Water temps in the high 60Fs and low 70Fs are a good indicator that summer crappies are beginning to set up and school along primary drop-offs to modestly deep basins. Not 70- to 80-foot basins, mind you; more like 30 to 40 is pretty much ideal in most waters.
At the leading edge of this schooling behavior, pods of crappies will be spread across the outer edges of flats, often at the 5- to 10-foot depth level.
If cover is present in the form of weeds or wood, expect them to lay low amidst the cover during the day, and then rise nearer the surface as the sun drops toward the treeline. It’s a perfect time to cast and retrieve 1/16- ounce jigs or jig spinners, micro crankbaits, or streamer flies above the cover as active fish rise to prowl and bite about a half-hour before sunset, with the activity often extending after dark.
As the weeks go by, schools of crappies become more massive, with the activity shifting more toward the outer edges of the deepest weeds or flooded wood. Fish may still lie beneath the cover during the day, or drop down toward bottom in adjacent deeper water. While largely inactive during the midday hours, they later fire off like clockwork as the sun dips toward the horizon.
Now, the best bite occurs over the tops of the outer, deeper weeds, along the deep weedline, or a cast-length or so out over the adjacent open water.
While any of the previously mentioned tactics still excel, 1/16-ounce jigs cast on light spinning gear and 4-pound-test mono are tough to beat for action, efficiency and excitement.
The system is fully adjustable, depthwise. Cast and retrieve your jig just a foot or two deep, just under the surface. Or count it down, “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand,” etc., with the jig sinking about a foot per second. Or, vertically jig it at the base of the weedline, or slightly outside, when cold fronts have the fish positioned tighter to bottom.
Suspended summer crappies are often visible on your electronics, allowing you to target prime depths of activity. You want to skirt your jig, smoothly and subtly, just above their heads–never below them, where they can’t see the lure. The more active they are, the more they will rise to the occasion.
If you don’t know how deep the activity is, just follow along the outer weedline or timberline, alternately casting above the cover, parallel to the edge, and out over the deeper adjacent water. Experiment with the depth of your retrieve: 6 feet, 8, 10 feet, 12 feet or more, until you get bites. Once you do, you’ve located the fish, established their depth, and have ’em cornered. Enjoy–because you’ll probably catch a bunch.
Corners and turns along outer weedlines, stands of healthy weedgrowth, flooded timber with lots of branches–something distinctive–often causes crappies to linger in key spots. The rest of the time, they may slowly cruise along the drop-off edge, requiring you to search for them, or to recontact moving schools.
Many jig bodies work for crappies: 11/2- to 2-inch swimming grubs, tubes, hair or feather jigs, minnow- or paddletails, boottails, puddle jumpers, you name it.
Mostly, they’re fairly subtle in action. Light colors like white, yellow, light green and such best imitate small minnows that crappies feed on near the surface; browns or blacks are better insect imitations, and may come into play when jigging near bottom.
Pink is a killer color for summer crappies, especially around sunset. Not sure why. Don’t care. Only that it works wonders during low-light conditions.
Sure, you could slip bobber a minnow in similar areas–but it’s a slow tactic for locating fish and establishing the depth of activity. Once you find ’em, consider a bobber.
The rest of the time, cast, swim, sink and adjust your retrieves with a small jig, instantly adjustable to both your–and the crappies’–liking.