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Kayak fishing for Crappie: Our Best Tips to For Slab Hunters

Written by: Pete D
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A kayak is the perfect platform for crappie fishing, allowing you to get close to the vertical structure that crappie love without spooking them. A kayak also places you low to the water, enabling side-arm casts that can skip a jig way up under a dock in search of fat slabs that hold to the shadows.

If you’re new to crappie fishing, or just new to ‘yaks, you might want to know more about fishing for crappie from a kayak.

If so, keep reading - we’ll cover everything you need to to know to get started!

Crappie: A Very Brief Introduction

The genus Poxomis has two very popular species, P. annularis and P. nigromaculatus. Whether you know them as sac-a-lait, papermouths, calico bass, or any of their dozen or so nicknames, they’re all crappie.

The black and white crappie are among America’s most beloved game fish. Easy to catch, fun to fight, and delicious to eat, I know very few anglers who’ll turn up their noses at catching these speckled predators.

Like most species, crappie spawn in spring, beginning their life cycle as tiny fry. As they grow, they graduate from a diet of marine invertebrates, eventually becoming almost entirely piscivorous or fish-eating.

Live minnows are among the best baits you can use to catch mature crappie, with artificial jigs running a close second. 

According to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, “White crappie tolerate more turbid water and tend to inhabit more rivers and reservoirs, while black crappie are more often associated with more clear water lakes. White crappie are more often associated with brush and standing timber while black crappie tend to be found in and around weed beds.”

That’s generally true in our experience, with crappie sticking close to vertical cover like stumps and trees, as well as live weed beds and submerged brush piles.

Crappie have the habit of schooling, and they’ll often suspend at a particular depth. 

That makes a good fish finder especially valuable for locating an active school.

If you’d like to read more about crappie, check out these articles:

Trouble Catching Slabs? Our Top Crappie Fishing Tips & Techniques Are Guaranteed To Help!

What Is The Best Time in Each Season To Catch Crappie?

Getting to Know Crappie: The Black and White of Identification

What Do Crappie Eat? A Quick Guide

Our Top Tips for Crappie Fishing from a Kayak

Get in close

One advantage kayaks have over power boats is stealth.

A quiet kayak can get in close, allowing for precise casts.

Even the quietest trolling motor makes more noise than a paddle dipped carefully into the water, and a kayak gliding into place near a forest of half-submerged stumps simply won’t spook slabs into running for cover.

That allows kayak anglers chasing crappie to move in close, make shorter casts, and place their jigs with pinpoint precision.

Learn more about kayak fishing here: Kayak Fishing - Top Tips For Angling From A Kayak

Find the brush piles

Crappie stick to vertical structure, live weed beds, and brush piles like a stain on your favorite shirt, and wherever you find these features, you’re going to find slabs.

Trees, stumps, and pilings are pretty obvious, but submerged brush piles and weed beds take something extra to locate.

You’ll want a top-flight fish finder like the Lowrance Elite FS 7 for your ‘yak, and you’ll want to use its sensitive sonar to find brush piles and mark them on the contour maps it’ll create.

Lowrance Elite FS 7 Fish Finder with Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transducer, Preloaded C-MAP Contour+ Charts

Amazon 

To see all our recommending fish finder options please check out our full buying guide: Best Kayak Fish Finders - Real Reviews By Kayak Anglers

Use your fish finder to find and mark every brush pile on your lake.

With a super-detailed contour map created by the Lowrance’s software, you’ll have every advantage against the slabs.

And when you are fishing a submerged brush pile, the high-tech sonar on the Elite FS 7 is simply amazing, especially in Active Target mode, where it creates a live-action picture of what’s going on down there.

You’ll see every crappie, watch your jig in action, and know exactly what’s happening at every moment.

Use the right hooks

Crappie often go by the nickname “papermouths.” That’s because their expanding jaws are composed of thin membranes that tear easily.

Paper-thin mouths have earned the crappie a reputation.

