Where to find hot action all summer long for slab crappies
Catching a crappie the size of a dinner plate is fun at any time of the year, but perhaps never more so than during the heat of summer. Strangely, though, most Canadian anglers don’t target summertime crappies. Instead, they’ll flock to springtime shallows when crappies come up to spawn, then count the days until the fish bunch up in deep pockets during the fall.
Some anglers even wait for winter so they can drop a jig down a hole in the ice. But summer? That’s when crappies are too hard to find and catch, they say. Fortunately, that’s just not the case—if you know where to look and what tackle and techniques to use.
I enjoyed my best crappie fishing ever with lure designer Mitch Looper in Arkansas some 19 years ago. You think it gets hot in Canada in the summer? Head to western Arkansas in July. The sweat was already beading off my nose when we launched the boat at 4:30 in the morning, and it poured off even faster a few hours later when the crappie action heated up. That experience was a clear reminder that crappies are a warm-water fish. And contrary to what many people think, they don’t slow down in the heat of summer—they become more active.
Crappies do love shade, however, especially when it’s provided by weed cover. I learned that while fishing with Looper, pitching a stick worm into thick cabbage for largemouth bass. I kept feeling ticks that I thought were picky bass, but every time I reeled down and set the hook, I watched my bait fly out of the water. Then a crappie with eyes even bigger than its stomach eventually engulfed my six-inch worm and solved the puzzle.
Since then, I’ve learned that crappies love soup-warm weedy water so much that trying to fish for them with a small jig in the jungle-like cover is pretty much pointless—I typically don’t even try. Instead, I launch early in the morning or stay late into the evening and pick off the slabs as they emerge from the grass.
For this, I use a 6′ 8″ to 7′ 4″ medium- or medium-light-action rod and a reel spooled with six- or eight-pound micro-braid. Using a Crazy Alberto knot, I also tie on a five-foot leader of four-pound mono. Summer crappies are rarely lure specific—it’s always about location—so use your favourite small swimbait or jig and soft-plastic trailer. My go-to is a 1/10-ounce Z-Man Pro ShroomZ jig head tipped with a 1¾-inch Shad FryZ or 2¼-inch Mister Twister Sassy Stingum.
There’s no need for a fancy retrieve. Just cast to the edge of the grass, let the lure fall to the bottom and slowly retrieve it back to the boat while you lightly shake it and occasionally pause.
If your favourite crappie lake doesn’t have weed cover, you can still find fish-attracting shade. Simply increase the gain on your sonar and look for the thermocline, which will appear as an inky band in 20 to 30 feet of water, regardless of the overall depth (see inset photo). This band is made up of plankton that break up or block light from the surface, creating shade underneath. Follow the top of the thermocline toward shore and note the depth that it disappears and merges into the bottom. Crappies will travel along this edge, retreating into the shadows during the day, and emerging from them at low light.
I love trolling along these distinct, warm shadowy edges during the day, staying parallel to shore and never too far into the twilight zone. When I first tried this with Mitch Looper, we pulled crankbaits suited for walleye, but I’ve since discovered that small, 1½- to three-inch cranks produce far better in Canadian waters.
Here I stick with the same rod, reel and main line set-up I use for casting to the weed-edge fish, but instead tie the main line to a three-way rig or finesse bottom bouncer (3/4- to one-ounce) using a four-foot leader of four-pound mono. Then once I get down to the right depth, it’s just a matter of time before I feel that familiar tug on the line.