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Night Fishing for Crappie: Expert Tips from an Experienced Slab Hunter

Night fishing is one the most productive methods for filling a livewell with crappie. 

The story goes like this: Put out a lot of light, which will attract bugs, and in turn, the bugs attract minnows or other small forage fish, which attract the crappie. And, it pretty much works that way, so long as you are in the right location. This isn't a crappie fishing secret as much as a tried-and-true method common to most reservoirs and lakes.

But there are several things to understand to maximize your success.

One of those things is the time of year. Summer is the right time for this technique, as cooler water temperatures at night will entice large schools of hungry crappie to head higher in the water column, attracted by the hope of an easy meal.

Driven below the oxygen- and prey-rich epilimnion by excessive heat, hungry crappie are just waiting till sundown to rise and feed.

summer lake stratification zones

The trick is to locate a school with your fish finder and start ringing the dinner bell with your lights.

Night Fishing For Crappie: Things To Consider

  1. Fix your fishing platform in place. You need to keep the boat where the school is rather than troll.
  2. Get as much light as you can reasonably manage.
  3. Bring the right equipment.
  4. Find the right bait for crappie. The popular choice is minnows.
  5. Select an area near deep water or one with a steep slope to deep water.
  6. Buy and learn to use rod holders and slip bobbers for setting up multiple rods or poles.
  7. Know and follow all your local regulations.

A stable fishing platform

A fixed fishing platform isn’t going to drift away from an active school.

Anchors, power poles, something convenient to tie-off to: these are absolute necessities if you want to stay put.

A good trolling motor can get the job done as well, but it can also spook fish if it’s not quiet enough.

Turn on the lights

Big, bright, powerful lights are the way to go.

There are a variety of arrangements--from battery-powered lights mounted on the boat, to lights hung below the surface, to generator powered lights of various types.

One of the better rigs involves 48-inch shop lights along both sides of the boat, with a few outdoor lights fore and aft. 

An example is shown in this photo:

night fishing for crappie with boat and lights

This photo shows a rig with all temporary lights hung on the boat rails:

boat with lights for crappie fishing at night

You’ll find a lot of pontoon boats on popular crappie waters like Lake Okeechobee in Florida, but before you scoff at this, consider that for non-tournament situations, a pontoon boat can be a terrific crappie fishing platform.

As Brad Wiegmann explains, “Of course when anglers think of pontoon boats they regard them as a boat for weekend crappie fishermen with astro turf floors and coozie holders rigged on the railings. They are right when it comes to fishing from pontoons in crappie tournaments where how fast and far you travel plays a significant part in tournament success, however, they can’t be overlooked when it comes to crappie fishing for fun. Truth is several successful crappie guides take charter groups out in pontoons because of the advantages of fishing from them.”

V-bottom boats can get into this game, too, though, as you can see in this photo:

V-bottom crappie boat

Essential Gear

A good basic gear list includes:

Live Bait

The overwhelming choice of bait at night is live minnows. Use an aerated minnow bucket and drop a small frozen water bottle of ice in to keep the water cool enough for good oxygen uptake. 

That keeps your minnows alive and kicking a lot longer.

As always, pay attention to the size of the minnows they prefer. That can change quickly and is usually set by the size of the natural forage minnows or shad attracted to the lights.

Find the right spot

The really big issue is where to set up! 

Night fishing with lights does not usually work well during the spawn, unless you are there just before they school up preparing to move inshore. 

As we mentioned above, higher water temps push crappie toward the “middle” of the water column, where you’ll find them typically suspended at around 12 to 15 feet or keyed into some structure such as a steep underwater slope from shallow to deep water. 

Nearby shallows and marshy areas also add to the probability of finding them.

In large reservoirs, one good place to look is where the flooded river scoured the bank and left a near vertical wall showing above the water as a cliff. The best location along such walls is usually each end where the vertical wall begins to shallow out, and in some cases, there will be some unusual feature along the face of the cliff that will hold a school in the area. This could be a drowned tree or even just a rock jutting from the face of the wall below the water. 

Other potential spots include visible clefts in the wall and other steep submerged features.

Another excellent location is where old flooded creeks enter the main lake or widen out into a larger area. Again, look for steep slopes underwater, especially near any marshy or large shallow area that serves as a holding area for forage species. 

To find the better spots in daylight, pass slowly over the target areas and watch your fish finder for any sunken trees, schools of forage fish, or multiple indicators of larger fish. Then drop a line down with a minnow or a jig and see if there are any crappie around. 

If you catch one, come back at night and fill your cooler!

Using rod holders and slip floats

There are a lot of rod holders on the market, and they all pretty much work the same, but it’s good to know a technique or two for using them with crappie.

When using slip bobbers, I frequently open the bail when I see a bobber go down, lift the rod out of the holder, reel down to eliminate lack, and set the hook. That way, the fish feels no pressure from the line and is not as likely to spit out the minnow before you set the hook. 

Remember: crappie typically hunt prey from below, and you want to stay above the school you’ve found on your electronics.

Carefully measure your line and place your slip float where it’ll keep that minnow a foot or two above the crappie.

Lear how to set up a slip bobber rig

Follow your state’s rules and regulations

A word about regulations. 

This is a Florida Game Warden measuring two crappie a friend of mine kept on a night fishing expedition!

He also came in with all his fishing lights on and got a warning about that, as well as a court date for the two crappie that were ¼ inch short. He had 29 legal crappie, so there was no reason to keep even a questionable fish. 

If your fishing lights are so bright as to obscure your red and green running lights, you are in violation of the regulations. 

Finally, some states dictate how many poles you can use at one time, so check your local regulations before hitting the water. 

About The Author
Abram N
Abram is a retired water resources engineer who has 62 years of fishing experience from the Canadian north woods to the Mexican border in Texas and in such interesting places as the Arabian Gulf out of Abu Dhabi. At present, he and his wife, Connie, live full time in RVs and travel the US from Washington State to the Carolinas to south Florida, the Mississippi delta below New Orleans, and back to Arkansas.