If you want an in-depth analysis of hook selection for crappie, check out this article:

Hook More Crappie More Often: Best Hooks For Crappie Reviewed

The basics are that you need to use a larger hook than you’d think given the body size of crappie, starting with sizes like #2 and #4, and moving up to even #1 when we’re rigging really big minnows.

For a variety of reasons, Aberdeen-style hooks are the best bet.

Gamakatsu Aberdeen Hook, Size: (8 Pack) Bronze, 2

Amazon 

Most crappie anglers prefer Aberdeen-style hooks.

First off, they feature a wide gap - the measure of the distance between the shank and the point. That distance creates more surface area, spreading the load across the crappie’s lip and preventing a tear-out.

Second, they’re made from light wire, which has two advantages. Not only do they keep minnows alive longer than thicker designs, but they also can be bent and unbent with relative ease, allowing you to snag them on brush piles and still get your hook back - and back into shape!

Light lines and light rods

Good crappie rods are extra sensitive.

Ultralight and light rods are just perfect for papermouths, especially since they provide a bit of give on the hooks and fight, helping you avoid tearing your hook loose.

These rods are also sensitive enough to allow you to feel a shy strike, a gentle bump, or the almost undetectable suck of a slab swallowing your jig.

For my money, nothing beats a 6-foot, ultralight St. Croix Premier. Long enough to cast well and sensitive enough to feel every twitch of my jigs, it’s just an amazing rod for panfish of all kinds.

St. Croix Rods Premier Spinning Rod

Amazon 

A good ultralight or light rod is a must for crappie.

But if that option is too spendy for you, no need to worry. I own and love a Bass Pro Shops Micro Lite that just plain works, and from handle to tip, it’s an excellent rod that won’t break the bank.

They’ve changed the rod slightly since this review, but not much, and not in any way that’ll affect how it fishes.

For me, pairing an ultralight rod like this with a DAIWA QR Ultralight, or matching a light rod with something like a Pflueger President in a 2000-size is the only way to go. And if you like Bass Pro’s rod, go ahead and give their ultralight reel a chance, too.

Pflueger PRESSP20X President Spinning Fishing Reel, 100/4

Amazon 

I’ve been fishing a Bass Pro Shops Micro Lite Elite Spinning Reel for years, and it’s never given me any trouble whatsoever.

Small reels are the way to go for paper mouths, and you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get a good one.

For more of our top picks for a good crappie reel please see our full buying guide: Best Crappie Reels - Tiny Reels That Are Huge On Performance 

Jig, jig, jig

Two techniques dominate crappie fishing: rigging a live minnow on an Aberdeen hook beneath a slip float and the humble, but super effective, jig.

A jig is a simple idea, and it’s nothing more than a weighted head with a small hook attached. When combined with a soft plastic trailer, however, it can summon crappie for a strike like a flagpole in a thunderstorm.

Jigging is a precise science, and you’ll want to know exactly what you’re doing. The good news is that we’ve covered this topic before, so take a look:

How to Jig for Crappie: Basics, Tips, and Techniques to Help You Catch More Slabs

The basics are easy to understand.

While our advice about hook size is to go big, we recommend the opposite with your jigs. Stay as small as the wind allows, starting with 1/32 and 1/16 ounce heads. 

Tiny jigs with big hooks are just what you need for crappie.

Crappie-specific jigs like Strike King’s Mr. Crappie Jig Heads come with larger hooks like a #2, making them just perfect for slab hunting.

Strike King Lures Mr. Crappie Jig Head with Lazer Sharp Eagle Claw Hook, Freshwater, 1/32 oz, 2 Hook, Refrigator White, Package of 8, White/red

Amazon 

Slip a good soft plastic trailer on your jig, and you're ready to go. My pick is a Bobby Garland Slab Slay'R. These little guys have a cult following among papermouth addicts. 

Slab Slay’Rs do just what their names suggests!

Bobby Garland Slab Slay'r Crappie Baits-Pack of 12 (2-Inch, Black/Pink)

Amazon 

Shootin’ jigs

Once you’ve got your jigs ready to go, you can always suspend them beneath a slip float, cast them next to stump, tree, or piling, and give them a gentle twitch every now and then.

