Chasing crappie as the sun sets the water afire is one of life’s simple pleasures, and generations of anglers have been turned on to chasing slabs by a single afternoon catching papermouths.
But though crappie aren’t particularly hard to catch, they can be frustrating little devils if your game is off.
Common problems slab hunters run into are fish that won’t hit what they throw, inaccessible cover, and bites that don’t turn into hooks. Do any of these sound familiar?
We’ve got tips to solve these common problems!
So if you’ve been having trouble or just want to sharpen your skill, keep reading. Whether you’re a papermouth fanatic or new to the sport, we’d like to help you catch more sac-a-lait, more often.
Table of Contents
- 1 Crappie Fishing Tips
- 2 Crappie Fishing Techniques: The “Lucky Seven” Guaranteed to Help You Catch More Crappie
- 2.1 Marabou jigs near submerged trees and stumps, especially in foul weather
- 2.2 Shooting docks with soft baits and dipping heavy cover
- 2.3 Dipping
- 2.4 Slip floating with jigs or minnows (or both!) near stumps and vertical cover
- 2.5 Tightlining deep cover
- 2.6 Chumming, night or day
- 2.7 Casting the shallows with spinners and soft baits
- 2.8 Trolling with a spider rig
- 3 Final Thoughts
More crappie tips and techniques:
- The Difference Between White And Black Crappie
- Bank Fishing For Crappie
- Selecting and Rigging Minnows for Crappie
- How To Catch Crappie In The Spring
- Catching Crappie In Cold Weather – Winterizing Crappie Fishing
- Night Fishing For Crappie
- Best Time To Catch Crappie
- Spider Rigging For Crappie
- How To Jig For Crappie
Crappie Fishing Tips
Line and Hook Basics
If you’ve been terrorizing sac-a-lait for decades, pulling dozens of crappie from piers, downed trees, and submerged points every weekend, you already know what we’re about to discuss. But plenty of our readers are new to the excitement you know so well, so bear with us!
Crappie are small fish, and while the world record is about five pounds, more ordinary weights are about one pound. You won’t need steel chain to tie these brutes to your rod–four pound test will do, and six will land the biggest crappie you’ll ever see.
And while plenty of bass anglers have moved to braided superlines for their incredible sensitivity and lack of stretch, that’s not what you need for slabs, as we’ve explained before.
In fact, you’ll catch a lot more papermouths if you use St. Croix and run line like Stren Original or Seaguar InvizX. That’s because crappie have very tender mouths that are easily damaged and torn by unforgiving hooksets. To keep these fish where they should be, you need a bit of give in your gear.
That’s a simple fact any sac-a-lait master can confirm.
Hook choice is important, too. Crappie have large mouths for their size, much larger than bluegill and other panfish. And because those mouths are paper-thin, you should increase the size of your hooks, running nothing smaller than a #6 and moving up to as large as a #1 or 2/0 for large minnows.
Jig, Jig, Jig–But Rig ‘Em Right!
If there’s just one tip we can offer you to improve your chances with crappie, it’s to favor the jig.
As slab addicts can attest, jigs are perhaps the most versatile lure choice you can make. The incredible range of options lets you match the size, color, and action of your lure to the conditions you’re angling in.
That means that whether you’re casting over weed beds, retrieving past pilings, running a slip float over a brush pile, or spider rigging to find dispersed fish, you’ll find that a jig is always a fantastic option.
I like many styles of jig, and fish everything from tubes to minnows. In clear water, I prefer natural colors; in stained or muddy water–and at night–I’ll choose bright, day-glo options.
I catch most of my crappie in water that offers limited visibility, and among my favorites are the Popsicle. Like most slab hunters, you can count me as a fan of Bobby Garland’s soft baits as well, especially the Bobby Garland Mo’Glo Baby Shad in Pink Phantom and the Slab Slay’r in black and pink.
Rigging Jigs Like a Pro
Rigging a jig isn’t rocket science, but there’s a few tricks that make them more effective.
Minnows don’t present themselves vertically, and if your jig is hanging tail down and head up, it won’t look or move like prey. Instead, you need your jigs to sit as close to horizontal as you can get them, and that’s mostly a matter of knot position.
