The sporadic deep weedline stretched along a quarter-mile section of shoreline, connecting two main lake points. The reservoir’s clear water allowed submerged weed growth out to a depth exceeding 15 feet. It’s a fishy spot where one never knows what he or she might catch. It could be largemouth, smallmouth, walleye, perhaps a musky, and during the summer months, crappies.
I held the boat in about 17 feet of water and crawled along the outside edge of the weeds at a pace of a half-mile-an-hour. My partner Sid trailed a light bucktail jig behind the boat; I opted for a lightweight Rapala Jigging Rap. Both of us imparted a snap-jig motion to our baits, one that popped the bucktail and Rap sharply off the bottom before they glided erratically back toward the bottom on a semi-slack line. By the time we’d completed the run we had both put several slab-sided crappies in the boat, at a time when most anglers have little to no thought of pursuing this panfish.
Undoubtedly, springtime gets the attention of most crappie anglers. Movements of fish into the shallows — first to feed and then to spawn — often makes for easy pickings. The fish often relate to visible objects like laydowns, flooded shoreline willows and dead lily pad stems. As spring gives way to summer, the fish vanish from such spots and angler attention wanes. But there is still crappie action to be had even during the late summer and early fall, provided you know where to look for them and how to catch them.
The biggest obstacle in consistently catching crappies now is in first finding them. For the most part they have vacated their shallow springtime haunts, particularly quality-sized fish. Locating them means searching deeper water to find fish relating to various forms of cover as well as food.
In dingy water reservoirs — ones lacking much in the way of submergent vegetation — the draw is often a combination of structure and cover.
Veteran crappie angler Kenny Smith — who regularly plies the flatland and hill land reservoirs of Northwestern Pennsylvania — finds summer crappies relating to drop-offs that feature wood. Smith says the ledge doesn’t need to be dramatic — just a drop of two to three feet can be attractive — but crappies will likely be present if there’s wood present. This can be in the form of brush piles, imbedded tree branches or stumps. The reservoirs that Smith fishes lack much in the way of submergent vegetation, particularly in the depths crappies prefer during this time frame.
“I still find crappies bunched up, but not as much as they are during the springtime,” Smith noted. “I can take around 15 crappies off each spot.”
In clear water reservoirs and natural lakes, it’s common to find late summer crappies relating to the deep edge of the weeds. Bluff banks, where shoreline erosion has allowed trees to tumble into the depths, can be crappie magnets. Sunken bridges and abutments can hold crappies, as can old roadbeds and deeper stump fields.
Sonar plays a big part in identifying late summer crappie locations as well as the fish themselves. Side scanning sonar excels at seeking the deeper structure and cover mentioned above. Crappies, which often suspend well off the bottom, often mark on side view. Traditional (2D) and down imaging sonar shines when fishing and searching directly under the boat. Expect crappies to display as close schools that extend vertically. Realtime sonar like Garmin’s Live Scope and Lowrance’s Active Target Live — which display live images rather than scrolling history — are becoming increasingly popular with crappie anglers willing to invest in the pricy technology.
Appropriate late summer crappie tactics address the fact that crappies can be both concentrated and scattered, depending on the type of habitat available.
For fishing deeper (12 to 15 feet) brush piles Kenny Smith employs a tactic he calls “hang gliding.” He rigs a 10- to 12-foot crappie rod with what’s essentially a Carolina Rig. A half-ounce egg sinker is secured approximately two feet from the terminal end by passing the line through the sinker three times. He finishes the rig off with a 1/16-ounce jig dressed with a plastic like a Bobby Garland Baby Shad. With the rod in a rod holder, he “glides” back and forth over deep wood with the trolling motor. Typically, he also hand holds a shorter rod. Smith will also fish a slip bobber rig over wood cover, holding the boat in place with the spot lock feature of his trolling motor.