not. When I returned home from Grand Lake, I hit up a couple of my local crappie docks and put the newfound technique to the test.
Using a Baby Shad, Itty Bit Swim’R and Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R, I went through three rounds of trials. I used two identical rod, reel and line combos with the same size and color jigheads and baits. I let one rod dead-stick while I steadily retrieved the other side by side. The “swim it” approach out-fished the dead-stick on the Baby Shad 4:1, the Itty Bit Swim’R 7:1 and the Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R 15:1. Needless to say, I was pleased and shocked.
Downsize Your Bait
Summertime forage is heavy on fry, and crappie really key into the size profile. While Bobby Garland’s traditional 2-inch and 2.25-inch bait profiles will catch fish, the 1.25-inch Itty Bit series of baits, particularly the Itty Bit Slab Hunter, is where the consistent bite action lives.
Pair an Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R or Itty Bit Swim’R with a 1/32-ounce Overbite Sickle Jighead or 1/48-ounce Itty Bits Jighead with a medium-sized piece of split shot placed on the line 6 to 10 inches above the bait for best results. This rig can be presented vertically, below a float or cast and retrieved.
When crappie are lethargic, have ample forage and spend a good amount of time feeding during the cooler overnight hours it’s best to approach them with a very non-threatening bait profile. A snack if you will.
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri guide and Bobby Garland pro staffer member Terry Blankenship describes this scenario with a fitting analogy. “It’s like when you’ve had a full dinner and you go sit down in the recliner, but there’s that bowl of mini Snickers bars on the table beside you. You give it a minute or two and you’re going to be reaching into that bowl. Crappie are the same way at this time of year, they just can’t resist that little snack right in front of ‘em.”
Stick to translucent and natural colors in clear water. Try dark bodied and flashy colors in stained water. Just like these subtle tips, crappie strikes are also subtle at this time of year. Be sure to keep contact with your bait at all times, any slack in the line will result in missed bites.
Itty Bit Series