If you slip your knot to the “front” of the eye, it will encourage a more vertical position that’s distinctly unnatural to would-be predators.
This is not what you want. Note where the knot leaves the eye.
Instead, you want your knot at the top of the eye. This will tilt the jig forward, lifting the tail and making it look and act a lot more like real minnow.
This is what you want.
Jigs are easy to fit with soft baits, but if you’re not sure how to do it correctly, just take a look at these videos:
how to rig a grub
two ways to rig a tube jig for crappie
how to rig your jig for straight running
Try the Slow Fall
Crappie are ambush predators, and you probably already knew that. But did you know that unlike many other species, they stick to a hyper-efficient hunting style to conserve energy? They usually won’t chase prey items–including lures–and if you’re not catching them like you should, it may be that you’re fishing too fast.
One culprit is a jig that’s too heavy. Anglers often want their jigs to race to the bottom, and you’ll hear a lot of hype about how much faster a heavy jig falls when its tied to fluorocarbon.
Well, some of that is true.
A heavier jig is going to sink faster because its weight will more easily overcome the more buoyant jig you’ve fitted it with. Note that we say “more buoyant”–the jig is just relatively slow sinking because it’s not very dense.
And as we’ve explained in detail, the real-world sink rate of fluorocarbon is pretty modest.
But all this sinking talk misses the point: crappie are lazy predators, and a jig that sinks too quickly past them won’t attract a bite!
Instead, size down on the jig head, and throw the lightest ones you can. We prefer to start with 1/32 and 1/16 ounce heads. You’ll need to step up in size if you’re bucking the wind or if you need precise feel, but generally speaking, you should run the smallest jigs that you can throw and fish well.
Choose Your Jig Design Carefully!
The more streamlined the soft bait, the more hydrodynamic it is. As a result, it will fall more quickly through the water column, all other things being equal.
And while I love soft baits like the Slab Slay’rs, everything has a time and a place. To slow the fall of my jig, I reach for something with more surface area, like Zoom’s Fat Albert Grub or Berkley’s Power Grub. That long, twirling tail catches more water, slowing its descent.
And that’s the trick–the slow fall of these lures when rigged on a light head gives the crappie a chance to strike, and more strikes means more fish in the cooler!
Richard Gene shows you how this is done on a cold morning when the crappie don’t want to bite. A slow fall entices them to hit again, and again, and again:
Skip Expensive Fluorocarbon and Braid: Run Mono
Crappie have expanding mouths that are much larger than other panfish, but their tissues are paper-thin and tender. As a result, it’s easy to tear a hook free by running too small a size or by setting the hook with too much force.
One advantage of nylon monofilament is its stretch. As we’ve explained before, the material used to make mono is very elastic, allowing it to stretch without deformation under load. And while this can be an advantage where you need high shock strength, for crappie, the real benefit is in the way that mono cushions your hookset.
If you’re getting bites but not catching fish, it might be time to rethink the line you’re using. If you’re not already spooling mono, you should start. You’ll notice an immediate difference when you go to set your hook!
Crappie Fishing Techniques: The “Lucky Seven” Guaranteed to Help You Catch More Crappie
These seven techniques are real-world tested, and if you’re a long-time angler, you probably know many of them. Fished correctly, they’ll slay crappie–spring, summer, and fall!
Let’s take a look at each in detail.
Marabou jigs near submerged trees and stumps, especially in foul weather
Crappie crave cover, and they adore vertical structure. Stumps and submerged trees are among their favorite locations to school, and any savvy crappie angler won’t leave this kind of habitat untested.
And when the weather’s nasty in spring, we have an ace up our sleeve with a Marabou jig like the Bass Pro Shops Marabou Crappie Jig. There’s something about its furry body that drives crappie wild, and if you haven’t tried them, you don’t know what you’re missing! We recommend you choose the ⅛-ounce size in “red white white,” chartreuse, or black. With the right technique, these are simply murder!
The key to this technique is to avoid spooking the fish.
We recommend a long rod and a patient approach. Slide up to a likely spot, cut your trolling motor, and use either a pole or your anchor to lock yourself in place.
Then, let out enough line to be able to hold your jig next to your reel. Using the reach of your rod, gently drop your jig into cover and set it dancing with tiny movements of your wrist. If a crappie has made its home there, you’ll know instantly!
