Pushing for Summer Crappie

Published in the August 2013 Issue August 2013 News

One of America’s most popular gamefish is a species that often goes overlooked following the flurry of attention they receive each spring. Both black and white crappie are among the first fish to become active following ice-out each season, and these early bloomers garner the bulk of anglers’ attention as the only game in town until other fish start spawning and get in the spirit of spring. Until then, when the crappies are in the shallow brush conducting their own spring ritual, they are among the easiest fish species to catch, which adds to their seasonal popularity.

All that changes when summer arrives. The crappie are driven deep seeking comfortable water temperatures and light conditions, and following baitfish doing the same. This move to deeper water usually pulls them away from shore and out of reach of bank anglers, who in the spring can do as well catching the structure-seeking fish as those of us who chase crappies from the deck of a boat. 

Come warm air and water temperatures and the fish’s absence in shoreline cover, most opportunistic anglers just give up on chasing crappies for the season and focus on whatever other species are active.  That was my pattern until I interviewed “Mr. Crappie” himself, Wally Marshall, on my radio show, and the famous crappie angler convinced me to continue to pursue one of my favorite fish species through the hottest of the summer months.

Marshall, who is a former Crappie Classic Champion and Angler of the Year, explained that crappies move offshore during the hot summer months but remain tightly schooled, suspended in open water. They roam in search of food, and can be spotted on fish finders, often near schools of baitfish. Summer crappie don’t completely forego the cover they seek in the spring; if you can find the depth at which the fish are seeking food and comfort, and locate areas where that depth is adjacent to woody cover, rocks or steep drop-offs,  you may just find a bunch of crappies.

Because crappies are found offshore and not relating to any apparent cover, the best way to locate them is by drifting or trolling. This time of year, successful anglers try several different depths, lures and presentations until they note a pattern that the crappie prefer. Deck and pontoon boats make excellent platforms for this type of fishing, due to the width of the decks from which presentations can be spread. In fact, some professional crappie fishermen use pontoon boats exclusively as their boat of choice for guiding and for tournament angling, thanks to the wide, open, stable decks. 

Marshall earned his “Mr. Crappie” cred by winning tournaments not only in the spring, but during this time of year when the crappie fishing gets tough. He developed some special rigs and techniques specifically for finding and catching crappies during the hot weather months.  

“Usually you are either trolling at very slow speeds, as slow as a quarter of a mile per hour, or fishing stationary,” he explained.  “You want sinkers that will present multiple hook rigs in a manner that won’t spook the fish or hang up easily.”

Working with the Bullet Weights Company of Nebraska, Marshall developed a line of Mr. Crappie Troll Tech rigs, including a Crankbait Downrigger Weight that allows anglers to “push” small crankbaits at precise depths from the deck of their boat. The rig consists of an 11-inch wire arm with a weight embedded two thirds from the top. The main fishing line is tied directly to a loop at the top of the wire; a small crankbait with a 4-foot leader is tied to the swivel at the bottom of the wire.

Rods rigged with the Downrigger setup are placed in holders at the bow corners of the boat, like outriggers, and the crankbait rigs dropped vertically to different depths, explained Marshall. The electric motor on the bow or electric or outboard motor on the transom slowly pushes the baits along at their set depths. With the downrigger rigs, and the shorter-lined, easier-to-manage vertical presentations, you can troll around testing different depths until the active crappie are located.

At that point, you can continue to troll back and forth through the school or set up to remain over the fish. Marshall’s got a rig for that too.

Bullet Weight’s Troll Tech Crappie Rig features a weighted, 11-inch vertical wire, but with a free-swiveling horizontal arm near the top. Two snelled hooks, one placed at the end of the horizontal arm and the other off the bottom loop of the vertical wire, allow the crappie angler to offer vertical presentations of live minnows or plastic grubs at two levels while the boat drifts, is under power or at anchor.

I’m going to be trying both this summer and early autumn at my local crappie lake to see if I can continue to catch one of America’s favorite gamefish at a time of year when they usually come few and far between. And depending on where I use the open-water, fish-mining trolling technique, I won’t be surprised if I catch walleyes, bass, trout and other species to boot.


Dan’s Pick:

Starcraft’s Limited 2000 OB Fish

Sporting a wide beam, a pair of fishing seats and an optional trolling motor up on the bow, this 20-footer is perfect for ‘pushing’ crankbaits to find crappies and other gamefish this summer. With fishing features like built-in rod holders and a baitwell, and a large, comfortable cockpit, the Limited 2000 makes a good dual-purpose “fishing and fun” boat. And with a sticker at under $33K with a Yamaha F150, it is priced right with plenty of power for more active watersports.



LOA: 20’ 4”

Beam: 8’ 6”

Dry Weight: 2,315 lbs

Fuel Capacity: 51 gals

Max Capacity: 12 people

Base Price w/Yamaha F150: $32,899


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