Crappie Weather: Late summer patterns can produce hot fish
September 05, 2023
You know the score. The past three weeks have seen nothing but sweltering 95 degree temperatures with just the occasional thunderstorm to cool things down for the evening. Those thick planks you got back in the spring feel like a distant memory. To make matters worse, recreational boaters whip the surface of your favorite crappie lake into foam, sending the fish into the depths and closing their lips.
Let’s face it, summer crappie can be tough customers. But by learning about the weather patterns that help crappie catch, you can predict their behavior even during the hottest periods of summer. By recognizing these key patterns, you can take advantage of peak feeding times and catch more crappie in your home water.
Run the imaging period
It is certainly no secret that crappie are notorious low-light feeders and routinely feed heavily at night and during the cool hours of dusk and dawn. However, with the help of live sonar imaging, many crappie anglers have forgotten this rule of thumb that has been the standard for board anglers for decades. While the night time has been heralded as the “good time” to drink crappie in the summer, sunsets and sunrises can be just as good, if not better.
During the cooler hours of dusk and dawn, insect activity is high as the lakes calm down from the onslaught of daily leisure activities. Baitfish and minnows are most active in and around shallow bays, grass beds and flats. Naturally, they are often followed by crappie, taking advantage of foraging opportunities that do not exist in these shallow areas during the heat of the day.
During periods of low light, anglers can use kayaks, waders, or even fish from shore as crappie can move at very shallow depths, becoming vulnerable to a variety of baits and lures. At this time a full sized vessel with an outboard motor, sonar and fishing motor is too much for the fearsome fish that can be two or three feet deep. Many bodies of water do not have shad as a forage option to support their crappie populations.
Often, small bluegill and small bass make up a large portion of the crappie’s menu with adult size in the 12 to 14 inch range. By following this trend, you will get good results with smaller crankbaits that mimic these baitfish. Lures like the Rapala Countdown Minnow (CD5 and CD7) are always good bets during low-light outings.
The use of high quality monofilament in our 4lb tests enables longer casts to be cast, thus spooking fewer fish. Sometimes an 8-pound braid is incorporated, which allows for better hooks when using lighter action spinning rods from 7ft to 7ft 6in such as the St. Croix Panfish or the Fenwick Eagle variety. Plated crappie are now moving from depths to shallows, so the Rapala Countdown series allows deeper baits to intercept the fish as it moves up.
Although the evening bite can be good and often matches the work schedules of many anglers, I have found that the early morning hours routinely produce higher numbers and larger fish. This may have been due to the previous several hours of darkness and lower temperatures resulting in water temperatures lower enough to keep them in an active feeding state.
Every body of water is different and has its own characteristics that can lead to a bite in low light. Factors such as permanent nighttime sidewalk lights, shade from the morning sun, or monsoon patterns should not be overlooked. Oncoming 10 mph winds can drive insects, plankton, baitfish and crappie to a very shallow surface, setting up a dynamite feeding spree before dawn or in the evening.
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During most of the summer and early fall, there are times when large coastal systems strike various parts of the southeast and Gulf coasts. This creates long periods of inclement, rainy weather that sweeps inland. Since late summer is the height of hurricane season, this weather phenomenon can be the catalyst for some crazy behavior as crappie sense a dramatic weather event and go into full feeding mode.
I’ve fished for events like this in recent years where a dull, listless bite is activated by an incoming huge storm that has collapsed atmospheric pressure. Most notable was the arrival of Hurricane Isaias in August 2020. This system ventured inland, made landfall in North Carolina, then traveled north, eventually spreading over several days.
However, during that period, rain, cloud cover and wind prevailed for several days across large swathes of the central-southern parts of the country, even before it eventually made landfall. By fishing some of my favorite crappie waters during the “magic time” four to eight hours before the front, I was able to enjoy a great catch.
I started fishing in the middle of the afternoon, which is not traditionally the best time for summer crappie fishing. And while Isaias was still 400 miles to the south, and not even close to land, those high round clouds began to block the sun. As the clouds and winds strengthened over the next several hours, the crappie moved shallow and bombarded the smaller cranks.