Check out this video demonstrating this awesome approach:
Shooting docks with soft baits and dipping heavy cover
Continuing to explore the possibilities of vertical cover, crappie often school around the pilings supporting low-hanging docks. Most anglers fish the edges of these structures, but just don’t know how to target pilings five, ten, or even fifteen feet back.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
We’ll try “shooting” these docks with ultralight rods and chunky soft baits that skip well over the water. Holding your line with your index finger, you simply open the bail. Then, carefully grab your lure in your free hand, avoiding the hook.
Pull the lure back, loading your rod, and let go with your finger and off-hand simultaneously. The stored energy in your rod will send the lure flying in a straight line, skipping the soft bait across the water and allowing access to ridiculous cover.
Watch this gentleman show you how to master this technique:
Crappie love cover, and whether that’s an inaccessible brush pile, a tangle of branches near a stump, or a gnarly tree top that’s mostly underwater, the harder the spot is to reach, the more slabs it seems to draw.
But casting into deep cover isn’t easy, to say the least, and many anglers will skip these prime spots because they just don’t know how to deal with them.
We’d like to share a trick that can help–we’re talking about dipping. If you’ve never heard of this, it’s definitely something you should add to your crappie technique arsenal.
Dipping makes use of a long rod like a 12’ B’n’M or a cane pole to drop a lure into a tight spot. Rather than casting, this is all about reach.
The idea is to creep close and avoid starting the fish. From shore, approach quietly. From a boat, stop your motor and either use a pole or an anchor to hold your boat steady. Trolling motors are not going to help you when you’re this close to the action!
Then, use the reach of the pole or rod, and holding the line in one hand, drop the jig in the pocket between branches or into heavy cover. Another way to dip is by extending the line to the reel seat, then flipping the jig where it needs to go.
A gentle motion of your wrist will tease a bite from any slab that’s there!
Watch this gentlemen demonstrate the technique:
Slip floating with jigs or minnows (or both!) near stumps and vertical cover
You can count us as fans of slip floats, especially in spring. But any time we want to stand off and cast near stumps, pilings, or other crappie habitat, we find that a slip float is an awesome addition to our line.
In our last tip treating vertical cover, we’d like to suggest you try a slip float rig with either a jig or minnow beneath it and a touch of weight to help you cast.
An excellent slip float like the Thill Crappie Cork lets you cast flawlessly while controlling the depth of your terminal tackle. With the Thill, there’s no need for beaded stops–a simple knot will do thanks to its aperture size. That makes it easy to use and a snap to adjust to varying depths.
We like to run four pound test through the float to a thin Aberdeen hook, as that keeps the minnow alive and kicking longer. We recommend that you match the size of your hook to your minnow, going no smaller than #6 and generally no larger than #1 for real slabs. For better casting, you can add some split shot to this rig, and that will let you keep your distance and avoid spooking dinner.
If live minnows aren’t your thing, soft baits like Strike King Mr. Crappie Jig Head are just the thing.
Check out these two gentlemen using slip floats, minnows, and jigs to terrorize crappie holding near stumps:
If you’re not sure how to rig a slip float, don’t worry. It’s easy:
Tightlining deep cover
Crappie don’t always stick to vertical cover. Often, they’ll school on or near the bottom in piles of brush other around other structure. And you can also find them suspended in the water column at different depths. When that’s the case, we like to tightline.
Tightlining is an awesome crappie technique that takes advantage of a weighted line to position two hooks near or on the bottom.
It’s often confused with trolling or spider rigging, where a tightline rig can be used. But the difference is that while tightlining, your boat isn’t moving. It’s a vertical presentation with no horizontal movement. You can bounce your rig off the bottom, or just let it sit with the line taught and your rod tip high to detect a bite.
When we use a tightline on the bottom, we like to run a pencil weight. In our experience, this leads to fewer snags, as the long, cylindrical shape of the weight doesn’t get hung up as often as other options.
There are a variety of different rigs you can use for tightlining, but they generally have a few things in common. First, they’ll use a lead weight at some point on the main line, and second, they’ll use two hooks separated by 18 inches or so. Some anglers prefer minnows; others don’t like the risk of tangles. Still, others prefer to vary the hook size, as in the diagram below.
