Disappearing Act: Finding Post-Spawn Crappies
By Rod Woten
It absolutely boggles my mind! How can the same crappies that were so bunched up and easy to catch during the spawn be so scattered and elusive after the spawn? How can they just disappear? It’s not like they grew legs and walked to another lake. They’re in there somewhere. Right? It’s just another typical year in the life of a crappie. Crappies can be challenging enough to catch after the spawn that many anglers hang up their crappie tackle until next year’s spawn. In fact, for many anglers the crappie spawn constitutes the ENTIRE crappie “season” for them. While I’ll admit that crappie fishing doesn’t get much better than it typically is during the spawn, that doesn’t mean that post-spawn crappie fishing can’t be fun and productive for you as well.
A big reason why many crappie fisherman struggle after the spawn is because they’re not willing to switch tactics after the spawn concludes. The days of pitching jigs in shallow water or working a fixed float with a jig or minnow on a hook below it and being productive are few and far between after the crappies leave the shallow water as the spawn ends. Post-spawn is the time for slip bobbers in deep water and trolling the main basin of the lake. When the spawn ends most crappies will begin a gradual migration to the waters of the main basin where they will spend a good part of the summer suspended. Our job, as post-spawn crappie anglers, is to figure out exactly where the crappies are at during the journey at any given time.
Get My Drift?
Because post-spawn crappies are spread out and in deeper water, covering water is the name of the game. One of the best ways to do this is by trolling or drifting. Drifting is one of my favorite techniques, because it is relatively quiet and puts less pressure on the fish. The biggest drawback to drifting is that it is not very effective on days with little or no wind. On those days, I will often rely on trolling instead, but whenever possible I prefer to drift. By using the trolling motor or the main motor, I position the boat on the upwind side of the section of lake I want to fish, deploy my baits or lures and let the wind push me across the area I want to fish. On days with excessive wind, I can slow the drift of my boat with a drift sock. Yes, it really is that simple, but it is also amazingly effective.
Rigs for Crappie
One of my favorite rigs for drifting, and trolling as well, is a spider rig. This technique is called a spider rig because the spread of long rods projecting from the bow of the boat resembles the legs of a spider. Spider rigging is especially effective in states where anglers are allowed 2 or more rods each. In Iowa, historically, each angler is only allowed 2 rods, but Iowa anglers may now purchase a license for a 3rd line, which greatly enhances our ability to spider rig. With 2 anglers in the bow of the boat, it is possible to now run 6 rods, which greatly increases the amount of water covered, the range of depths probed and the styles and colors of baits used. Typical baits for spider rigging are jig and grub or jig and minnow, but I have also had lots of luck using mini-crankbaits in my spider rigs as well.
On days when I don’t have a second angler in the boat with me, I can still have a rod over each side of the boat and drift with a plain old crappie rig. Yup, that same old coil of monofilament and wire that you can get at your local outdoor store for dirt cheap is a pretty effective crappie catching tool. They’ve been around forever, but that’s because they work.
I like to put a big enough weight at the bottom to keep my line hanging vertically as I drift. This means the faster you drift, the heavier the weight will have to be. I will run one crappie rig as close to the bottom as possible and the other rig about halfway up the water column. As I start to consistently pick up fish at a certain dept, I will set both rigs at that depth and keep them there until the bite slows. Crappie rigs typically come pre-rigged with an Aberdeen hook on each leg, so I will typically hook a minnow through the head on each hook so that it rides upright in the water much as it would naturally swim. Keeping the line taut and vertical also allows for excellent bite detection, and often no hookset is required; simply lift the rod and swing the fish into the boat.
Crappies on Structure
Post-spawn crappies are still as drawn to cover as spawning crappies are, except the structure that post-spawn crappies relate to is much deeper. Things like points, breaks and submerged timber or stumps are all worthy of a look when seeking out those post-spawn fish. As the fish transition to their mid-summer locations, they will utilize exactly these kinds of structure along the way. Often times, in the case of stump fields, breaks, points and even sunken brush piles, I can drift over them and pick fish off. If I find a significant concentration of fish, I will then anchor up and fish that structure with slip bobbers and or jigs fished vertically.
Can’t Catch ‘em From The Couch!
Regardless of what tactics you employ, you won’t catch a single post-spawn crappie if you don’t get out on the water and chase them. Don’t let the fact that they are no longer shallow and concentrated discourage you from searching for them. Covering water is the name of the game, so techniques like drifting or trolling spider rigs and crappie rigs will greatly increase your chances of connecting with fish. You don’t need a big fancy boat either, because drifting lends itself to canoe or kayak fishing very handily. We know where the crappies WERE and we know where they’re GOING, so we just have to figure out exactly where they are between point A and point B. Now get out there and find ‘em!