Summer Crappies on Natural Lakes
By Darl Black
Summer time and crappie fishing is easy…if you are fishing a northern natural lake!
With summer in full bloom, you’ll most likely find me chasing black crappies on a natural lake in Pennsylvania or the western panhandle of New York. And I’ll be within casting distance of the deep weedline all the time!
Although natural lakes in other northern regions may differ somewhat in makeup from the lakes I regularly fish, if the other lakes have good weed growth and a black crappie population, then I’m confident crappies follow the same summer pattern.
Crappies in northern natural lakes that I fish remain close to the deep weeds all summer. The weed edge may be on a shoreline-associated flat or on an offshore hump. The point is this: natural lake crappies do not migrate to creek channel ledges, stump fields or brushpiles on deep flats. The explanation is simple – these structures do not exist on natural lakes!
Northern natural lakes were created by retreating glaciers, not the result of man damming a creek or river.
To what depth the vegetation grows depends on water clarity. For the most part, natural lakes offer clearer water than impounded reservoirs that may exist in the same general area. In very clear water, the weedline may be nearly 20 feet deep. However, growth closer to 12 is more common.
Occasionally a small natural lake may feature water with a slight algae bloom stain or a darker tannic color. Here the outside weedline may be as shallow as 6 feet.
On most natural lakes there will be a fairly defined inside weedline, leaving a band of sand or small pebbles between the weedbed and the shoreline. In softer bottom shoreline areas, pad style vegetation or reeds may be found growing in the margin. Crappies usually establish bedding areas along the inside fringe of the weedline, in the pads or reed beds. However, it is the outside weedline edge which serves as the pivot point for crappies during the summer.
Submersed weed species will vary from area to area, but typically include a combination of native milfoil, coontail, cabbage (type of pondweed) and eel grass. But the exact species really does not matter. Rather, it is how the outside weed edge grows.
Generally, the more attractive areas for crappies are sections where the weed edge is less defined. Flatter slopes with sporadic weed clumps usually hold more crappies than a weed section with an abrupt edge. Now that’s not to say crappies absolutely avoid sharply defined weed walls. There may be other factors which draw them to a particular site.
With sparse weed clumps, broken pieces of weed and multiple small fish marks of right on the edge, a sonar signal is messy. Unless a group of crappies move into open water adjacent the weedline (which they sometimes do), it is difficult to identify them with electronics.
The most practical way to locate crappies is to tie on a favorite crappie jig and begin working sections of the deep weedline by casting parallel to the weeds until contact is made. Once contact is made, remember the spot and move on. You need to find multiple groups of crappies along the lake’s weedline.
Unlike large schools of crappies often found on ledges in southern impoundments, crappies in natural lakes tend to be in small groups. If you continually harvest fish from one area time after time, you can impact the population. If keeping fish, a good practice is take no more than half a dozen from one area and then move on.
In addition, strong winds from a particular direction may prevent you from fishing a certain area of the lake. Therefore, look for different crappie groups on all sections of the lake in order to have backup spots.
About 95% of the time, my lure selection will be a 1.5 to 2.5 inch soft plastic action-tail body on a 1/32 to 1/8-ounce jighead. Permit me to provide some details.
On any given day, crappies may be positioned over the top of the submerged weeds, within the fringe weeds (high or low), or suspended slightly outside the weedline. Presence of minnow schools, strength of the wind and atmospheric pressure all play a part in positioning of crappies.
My favorite all around summer bait is the two-inch Bobby Garland Swimming Minnow on a 1/16-ounce Road Runner head. This is my go-to-bait for searching for active crappies. If I must slow the retrieve down to a crawl in order to get bites, I’ll switch to a Baby Shad Swim’R on a Mo’Glo head.
On calm mornings, crappies may be found chasing small minnows in the margin between the surface and the tops of the weeds. Given this situation I choose a 1/32 head with a Bobby Garland Baby Shad in Double Rainbow Glitter or Monkey Milk. Retrieve it fast enough to keep it from sinking into the weed mass, imparting an occasional twitch to the bait. Or use a clip-on bobber to provide casting weight and improved presentation above the weeds.
When crappies settle further down the water column within the fringe vegetation, it is time for a 1/16 or 1/8-ounce Charlie Brewer Crappie Slider Grub rigged weedless on a Crappie Slider head. Count it down and retrieve very slowly, but steadily. To offer a larger profile, I will substitute a 3” small worm on the Slider Head.
Under a good surface chop, crappies occasionally corral a school of baitfish just outside the weed edge, forcing their prey to the surface just like bass do. With active, chasing crappies, a faster retrieve can be employed. I’ll go with a 1/8-ounce Road Runner head with a large profile action-tail body – either a Mr. Crappie Slabalicious Grub or 2.5 inch Brewer Crappie Slider Minnow.
One final presentation is reserved for severe summer cold fronts that drive crappies out of the weed fringe to slightly deeper water where they suspend until a change in atmospheric pressure triggers a return to the weedbed. Here is where electronics can be useful in locating them.
But getting them to bite is difficult. For this low percentage bite, I’ll borrow a technique from crappie-fishing buddy Bryan Stuyvesant – slip bobber and live minnow. The minnow is usually suspended 10 to 14 feet below the bobber, depending on the depth of the suspected crappies. Medium-size fathead minnows will be the bait of choice. Be sure to have a quality aerated minnow bucket to keep bait lively.
NOW is the time to focus on northern natural lakes for exciting summer action! Go Fish!