We suggest that you experiment to see what works best for you and the places you fish.
If you want to buy your rigs, we recommend the Bullet Weights Mr. Crappie Rig and the Eagle Claw Crappie Rig in 2/0 for large minnows. When we don’t use live bait, we like to rig jigs–often a Maribou–tipped with Berkley Gulp! Crappie Nibbles. We find that the added scent, color, and flavor of the nibbles really helps us get more bites.
Chumming, night or day
Where legal, chumming for crappie is as close to a sure thing as you can get. I’ve seen this in action with dog food, and pretty much anything that hit the water near the bait was swallowed in an instant. Often used in conjunction with night fishing, this tactic works just as well while the sun’s out.
An idea we culled from crappie legend Bob Spare includes freezing fish scales into ice cubes and dropping a few into the water every now then. We’ve also used a perforated, weighted Coke can lowered on a line to fill the water with the scent of ground-up minnows and dog food. Just apply a bit of duct tape to the mouth of the can to keep the chum where it needs to be.
Casting the shallows with spinners and soft baits
No list of crappie techniques would be complete without mentioning casting and retrieving. Whether you need to cover a lot of water quickly, want to target inaccessible cover, or mix and match casting with trolling, done well, it’s incredibly effective.
Especially in spring, when papermouths are spawning in shallow water, holding back with your boat and casting into the shallows can be amazingly productive.
While some anglers prefer a light action rod and braid for ultimate casting distance, as we’ve said before, we don’t think braid is ideal for setting the hook on papermouths. Instead, we use high-quality mono on ultralight spinning gear. We make our casts over submerged cover in the shallows, count out lures down a few feet, and then–rod tip held high–slowly retrieve.
We count the Berkley Gulp! Minnow on a tiny jig head, the Johnson Original Beetle Spin, and Worden’s Original Rooster Tail among our favorites. Many colors work, but white, black, and chartreuse seem to be among the best.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of luck with all three, and you’ll find that having a variety of colors on hand can really make a difference.
Take a look at this gentleman showing you how it’s done:
Trolling with a spider rig
As the water heats up, crappie will move from the depths to the shallows to spawn, congregating where it’s easy to figure the depth you need to fish. But as the water warms further, they’ll move back to the depths, dispersing across their available habitat and schooling at varying points in the water column. When this happens, you’ll need to cover a lot of lake to find them, and it can be tough to know just how deep they’re running.
Both situations are ideal for spider rigging, and if you give this technique a try, you’ll soon discover why trolling can deliver the hottest crappie fishing in most seasons.
Where legal, spider rigging is an excellent option to make the most of your boat’s motor. By placing long rods in multiple rod holders, turning your boat into something that looks like a spider, you can run legions of jigs or minnows at varying depths, offering spring, summer, and fall crappie their choice of colors and presentations. And by creeping across a lake with a spread of rods, you can cover huge swaths of water relatively quickly.
Here’s how it works.
Pros will tell you that the most effective spider rigs use identical long rods like 12 foot B'n'M Jig Poles. As Barry Morrow, an Oklahoma crappie guide explains, “All the rods should be the same length, power, and action, and they should be adjusted to the same height in the rod holders, so that you are able to decipher the motion of the rod tips to detect bites. If you are using different types of rods, they’re all bowed differently and respond differently to strikes, making it more difficult to interpret rod-tip and line movement.”
That’s not the cheapest way to fish, but it is among the most productive!
Those long rods also help to prevent tangles as you turn, though they can still happen when a crappie takes a lure and starts to fight. Just be careful and watch your rod tips like a hawk.
We like to run Maribou jigs, soft baits like the Strike King Mr. Crappie Thunder Bait, and sometimes minnows as well, varying what we present and at what depths we offer it.
We have more to say about spider rigging here, but you get the idea!
Watch this video to get a good sense of how it’s done:
Nothing beats a day on the water chasing slabs.
But as every experienced angler can tell you, catching and fishing aren’t always synonyms. To make the most of your valuable time with a rod in your hands, it pays to troubleshoot what’s going wrong, find a fix, and get back in the game quickly.
We hope these tips help you do just that, and we’re sure these techniques can improve your game, too.
Please let us know if you found these helpful, and as always, we’d love to hear from you.