Sizzling Hot Crappie with Jonathan Phillips

Story & photos by

John E. Phillips

To catch the most and biggest crappie in any lake or river that you fish, during any time of the year, fish when and where most crappie anglers don’t fish and use tactics that others rarely use. By formulating this simple recipe, Jonathan Phillips of Wetumpka, Alabama, catches big slab crappie all summer long.

Phillips uses his side-scan feature on his depth finder to pinpoint brush piles, stumps and logs underwater, on the edges of the creek channels where crappie hold on them or above them.

Phillips uses his side-scan feature on his depth finder to pinpoint brush piles, stumps and logs underwater, on the edges of the creek channels where crappie hold on them or above them.

“The hotter the weather, the easier the crappie are for me to find and catch,” Phillips says. “I guide on Lake Jordan – on the Coosa River chain – and the Alabama River, as well as fish crappie tournaments. I’ve discovered a pattern that pays off in plenty of impressive-size crappie during the hottest months. You can use this same strategy on any lake with slightly-stained, deep water.”

Phillips has learned that during the summer, the crappie will relate to structure – drop-offs, humps, deep stumps and deep, underwater trees – that you can’t spot without a quality depth finder.

“I like a Humminbird Helix 10 HD side scanning and down scanning depth finder because I catch crappie with it,” Phillips emphasizes. “When I get over structure or a drop-off, I can tell the difference between crappie that resemble little leaves and other kinds of fish. I can’t always catch the crappie I spot, however, I know I’m fishing where the crappie are.”

Anthony Milner, who works with Jonathan Phillips, says, “If I can’t fish for crappie with Jonathan, I’ll fish for catfish, since Jonathan knows where to find the big ones.”

Anthony Milner, who works with Jonathan Phillips, says, “If I can’t fish for crappie with Jonathan, I’ll fish for catfish, since Jonathan knows where to find the big ones.”

Because Phillips fishes well offshore in the main lake on the main part of the river, he frequently has jet skiers, water skiers and pleasure boat riders create waves where he’s fishing. “So, instead of using multiple poles and spider rigging, I’ll fish with a single pole with either a double or a single minnow rig straight down to where I’ve located the crappie with my depth finder.”

 

How to Find Crappie Before You Fish

Phillips also uses maps like Navionics and Humminbird’s LakeMaster. In the mid-summer, Phillips searches for contour changes on the bottom – particularly humps about 14 feet deep out in the middle of a river that drops-off to 30-40 feet. Phillips uses his depth finder to scan all the way around a hump to know where the crappie are ganged up.

On cloudy days, Phillips may pinpoint crappie concentrating just above the hump. A bluebird day with bright, hot sun means the crappie will be on the hump’s shady side. The hump’s west side may hold crappie early in the morning, since the sun rises in the east, with the hump’s east side more productive in the afternoons.

 

How to Change Bad Fishing into Good Fishing

On a non-productive summer’s day, Phillips looks at lake and river maps and attempts to pinpoint structure, bottom drop-off and/or a hump different from the bottom around it.

“Often a sharp bottom break or rise may concentrate crappie,” Phillips reports. “I check them out and fish a foot or two above the crappie.”

Catching crappie in deep water during the summer months is much like picking cotton. Start at the top of the school, and catch as many crappie as possible. Then move deeper into the cover or the ledge, and catch the center of the crappie school to keep from spooking other crappie.

“If I have to fish the heart of brush for crappie, I prefer a single hook, which is easier to get out of brush,” Phillips says. “I like to have two poles rigged – one with a single hook and the other with a double hook – catching the easy crappie with the double hook rig and using the single hook to go into the brush.”

Here’s a fine catch of 1-2 pound crappie taken in an afternoon of fishing when the weather sizzled for Anthony Milner (left) and Jonathan Phillips (right).

Here’s a fine catch of 1-2 pound crappie taken in an afternoon of fishing when the weather sizzled for Anthony Milner (left) and Jonathan Phillips (right).

Phillips usually has 50-100 different locations identified where he’s caught crappie before a trip. “I never try to catch all the crappie on any location. I believe crappie attract other crappie.”

The crappie Phillips catches are usually old and big crappie – generally weighing 1-1/4- to 2 pounds.

 

What a Half Day of Hot Weather Crappie Fishing Is Like

I fished with Phillips and Anthony Milner and was blown away at the size and numbers of black crappie we caught on a half-day fishing trip. Once Phillips found crappie, he dropped a buoy right on top of the school. When I asked if he wasn’t afraid he’d spook crappie with the buoy, he answered, “No. When the lead on the buoy bottom falls 14-20 feet, it’s not going fast when it hits the bottom and doesn’t seem to spook the fish. Generally, the crappie are suspended up from the bottom. However, with a high sky, bright sun and deep fish, if your bait’s 5 feet away from the school, you won’t catch the crappie. I want my bait to be right above the school with a minnow dancing.” We caught enough crappie to feed my entire family plus visitors for a weekend fish fry at the lake and had a blast fishing for summer crappie.

Call Jonathan Phillips at 334-391-9735, and go to https://www.facebook.com/Team-Phillips-Guide-Service-935028296557829.

Phillips’ Tackle for Summer Crappie
* Line and Sinker – Phillips likes 8-pound test SpiderWire Invisi-Braid due to the heavier boat wakes while fishing in the summertime. Phillips feels his bites better with that thin, small braided line than with monofilament and uses a lighter hook set than when fishing shallower water with monofilament that stretches. Phillips likes a 1/2-ounce sinker on the bottom of his line to get the bait down to the depth of water where the crappie are and to knock the hook out of any type of wood structure.
* Poles – Phillips prefers ACC Crappie Stix poles, made in Illinois by Andy Lehman. “I use the jigging poles designed to hold in your hand,” Phillips says. “Fishermen may get 30 to 100 bites but not be able to feel many of them. I like the strong 10’ and the 11’ jigging poles to get far out in front of and on the side of my boat to pull a 2-pound plus crappie in without a net.”
Since Phillips fishes with braided line, the least bit of slack in the line may allow the hook to pop out of the crappie’s mouth. So, Phillips like to swing a big crappie (2-1/2-pounds) into the boat rather than use a dip net.