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Of all the beloved species of freshwater fish crappies almost always invoke a broad smile and the quick suggestion of a fish fry. Scattered throughout North America, known as specks, Cajun French call them “sac-a lait”, others speckled bass and many more titles. The white and black crappie varieties are fun to catch and sought after for the table.

In many environments including rivers, lakes of all sizes, ponds and streams, the crappie can be caught in a number of different way, with many kinds of tackle and techniques. Some states raise crappie in their own hatcheries and place fish attractors in public waters to draw fish and fishermen. Crappie tend to school and are partial to cover in the form of submerged wood. Shallow in the spring, “spawners” will seek out water temperatures in the 60’s to nest and feed aggressively prior to reproducing. Post spawn crappie will generally move to deeper water, points, creek channels and offshore cover.

During the summer months boats of all sizes and descriptions employ a technique called “pulling” essentially trolling for deep water schooled fish. Speed control is very important then. In the fall crappie again migrate to shallow water haunts and begin to feed heavily in anticipation of winter. Caught through the ice in the dead of winter makes it evident that they opportunistically feed year round.

The crappie seeking kayaker has some distinct advantages for the open water fish and also those hugging the jumbled jungle of submerged trees besides the maze of branches they love to stage in. Crappies can be finicky and reluctant to bite but a kayak drifting into their diminished strike zone can present live (minnows) or artificial baits to the lazy fish. A vertical presentation allows for an extended stay in the shortened strike zone of the inactive crappie. I use a seven foot spinning rod and open face reel spooled with six pound test line (or a fly rod with an undersized push button reel can be substituted) to drop a bait straight down. Once the line reaches the bottom it will curl. I then life the bait on two inch increments until I find the holding depth of the fish. They’ll let you know! Repeat until the bite slows and then move to the next area and water logged tree.

When a bait hovers in front of the fish it becomes almost irresistible. When they are actively feeding a horizontal casting and steady retrieving motion with the occasional pause and twitch will generally pull the fish away from cover to strike the invading imitation. The ultra-light spinning rod and reels make this fun. A six foot kayak friendly set up with the reel spooled with four pound test monofilament or six pound test braided line is ideal. The braid has a rods length of six pound test fluorocarbon leader. Experiment with speed and default to slower when the fish are reluctant. Either way it’s possible to “fire up” a school of crappies. Again the kayak allows you to pinpoint presentations and get right in “amongst em’.” The silent approach and entry inherent to the “yak” into their territory is a huge plus.

Developing an individual system for inducing the black and white versions to bite can be simple or detailed. Years of experimenting brought me to a few crappie conclusions.

  • A majority of the diet of the crappie is comprised of minnows and smaller bait fish. Big crappie also will grow bigger, faster when shad are available and they gorge on the shad. Mimic or match the minnow/shad and your well on your way to fun or a fish fry.
  • A supply of soft plastics is desirable. I maintain a crappie specific box. Compartments of small tube jigs, curly tail grubs and minnow shaped artificials have all earned their way into my box. Having alternate shapes, sizes and colors can sometimes save the day.
  • Crappie Colors – I match bait colors with conditions. 1. Water color 2.Sky color. 3. Wind velocity. Clear water, bright sky, minimal wind call for lighter shades. My favorite the 0095 Monteleone silver tube from MidSouth tackle. www.modsouthtackle. It gives off a shine like that of the real thing and is my “go to” choice. The same bait fools bass, bluegill and even catfish, that tells me it appears real to all types of predatory gamefish. In stained water, cloudy sky and a ripple of wind, I chose a chartreuse or chartreuse combination color. “Dirty water”, dark sky and windy conditions I (and so do the crappie) try darker shades and combo color like black/chartreuse. Many anglers rely on plastics in purples, pinks, red, white and glitter added models to land their limits.
  • LOL= Lots Of Lead. Because of the nature of crappie fishing and where they hang out it’s critical to carry a good supply of lead heads. The weight of the lead that I use is based off a few criteria. Most important is the wind. In zero winds I have used 1/16th ounce lead heads. The lighter the lead the slower the fall, this can be critical to the listless fish. My most used to lead is the 1/8th ounce, slight breeze and allows for a consistent feel of what the bait is doing. In heavy winds I will reluctantly go to a ¼ ounce and normally use a curly tail grub or larger minnow body. The other determining factor is the current in moving water. It’s imperative to maintain contact with you bait regardless of the fish you target.
  • Alternate Baits – undersized crankbaits, small spinners (safety pin and In-line) along with Ned rig or tiny finesse types of plastics are all potential crappie catchers. Live bait, minnow rigs under floats, tight lined or set ups similar to drop shots are also possible presentations.

Wide spread, willing to bite and great sport kayak crappies are likely to become a fan favorite with you once you develop your own system and use the kayaks qualities to deliver those crappie to your grip. Experiment with baits and techniques, soon you’ll be slamming some “slabs” in your home waters.