I was amazed at how shallow these fish are, when the same areas just an hour earlier were devoid of activity. Crappie up to 14 inches long would hit the bait in as little as 18 inches of water. Sometimes large coastal events push deeper inland and can lead to potentially life-threatening weather.
This is clearly not the time to be in the water for any reason. But when moderate rain, prolonged cloud cover, and winds are predicted, it is always accompanied by a large barometric depression.
It has been my experience that once the atmospheric pressure hits the bottom, the fishing also hits the bottom. Watch for rising water levels and any tidal effects that could lead to flooding. Play it safe by getting outside before major fronts or coastal storm events.
The play After the Storm
With the high temperatures and humidity of the summer, thunderstorms become another key weather scenario for the success of the crappie summer. Unlike larger tropical events, thunderstorms can occur weekly or even daily, bringing low air temperatures and cold precipitation to trickling waters.
Large storms can drop water temperatures in shallow waters by as much as 3 or 4 degrees, which can attract baitfish, minnows and crappie to the shallows from deeper locations during the day. Although thunderstorms can be associated with large fronts from the north and west, they are often caused by localized conditions that create “pop-up” storms that can be difficult for forecasters to predict.
Thunderstorms are of shorter duration than coastal storms, resulting in short but intense periods of rain that can lead to dangerous situations with strong winds and dangerous lightning. But in most circumstances, anglers can fish on either side of a thunderstorm event by tracking the radar with their phones and keeping abreast of any potentially dangerous situations. But with these shorter, more intense storms, crappie tend to feed more heavily after the rain clouds have passed when conditions and safety improve.
Some of the biggest crappie of the year are caught during the post-thunderstorm bite. When crappie likes to burrow deep into weedy areas, they drop caution to take advantage of the heavy rainfall that attracts insects and the activity of minnows in the nearshore areas.
On the fishing fronts, jigs and soft plastics can be just the ticket to success. Straight retrieves using a variety of 2-inch plastics on 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jig heads work well. Soft plastics made of ultra-durable materials are often good choices for trailers because they don’t break down due to overly aggressive crappie. Donkey Tail Jr. by Mule Fishing, Z-Man micro Finesse StingerZ, and Shad FryZ are great options. The durability of these lures will enable you to catch more fish during a frantic, fast-paced bite.
With a 4 lb monofilament, try casting these jigs and counting down to depth. If the bottom is 5 feet deep, start retrieving on the count of three. There are even times when you’ll get an alert before the count is finished. If you like to feel the “big hit”, this is definitely the catch at the time of the hit.
I like to step into the bite of a thunderstorm in areas where I can get out of the storm quickly – places like marina facilities or access points. Once storm clouds have passed and lightning has reached some distance, crappie tend to migrate to the cooler shallow waters to feast. Often, this coincides with the setting in the late evening, as the setting sun further lowers water temperatures and creates ideal conditions for summer crappie.
- Three crankbaits do the trick for summer boards.
Many manufacturers are now producing miniature versions of their popular full size crankbaits that are ideal for crappie.
The Bandit Series 100 ($7.79; lurenet.com) is a 2-inch and a quarter-ounce crankbait with a long, spoon-shaped bill that gives summerboards a deep-water option when fish are moving in and out of shallow water. The bait digs 8 to 12 feet and accurately replicates the smaller shad species often run on the crappie tank throughout the summer months.
A true “mini crankbait,” the Strike King Bitsy Pond Minnow ($4.79; Strikeking.com) has been a lightweight fan’s standard for many years. Measuring just 1 1/2 inches and weighing as little as 3/32 of an ounce, it mimics the smallest of foragers and catches narrow-lipped fish when other lures won’t.
This 1/5 ounce Rebel Wee Crawfish is a true representation of a reptile. Its small shape and aggressive wobble create noise in the water, which attracts fish to it. The sinker’s lip is held in such a way that the bait escapes while being retrieved, which enhances its ability to attract fish. Dives to depths of 5 to 7 feet, making it great for deep water applications. ($6.38; lurenet.com)