Crappie fishing; to most, bring visions of cool spring mornings with fog lingering over the surface of the lake and burning off shortly after rigging a bobber and minnow to cast to the brush pile and wait for the Crappie to find your bait. Classic Crappie fishing to be sure and very effective to say the least, as many of you I am sure, like myself, grew up fishing this way almost exclusively.
In recent years I have come to enjoy a new way, for me at least of chasing crappies. This way is crankbaits! In the fall, where I fish anyway, the shad begin running the shorelines in large schools providing slab crappie some opportunities to fatten up for the winter. It is during this time that I have found that small crankbaits resembling these shad work great at luring those slabs from structure below or just the odd cruiser that tend to just follow the schools of shad.
My favorite crankbait is any that resembles a shad. Smaller crankbaits seem to work best but I have switched to a large crankbait with good results when the shad are running large. Color always comes up in conversations pertaining to crappie. Personally, I use shad color but I do know of some folks who have had great results with crawfish patterns and colors. Chartreuse is another die hard color for crappie and that is no exception when using crankbaits.
When the shad are running the shorelines they tend to run really shallow. This means that big slab crappies, whether lurking in the middle of a tangled brush pile or suspended just off the shoreline waiting to pounce on passing schools of shad, tend to utilize the shoreline as a way to save energy by not having to chase the schools all over open water. I have seen the backs of big crappie as they chase shad in such shallow water. It is these observations that made me stick with a shallow running crankbait. Of course there are exceptions and I know people who have used deep runners very effectively and I have used them when trolling open water for crappies but that is another article for the future.
The most effective way I have found for catching these big and often solitary slabs is to just cover lots of water. Crappie can be had with a bobber and a minnow in the fall and when the shad are shallow but if you want to target the big boys a crankbait rigged on a medium light 7 foot spinning outfit with 6 pound test line is hard to beat. Big slabs are very territorial and while using a bobber and minnow will work fine it will also work on smaller crappie as well and one finds it hard to leave when they are catching fish after fish but once again this method is for big crappie and while crankbaits will catch some small fish it definitely cuts the smaller fish takes way down so that you can focus on the big ones.
You should target any visible structure along the shoreline by tossing your crankbait as close to shore as possible. I usually try to set the back treble up on the bank. Yes that is close but I have found that most of my strikes come on the first twitch of the crankbait within a foot from shore. These crappie that are targeting shallow running shad expect to get a shot at one right up on the bank so that is where you crankbait should be. I fished a huge log last season and caught thirty big crappies but if my crankbait landed just a foot from shore I would not get a strike they all were caught so close to the bank that it did not seem that there was even enough water there to cover their backs. I noticed that the fish were lying below just out of sight and exploded on the crankbait as soon as it moved but if the bait landed a foot or two from the shoreline there was no action. To find thirty big crappie on one brush pile is common in the spring but to find this one in the fall was special. I felt like maybe the fish were not schooled up but just using the shoreline along with the log to trap the shad just long enough to make their move. They were probably following the school of shad down the shoreline and the log was just a good ambush point for me, the angler.
Normally crappie in the fall are solitary creatures and tend to stake out their very own ambush point and are scattered all over the place and that is when covering a lot of water is crucial. The best way to do this is to just cruise the shoreline and cast to every log, stump, rock or stake bed that you see. Let the crankbait float there for several seconds before the first twitch. The first twitch should be just that, a twitch. Let the bait sit there again for a couple seconds then pull the crankbait a couple feet with the rod then reel up slack as the bait is suspended just a few inches below the surface. Many times you will feel the fish as you begin your retrieve as the strike went undetected. A big slab will feel like you hooked a big wet sock at first so be ready and set the hook. Slinging a crankbait for crappie is a lot of fun and very effective too. So if you are looking for new ways to chase your favorite panfish try crankin for crappies on your next trip.