That’s amazingly effective, no question about it!

But if you can find a dock, you’ve got a deadly trick up your sleeve.

Grab the tail of your soft plastic in your off hand, and gently bend your rod to create tension. Then, aiming your bait to skip across the water and up under the dock, let go of the lure.

Pow! You’ve just shot a jig!

This idea might seem a bit childish at first, but hear me out.

What you’re doing is skipping that lure back into the shadows, where the big slabs are hiding from predators. There’s almost no way to cast conventionally that’ll get your jig back there, but shooting will.

And the slow fall after that shot will trigger strike, after strike, after strike.

Slip floats are king

Whether you jig or run live minnows, suspending your terminal tackle below a float is deadly.

And though you may have grown up with the red and white round plastic bobber, there are much better options out there. Those old-fashioned floats were a real pain to cast because you needed to place them at the depth you wanted to hang your lure or live bait, reel up to the bobber, and then try to launch a twirling, tangling mess of line in just the right spot.

Enter the slip float.

Slip floats move along your line, stopping where you place a tiny, castable stop. This lets you reel in your line and launch just the float and hook. Casting distance and accuracy improve markedly, and slip floats are easier to use, more adjustable, and just better all-around tech.

We’ve written about slip floats before, and you can count us in as die-hard fans:

Catching Spring Slabs: Best Crappie Corks, Floats, and Bobbers Reviewed

Our favorite? Hands-down the Thill Crappie Cork. Available in a variety of buoyancies, you can match the weight of your terminal tackle perfectly and get an ideal float.

Thill Crappie Cork Multi, 1/16-Inch

Amazon 

Use a slip float once and you’ll never look back at a red and white bobber!

Rig ‘em right!

As effective as jigs are, nothing beats a live minnow for crappie.

The trick is to rig them in the best possible way.

Start by selecting healthy minnows. A good sign in a bait shop is to find them in a tight cluster. Their scales should be bright and shiny, too.

If you have the choice between shiners and fatheads, go with the latter. They’re more robust and will live longer on your Aberdeen hook.

Choose fathead minnows if you have a choice.

Of course, you'll need to care for your minnows to get the most from them, and from a bit of ice to keep the water cool to proper aeration, you should probably check out our full article on the topic:

Crappie Fishing With Minnows: A Guide To Rigging Minnows for Crappie

You should already know to use a #2 to #4 Aberdeen hook, preferably below a good slip float.

And if you’ve chosen a health minnow, now’s the time to consider how to hook it. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to know your options:

Tail hooking - One goal when hooking a live minnow is to minimize injury to it, keeping it alive and kicking for as long as possible.

If you run a slim Aberdeen hook through your minnow about ¼ inch in front of the tail, there’s nothing vital to pierce, and the minnow will be more or less unharmed. But the hook will encourage it to swim and thrash, attracting plenty of attention from fat slabs.

Dorsal hooking - Another way to rig a minnow that causes minimal injury is dorsal hooking. In this technique, you run your hook through the meat just below the dorsal fin, where there are no internal organs to damage.

The minnow won't kick quite as much as with tail hooking, but the hook is in a better position to snag a papermouth in this technique.

Lip hooking - Crappie, like other species, hit minnows head first to avoid their spiny fins. Lip hooking puts the hook in just the right place.

Pass your hook under the minnow’s chin and through both lips.

The only problem with this technique is that it reduces the minnow’s ability to breathe, shortening its life on your hook.

Snout hooking - If you want your hook on the head, but don’t want to kill the minnow as quickly, you can snout hook it.

Run the hook down through the front of the head - but not through the eyes or brain - and out through its mouth. That allows the minnow to open its mouth and gulp water to pass over its gills, but it still puts the hook where it’s most effective.

Final Thoughts

Crappie fishing from a kayak is pure fun, and with the right know-how, it’s at least as productive as any other platform on the water.

We hope this article taught you something new, but we know there’s a lot to learn. If you have questions or comments, we’re here for you and ready to reply.

Please leave a comment below!

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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