Kayaks and Crappie, Why They Go Together

The scene, a large expanse of water, the kayak angler hoists a bruiser bass, on the salty side, a bull redfish is the object of attention, musky, tarpon, and many other species get the attention until somebody want to have a fish fry. Enter the prolific crappie. Three species, white, black and occasionally the one that sports the racing stripe down its snoot, the blacknose crappie have several things in common besides their last name. Not a glamour fish, not many tournaments dedicated to the “paper mouth”, very little species specific tackle and fewer rods bearing the title crappie pole, but yet oh so popular. The site of a kayak does little to invoke the visions of crappie catching but don’t be fooled it’s the perfect watercraft to chase these tasty creatures.


Crappie clues – Because they’re schoolers if you can find a few there should be more lurking in the spots they inhabit. While they will migrate, they can be patterned and display similar, predictable habits. In the spring and the fall they will come back to the same depths and the same spots year after year. Summer….well summer gets a little squirrely. Gone from the comfortable confines of the shallow spawning sites, they head to the deeper spots to hold up for the next several months. Crappies share the love of structure with their cousins the largemouth bass. Periodically they be found around weed beds, bridge pilings, boat docks, bottom contours and artificial fish attractors but where you’re most likely to find them is around trees. Fallen, subsurface, partially submerged, hanging in the water or flooded trees. Their affinity for woody waters is undeniable, while holding depth and feeding mode is more likely the challenge.


My fishing partner and fellow “river rat” Bridgett Howard has perfected the art of the crappie catch. “I’ll search likely places using electronics, past experience and that “sixth sense” and have been known to “camp out” on a spot making repeated casts to a likely area. I choose and use the lightest outfit I can put together. My choices are an ultralight rod, small spinning reel, as light as two pound test monofilament line and I frequently go to a 1/16th ounce leadhead for my crappie tube techniques.”


Why wood – The main reasons are the factors that come along with the wooden houses. Wood harbors food sources. Minnows move into wood for shade, cover and to eat the microscopic inhabitants like algae growing on the limbs and also dine on many types of bugs. Crappie feel safe in the branches, limbs and along the trunk of the trees, especially in the moving water of rivers of all sizes because of the current break found in the underwater wood. Crappies also have an ideal ambush point for the unsuspecting minnows as well as a hiding spot from the other underwater predators waiting to make them a meal. You will at times, find “open water” school of crappie. This phenomenon occurs during the weather extremes of the dead of summer and likewise winter. It is however fair to say to the novice crappie angler, wood is your friend for finding and stringing all species of crappie the majority of the time. As with other fish, they’re never all doing the same thing at the same time.


Slab tactics – A quick look at crappies shows large eyes, (I feed by sight), an upturned expansive mouth (I feed in an upward fashion and can swallow a good size meal) and a nice camouflage pattern. I’ve caught crappies with crawfish, shad, bluegill and of course minnows in their stomachs. Research shows that the life span of a crappie is believed to average about three and half years. In our state Tennessee a ten inch crappie is legal to harvest and is probably two years old. In the south anglers routinely catch 15 inch crappie. My personal best bump boarded white crappie was 19 ½ inches long, a giant anywhere. Once you find these finny fish you need to establish the depth they are in at the time and the speed that will trigger the strike. Both of these criteria can change in the course of the day and maybe more than once. Two rules to put more and bigger crappies in the kayak are keep the bait above the holding depth of the fish and when you think you’re fishing slowly …fish slower.

Over the years I’ve caught crappie on bass size spinnerbaits, similarly crankbaits, large soft plastics and even though rare on topwater. The best and most productive baits for me have been the smaller soft plastic tubes and curly tail grubs. Colors are a matter of preference but my species specific tackle box has an abundance of 0095 Monteleone Silver offered by MidSouth tackle of Jonesboro Arkansas, I catch hundreds of crappie each year on this bait, www.midsouthtackle.com . Chartreuse and chartreuse combination colors work well as does white /silver glitter and black / chartreuse for dirty water applications. Strike King also has a wide variety of tail types and color configurations that produce crappie hits. www.strikeking.com. Going lightweight for heavyweight crappies is highly recommended. Get over the idea that you have to “winch out” crappie from the limbs and branches. To draw more strike try small diameter, lighter line. The smaller “string” gives maximum action to almost any artificial lure and is also less visible. An ultralight spinning rod with a small open faced spinning reel is perfect for panfish. My crappie pole if a seven foot, medium action rod with a quality reel (I use Lews) with a good drag system and smooth medium speed retrieve. The last fishing factor in the light category is the leadhead. The lighter the head the slower the fall, the longer it lingers in the strike zone. For a hungry crappie it’s almost irresistible to have a bait hovering over them and within their feeding proximity. The bites range from a subtle swimming off, to a well-defined thump. Along with me in my Jackson Big Rig is a set of pliers, LOL (lots of lead) and several sizes and colors of soft plastics for when the crappies get picky. For quick change or when you get stuck in the wood and stretch and damage the light line my Line Cutterz ring (www.linecutterz.com) is valuable to make a clean, quick cut in order to change or cut off about three feet of the weakened monofilament line. I have a Line Cutterz ring on the casting brace of each of my kayaks and another on a lanyard worn around my neck inside my Astral lifejacket.


The kayak is the best, yes, the best way to cruise to a limit of crappie. The ability to weave in and out of the woody world of slab crappies is aided the nimble maneuvering of the fishing models and the pinpoint positioning of deft movements from the small paddle corrections. My Bending Branches Angler Pro Carbon model (check em’ out at www.Bendingbranches.com ) makes all day angling easier. It weighs in at less than two pounds, literally lighter than some of the crappie I catch! Because I like to stand all the time my preference for crappie capers is the Jackson Big Rig but I’ve caught a bunch out of my Coosa HD and the super stable MayFly. To keep my fishin’ holes stocked I rarely keep any fish in the spring, I let them spawn to maintain a sustainable population in the waters I frequent. All bets are off in the fall. A limit is an agency imposed guideline, I keep enough for a meal, maybe a half dozen fish and release the rest. Our state Tennessee has a 10 inch, 15 fish limit, I for the most part would rather catch em’ than consume them but an occasional fish fry is a great way to celebrate the days that prove kayaks and crappie just naturally go together.

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