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Use Floats to Catch More Spring Crappie

When crappie move shallow during spring, adding the right float to a rig allows for better targeted and more effective presentations of crappie jigs or live bait.

“The thrill of bank fishing with a float never gets old,” said Brad Bowles “I don’t care how old you get.”

Few anglers would disagree with Bowles, a crappie tournament angler and expert bank angler on Barren River Lake in Kentucky. “I love to bank fish around riprap under or around bridges on Barren River Lake. The bridge areas are normally the mouth of a migration point for crappie and typically warm up first,” he said.

Barren River Lake gets drawn down as much as 24 feet during winter in anticipation of rising flood waters. Floating debris often makes fishing from a boat dangerous. However, bridges become pinch points, making them prime areas to fish for crappie from the bank.

Bowles fishes with multiple rods, using the rocks as rod holders and casting to productive areas. Live bait rods have a Thill Pro Series Slip Float, Thill Bobber Stop, split shot and lightwire hook. The other rods have oval Thill America’s Classic or Thill Premium Weighted Floats rigged with lightweight jigheads.

“Having fished the bridges so much, I know the depth to set my live bait rig and jigheads,” said Bowles. For jig fishing, Bowles likes a Bobby Garland  Hyper Grub in Blue Ice or Monkey Milk in clear water or Cajun Cricket in stained water, but will change to a Baby Shad Swim’R when the crappie want less tail action. For either, he uses 1/32-ounce Crappie Pro Mo’ Glo Jigheads.

Bowles focuses on fishing the live bait and jigs in 4 to 5 feet of water. The jig rigged with a float allows him to fish a wide area around or under the bridge. Depending on the activity level, he might work the jig quickly or slowly, with long pauses.

“You are going to lose some jig heads and floats fishing around bridges, so always bring extra,” he said.

floats, jigheads and crappie baitsfloats, jigheads and crappie baits
Simple tackle for spring crappie fishing. Photo by Brad Wiegmann.

Targeting Spawning Crappie

“Floats allow me to fish for crappie in super shallow water where crappie are spawning. In fact, some areas that would be unfishable without using a float,” said tournament crappie angler Jeff Schwieterman.

Schwieterman keeps it simple when fishing for spawning crappie, using a Thill Pro Series Slip Float, Thill Bobber Stops and 1/8-ounce Mo’ Glo Jighead rigged with plastic body Bobby Garland Baby Shad or Baby Shad Swim’R for more action in the tail. His favorite color patterns are Bone White/Chartreuse or Green Lantern with contrasting color head, Monkey Milk with a Blue Mo’ Glo and Outlaw Special rigged with a 1/8-ounce Pink Mo’ Glo Jighead. 

“Sometimes the area you are trying to fish you can’t reach unless you get creative. One time we actually had to drive our boat into super shallow water and rig up slip floats, making long casts to reach a small area where the crappie were living and spawning, to catch them,” said Schwieterman.

During the springtime when the crappie migrate to shallow water Schwieterman will follow them. He will fish spawning areas, using a slip float with just 12 to 18 inches line free for the jig head to drop around cover like stumps or boat docks.

“I will fish quickly between the stumps then slow down to fish a stump or other cover. I might even cast a slip float rig under a boat dock with my 6 ½-foot spinning rod to catch a spawning crappie,” he said.

Schwieterman will also fish creeks during the spring, starting halfway back and looking for 3- to 5-foot steep drops. If he is not catching crappie Schwieterman will continue to fish toward the back in warmer spring months. During the colder springtime he will fish out toward the first or second point into the creek.

Wiggle It, Wiggle It 

Power plant reservoirPower plant reservoir
Power plant lakes provides great early season opportunities. Photo by Brad Wiegmann


“Crappie can be pretty particular when it comes to the right cadence and how fast a jig falls for getting them to bite,” said Jim Dant, a tournament crappie angler.

In the early spring, Dant will often go to the warmest water around to fish. One of his favorites is Lake of Egypt, a power plant reservoir covering 2,300 acres that has 90 miles of shoreline. He will target the aquatic vegetation around the shoreline in search of shallow crappie.

Dant fishes with a small, weighted Thill Fish’n Foam Round Float. He doesn’t want the crappie to feel any resistance when they bite. The weighted float also allows him to cast out his jig head accurately and a longer distance. He uses 1/24-ounce Mo’ Glo Jighead rigged with Bobby Garland Minnow Mind’R or Stroll’R in Monkey Milk or Bluegrass.

“When I’m fishing a float and a jighead around grass I will pull the float and jighead up to the cover and let the jig head pendulum back below the float allowing it to stop for a second or two directly under the float. That’s when I will give a little wiggle and pause it. If I don’t get a bite I will continue that cadence back to the boat,” said Dant.

Location, Location, Location

Bobber rig crappieBobber rig crappie
Floats make controlled presentations simple. Photo by Brad Wiegmann.


“Docks are great places to catch crappie early in the spring,” said Tim Hebert, a professional crappie angler.

Hebert focuses on the pilings or floats for shade when fishing around docks for crappie. “Look for structure below the dock or for corners. I use a Thill Slip Bob with a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce Crappie Pro Head rigged with a Baby Shad or Slab Slayer in natural colors for clear water and Black/Chartreuse or Orange/Chartreuse, using the float to keep the jig head just above the fish or cover,” he said. 

Hebert will also fish the sloughs and bayous utilizing a Thill Slip Float and 1/16-ounce jighead with a natural color or bright color pattern, depending on water clarity. “Slough are like highways and crappie will migrate through them during the spawn,” Hebert said.

Bring on the Noise

  • “I feel like a rattling float attracts the crappie and incites them to bite,” said tournament crappie angler Jim Dant. To get his Thill floats to rattle he will drill into the float and insert BB’s into it.
  • Small rattles can be inserted in to the body of the lure without affecting the action.
  • Bobby Garland Crappie Rattles are 3mm glass rattles that are louder than plastic housing rattles.

Lure Tips from the Experts

  • It’s critical to keep your jighead just above the riprap when the crappie are using the rocky shoreline structure. However, if the crappie start suspending above the rocks, I will use the float to keep it higher in the strike zone.  - Brad Bowles.
  • Water clarity is important when selecting lures. Typically, I use natural colors in clear water and bright -colors in stained or dingy water. -Tim Hebert.
  • I always put Bobby Garland Mo’ Glo Slab Jam on my soft plastic to give them a lifelike appearance. The scales inside the jam release as the formula dissolves along with an amino-acid based minnow scent gel. -Jim Dant.
  • Change your lure to one with more action if the crappie aren’t biting or switch colors. -Jeff Schwieterman

Float Tips

  • Tie a loop knot to keep the jighead and soft plastic in the natural horizontal position.
  • Use weighted floats to increase casting distance.
  • Braided fishing line can be used with float to feel and see strikes better.
  • Use a Thill Bobber Stop because it doesn’t twist your fishing line like plastic ones.
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Photo by Brad Wiegmann.