For more and more crappie anglers, summer fishing includes pulling crankbaits. Granted, for the few hardcore crankers, summer comes two to three months into our cranking season.
But regardless of whether you’re new at the cranking-for-crappie game or a seasoned veteran at pulling these hard baits, there are a few rules, tips, patterns and suggestions I’d like to pass along.
First and foremost, you must fish where the fish are. You can absolutely pull the paint off your favorite plastic lures with little to no success if you’re fishing in the wrong places on your favorite summertime lake.
I don’t have the fanciest, latest-greatest electronics on my boat, but my depth finders do show important things like concentrations of shad, the thermocline, drops and ledges, river and creek channels, and underwater structure. Additionally, my Humminbird on the dash has a really good Navionics lake map for every major waterway in Mississippi.
To be productive with any bait or fishing system, you must fish where the fish are — right? To locate summertime crappie, I first look for shad using my electronics. Conditions on the lake, including wind, current and light penetration influence where you find schools of shad.
Thankfully, shad location is pretty predictable on most lakes and reservoirs.
At Ross Barnett, my home lake, summer finds shad in the main lake collect close to or over deep parts of the lake. Yes, there are shad in other areas of Barnett, too, but there are tons of shad right out in the middle of the pond somewhere close to depths of at least 20 feet.
Don’t misunderstand: Shad are not that deep during the summer. In fact, the shad might be suspended from the surface down to the thermocline. The key is to find schools of shad, and then fish on and through these baitfish.
Shad tend to move and live in large schools during the summer. My guess is they herd like this for protection from predation. Safety in large numbers is something they’ve figured out since they became breakfast, lunch and supper for catfish, stripers, bass and crappie.
Here is where the thermocline actually works for you. You need to determine at what depth your lake forms this invisible layer that separates oxygen-rich water from non-oxygen-rich water.
On Barnett, if you’re fishing deeper than 11 to 13 feet in the hot summer, you’re fishing below the shad and the crappie. Bodies of water with current and lots of wind will have much-less-well-defined thermoclines.
A quick check with your fish finder will show you the thermocline. Set the unit on the most sensitive setting it allows; if a pronounced thermocline exists, it will appear as a dark bar across the screen at a specific depth, whatever that might be on your home lake.
Once you’ve determined at what depth the oxygen-rich water (that’s above the thermocline) ends, fish lures that dive no deeper.
Experience tells me that if all you’re catching are lots of little catfish, you’re fishing too deep or in the wrong place. Either change your lures to shallower-running baits or try cranking in your baits about halfway from where they are to the stern of your boat. That should bring your crankbaits up in the water column.
If you are still catching lots of small catfish move, friend. Change locations. Those danged little slimy sons-of-a-gun will aggravate you all day if you don’t try different locations.
Go to the lake with multiple series of crankbaits. I start the morning with at least half my baits running medium depths (from 8 to 10 feet deep) and half that run deeper (11 to 13 feet deep).
I run six to eight lures (until the action gets too heavy) to find a pattern. Then I tend to adjust to whatever depth seems to be producing the most fish. Hopefully, I have to put at least a couple of poles up when the fish really turn on.
Catching multiple fish at one time is not that uncommon on good days. Shoot, I’ve been down to four poles and had difficulty keeping up with the bite.
Boat speed is important whenever you’re pulling crankbaits. In the past, during the hot summer months, I consistently pulled at 1.7 to 1.9 mph. I have a Terrova 101 that has GPS “cruise control” built into the remote. However, in an effort to decrease the drain on my trolling batteries, I’ve slowed down some this summer to 1.4 to 1.6 mph, and the bite seems to be almost as good.
What lures work best? Friend, I won’t lie to you. I have no endorsement deal with any lure company. I buy every lure I use — and, yes, I have my favorites.
My favorite crankbait is the one that catches fish. And, I’ve tried them all, I think. There are so many brands and color patterns to choose from that it can become mind blowing to get a fix on what works best.
Let’s discuss color first.
For most lakes in Mississippi, summer brings clear water for the most part. True, after a hard rain or a windy day your favorite crappie hole might muddy up some. But, for the most part, the spring rains are over and our lakes get almost as clear as they will ever be during the summer.
I believe the water is actually clearer in the fall than the summer, but that’s just me.
In clearer water, white has become a favorite color of mine. Granted, I always doctor my lures up a little. I add red hooks if they don’t come that way. I get the red fingernail polish or red Sharpie out and add a few accents here and there. I also like to use fingernail polish with some glitter in it. My favorite glitter polish has red, gold, and blue glitter in it.
I’ll paint the bills of the crankbaits with this glitter and/or red colors. I’ll spot the backs of the lures with splotches of glitter.
But I’m becoming a bigger fan of blue colors in clear water. Certainly, subtle splotches of chartreuse, blue, red and white, along with a little glitter, seem to make my crankbaits more productive in the summer.
I’m experimenting with unpainted lure bodies this summer. These bulk baits can be bought from several online vendors, and the prices for these plain bodies is less than half the cost of the more-popular ready-to-fish-out-of-the-box lures.
True, I have to add everything from split rings to hooks to color to these lures. It is more work, and I’m not much of an artist. I have no special air brushing equipment, either.
I first take these unpainted lures and add just the back hook. Then I string them up on a line and spray paint them with aerosol white Plasti-Dip. After the white rubberized paint cures, I add the rest of the hardware and paint them using inexpensive fingernail polish.
The verdict is still out for me, but I was looking for a project and something new this summer.
Of the popular “sto-bought” lures, Mississippi-based Bandit Lures are hard to beat anywhere, anytime. Get you some 200 and 300 series Bandits in different colors. You’ll catch ’em as big as they grow if you pull them where the fish are.