Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Season of the slab

By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer

Presenting minnows under floats has long been, and continues to be, a staple for putting crappies in the boat. This is especially true once you locate a specific pod of crappies.

But there are other options to consistently catch them or – maybe even more importantly – find crappies during the open-water season. As the seasons change, so does crappie location. Here are a handful of presentations you can implement to find and catch crappies beyond just hanging a stationary piece of meat in front of their noses. 

Always versatile: plastics

Plastics for crappies mimic the small critters they eat. From the more traditional twister tail-and-tube offerings to some of the trending paddle tail, split tail, or minnow-style baits, these plastic imitators come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.

They’re also one of the more versatile presentations for slabs, and they allow anglers to work them as fast or as slowly as the fish want, vertically or horizontally, in any cover. 

Think skinny to mid-depth water when pitching plastics, which also usually means spring and early summer before water temperatures really heat up.

With or without floats, they are one of the best ways to pull crappies out of thick cover such as bulrushes, flooded or fallen timber, weedlines, and open pockets within developing vegetation.

A little hair to chew on …

Feathers, marabou, tinsel, fur, synthetics, or a combination of the above fall under the hair jig category. For crappies, they’re excellent pre-spawn and spawning presentations that rarely require live bait.

In fact, you might be doing a hair jig a disservice and taking away from its natural ability to produce crappies by tipping it with live bait. After all, that’s what attracts crappies to hair: its subtle movement and lifelike profile.

It’s the ideal micro-bug imitator, and it works magic with little or no action from the angler. Just a few subtle taps with the rod tip and hair jigs dance below the surface. Hair jigs are an excellent cold-front option when crappie activity is off a bit, and they also work well in any type of cover, especially early in the season.

Crappie-sized crankbaits

Once the spawn ends, and crappies move to deeper depths, they become more difficult to find. They often suspend on bigger pieces of main-lake structure, providing anglers with the proverbial needle in the haystack scenario.

Small crankbaits have become a player for attacking these rogue pods of crappies. These tiny, minnow-imitation baits come in a wide range of shapes that allow you to cover water, much like you would walleyes or bass.

A general rule of thumb: Use crappie-sized crankbaits for locating the school, then slow down and work on them via a more subtle approach. 

You’re not necessarily trolling these baits, but instead casting to specific targets such as weedlines, rock piles, or mid-depth flats. Crankbaits can pick off suspended crappies, too.

A walleye approach

Another way to find and catch crappies in midsummer locations is to implement down-sized versions of the traditional walleye live-bait or spinner rig.

Yes, you can include some form of live bait, but small plastics on these rigs also produce. If a particular weedline or manageable patch of grass is holding crappies, but they’re spread out, try pulling a spinner through them.

You’ll pick off the most aggressive fish first with this faster-moving presentation, and it allows you to fish through the center of the weeds while still keeping your presentation above the vegetation where summer crappies often sit.

Employing winter gear

In recent years, many anglers have figured out that crappies have no problem putting bigger baits in their mouths. That’s why hard, horizontal baits, which were typically used only during the ice-fishing season for walleyes, have become a big part of the open-water crappie arsenal.

Prime time for these bigger-profile baits is during the late summer and fall, when crappies move over deep basin areas. They feed heavily during this period and have no problem hitting something with some muscle to it.

Downsize these baits a bit from the typical walleye sizes, but you might be surprised with how big you can use – bigger baits catch bigger crappies this time of year.

Electronics help find them in this deeper situation, but the heavier baits allow you to sit right over them and drop into that sweet spot – no matter where they’re sitting in the water column – much faster than smaller baits.

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