Advanced Seasonal Structure: Summer Brush & Beds
By Tim Huffman
Brush and crappie beds are prime summer structures. Casting and jigging are tactics that offer fun chase. Fast trolling is a great way to cover water and fish over the tops of beds and brush. However, most serious crappie fishermen will be slow trolling, also called spider rigging. The tactic allows brush piles and beds to be probed for summer slabs.
Where to Fish
Several factors come into play during the summer. The first is crappie movements for the lake you fish. Some crappie stay shallow, others go deep, but many times crappie are in the 10- to 16-foot range. Again, that varies from lake to lake usually based upon water color and overall lake depth.
A second major factor is thermocline. A layer of bad water with less oxygen and an upper layer of “sweet water” with better pH, temperature and oxygen is separated by what is called a thermocline. Finding the cline can be done with sonar on high sensitivity as it shows a line across the screen. An old-timer way is to drop a minnow down for a couple of minutes, bring it up and check to see if it is alive. When you get below the thermocline the minnow dies very quickly. The importance of the thermocline is to know the maximum depth to put baits. Always fish above the thermocline where the active fish will be located.
Anywhere you can find brush and beds can be potential spots for catching. Ideal spots are the edge of drop-offs, near-by flats, points and other structures. Sonar and scanning are critical for finding beds. Once found, GPS can help return to the spots.
A fisherman can quickly improve his fishing by adding beds to his own lake. Brush and small trees have always been a good attractor option. So are stake beds. The newest choice for long-term structure is PVC. It’s more expensive but will last forever and is easy to fish.
Slow trolling, or spider rigging, is still a top pick when fishing beds. Summer is especially good because a fisherman can go from spot to spot in a hurry but stop completely still at a bed so baits can hold still in front of the fish. Sometime fish are aggressive but other times they need to see a bait for a while.
The Johnson Fishing team of Billy and Scott Williams won the 2016 Crappie Masters Alabama State Championship this spring on the Alabama River. The team says spider rigging is the number one tactic on the tournament trail and brush piles are always a good structure to target.
“If we are on brush,” says Scott Williams, “spider rigging lets us set on it and not move. After we fish a bed we can kick our speed up and fish to another top or bed and repeat. Other techniques don’t let us fish that way.”
“Without a doubt our number one tool for spider rigging is our electronics. We use Humminbird Side Imaging and it helps us tremendously. At a new lake we’ll find a ledge and use our electronics with a LakeMaster chip and look for cover. We’re looking for brush with crappie on it. A lot of time it’s a brush top that’s floated in but fishermen put many beds in most waters and they can be very good spots.”
Scott says, “I’ll look for fish in the middle depths this time of year but will go deeper to 18 or 20 feet until I find fish. We don’t waste time fishing spots that are not showing fish so we scan until we find them. Once found, we drop down to see if the fish are crappie and learn their size. Actually, during tournaments we seldom target fish deeper than 12 feet because it’s difficult to keep them alive. However, a recreational fisherman should go to the depth where he can catch the most and bigger fish. In the summer that might be deep water.”
Scott says some of his best summer spots are oak trees about 12 feet long they have sunk. They put them in deep water, stand them up vertical, not horizontal. They have found that crappie like to suspend up in the top of these trees among the limbs.”
Billy Williams says spider rigging isn’t difficult but there are a few things that are very important. “The first thing to being successful is to pay attention to details. Pay attention to your speed. The difference between going 0.3 mph and 0.4 mph can be critical at times.”
“Also pay attention to your direction. This is probably more important in shallow water but it can make a difference any time. Fish will be facing the current so you want to make sure you present bait to them so they can see it longer.”
“So paying attention means a fisherman is watching the things he is doing when catching fish so he can repeat the those things and eliminate the things that do not work. That’s a pattern and will let a fisherman catch more fish.”
The team says baits boil down to using what is working. Sometimes it can be straight minnows but sometimes it’s jigs tipped with minnows. Through experience they’ve learned seasonal trends. Spider rigging often means double-hook rigs but the team also likes single-hook rigs in thick brush for fewer hang-ups and fewer lost fish. Scott says there are few things more aggravating than to hook a good fish and have the other hook of the double-hook rig to hang in the brush and cause a lost fish.
“When we are using jigs,” says Scott, “we will be using Johnson jigs not just because they are our sponsor but because the jigs work. We often use a jig tipped with a minnow but before we leave a good brushpile I’ll drop a jig loaded with Shad Scales scent. Sometimes a big fish will jump on just the jig when it won’t a minnow or jig/minnow combination. Johnson Crappie Buster Tubes, Shad Tails and Shad Tubes are all great baits and each one has a pocket to hold scent. The company went serious into crappie baits a few years ago they did it right.”
The Williams’ other spider rigging equipment includes: 16-foot BnM poles to keep baits as far in front of the boat as possible; Driftmaster rod holders; and 8-pound test main line with 6-pound test leaders.
Improving Your Fishing
Scott says two things can make a big difference in catching fish. The first one is to analyze your results. Keeping a logbook might seem old fashion but making simple notes from trips will help in the future. Time of year, conditions, water temperatures, depths where you caught fish and didn’t catch will help a fisherman develop a database and will definitely help in the future. Noting specific beds and brushpiles that produce the biggest fish is particularly important.
The second thing is to use your electronics to the maximum. Scott says a basic unit with GPS mapping is fine for a weekend fisherman. The key is to know everything it will do, be able to use all the functions and then use it when fishing. Make it an important part, not just a secondary part of what you do.
“When I’m looking at a new area,” says Scott, “I’ll often spend more time scanning than fishing. And if a fisherman is ready to make a big jump in his fishing there’s no better way than to buy and use advanced electronics with Side Imaging. What it does is let you miss a brushpile by 40 feet yet still see it on your graph. Scanning lets you scan more water quicker. I may have poles in the water, but I spend probably 65 percent of my time using my electronics.”
Summer Brush Factors
Current: “The fish will be just out of the current, not in it,” says Billy. “Present baits slow and give the fish time to see them. The fish will be facing the current.”
Wind: Billy says, “When you can’t control the boat it’s a problem. If you’re jigs or minnows bounce up and down you have to add weight or heavier lead. I want the boat straight into or away from the waves. If we don’t control our boat we won’t catch fish.”
Water Color: “The general rule is the darker the water the darker the jig,” says Scott. “Of course the brighter the light penetration the brighter the jig.”
Cold Front: Scott says, “The good thing about summer is fewer strong fronts. After a front the bite may slow down so we slow down. This is when minnows are very important to add bites.”
Fishing Pressure: “It’s not much of a problem with fishermen in the summer but the boat traffic, skiers and people having fun can be a problem. The fish don’t like it. Sometimes they keep biting but often quit. Early morning is a good time to fish.”