Live minnows and jigs are far and away the most popular enticements for crappie, and it's a rare occasion when you'll see a died-in-the-wool crappier using a bait or lure other than these. Crappie fishermen, like all sorts of people, are inclined to stick with the tried-and-true. And when it comes to crappie catchers, there's nothing as tried-and-true as jigs and minnows.
I'd be the last one to suggest you quit fishing with jigs and minnows. But if you're innovative and experimental, if you like to try new tackle and tactics that produce big slabs, allow me to suggest you try spinnerbaits for crappie. When properly presented, spinners are irresistible to these feisty panfish. Tie one on and you'll not only spice up your fishing fun, chances are you'll catch more and bigger fish.
Many times I've been caught unaware when a crappie launched a surprise attack on a spinnerbait, and over the years I've met several anglers who tie on spinnerbaits specifically for big crappie in downed timber and flooded brush. Now, spinners are a regular part of my own crappie fishing arsenal. I especially like using them during the pre-spawn and spawning periods when male crappie are migrating from deep to shallow water. These fish are very aggressive and will attack almost anything that's flashy at that time. Spinnerbaits seem to grab their attention, especially in turbid water created by late winter/early spring run-off and rain.
Spinners imitate the crappie's favorite food: minnows. They have vibration, flash and motion, all of which attract a crappie's attention.
The vibration factor has great significance, especially in muddy water and after dark. Water is a positive conductor of sound waves, and although the "ears" of a fish don't function in the same fashion as ours, crappie are very sensitive to vibrations and underwater noises. When water is murky or dark, sight feeding is hindered and crappie are more likely to strike a flashy lure that sends out lots of vibrations. Spinners do just that.
Spinners also allow the angler to fish a greater area of water than can be done with jigs or minnows. This is especially significant when crappie are difficult to locate. The fisherman can tie on a spinner, cast it to a likely looking spot, make a quick retrieve, and if a fish isn't caught, he can make another quick cast and retrieve in another spot. Jigs and minnows are more suited to a slow or stationary presentation and thus are less useful when trying to pinpoint crappie concentrations.
Finally, since spinners are usually a little heavier than most other crappie baits, they can be cast farther with ultralight tackle. This allows you to stay clear of the areas you're fishing, an especially important quality when fishing clear waters where crappie are apt to be easily spooked.
Several types of spinnerbaits can be used for crappie fishing. My personal favorite is a safety-pin spinner clipped on a regular jig. The "spinner" part of this lure consists of a V-shaped wire frame. At the point of the V is a small loop where you tie your fishing line. A small spinner blade is attached to the end of one arm with a swivel. At the end of the other arm is a small open-and-close clip to which you attach a jig or rubber grub. Perhaps the best-known version of this lure is the Johnson Beetle Spin.
Safety-pin spinners can cover a lot of territory when cast with ultralight gear, and they not only catch crappie, but an enormous variety of other sport fish as well. If you're not sure what type structure is beneath the water you're fishing, or if you're trying to figure out where crappie are located, take a little spinner like this and fan cast in a big circle to find fish. As you reel the spinner in, work it over, through and beside woody cover and other crappie hideouts.
Another nice thing about these lures is the fact that it doesn't take a lot of expertise to use them. Fishing tiny jigs on a long jigging pole requires a great deal of finesse and patience. Without these virtues, your lure will catch more snags than fish. Safety-pin spinners, on the other hand, are relatively weedless. A youngster or inexperienced angler with some casting experience can fish with them right off the bat.
The secret of fishing a safety-pin spinner is retrieving the lure as slowly as possible and running it close to the fish. When fishing shallow brush, blowdowns, weeds and other visible cover, cast beyond the cover and bring the lure through or alongside it. It pays to live dangerously and to bump the cover now and then with the lure, as this seems to excite crappie into biting.
You're going to get hung up some, but that's part of crappie fishing anyway. If the jig or grub clipped to your spinner isn't producing, remove it and clip on a lure of different size or color. Some anglers even clip on flies like those used to catch trout, and under the right circumstances (during a spring mayfly hatch, for example), a spinner-and-fly combination can be an extremely effective crappie-catcher.
Horsehead spinners like the Blakemore Road Runner have been popular crappie lures for decades. These little jewels are very similar to regular leadhead jigs but have a tiny spinner attached to the head. The marabou skirt model has sold in the millions, and the Turbo Tail with a soft plastic body has become a favorite, too. Both are dynamite crappie baits throughout the year.
Horsehead spinners are excellent for fishing points. Points are excellent crappie hot spots year-round, because they serve as a pathway for fish moving back and forth between shallow and deep water. By working a point methodically from shallow to deep water, you should be able to determine the day's depth pattern and use it to help locate crappies on other points or structural features.
Retrieve the spinner with an up and down "yo-yo" motion, or buzz it along the surface and allow it to fall or "die" right beside fish-concentrating structure — stumps, fallen and standing timber, rocks, man-made brushpiles and the like. You can either position your boat in deep water and cast toward the shallow part of the point, or vice versa. If most crappie are caught around features at the point's upper end, then concentrate on shallow features when you move to other areas. Likewise, if crappie seem to be favoring deeper areas on the point, you should continue fishing deep-water structure until you notice a shift in the pattern.
In-line (Weighted) Spinners
A number of in-line, or weighted, spinners are also effective artificials for crappie. These are spinnerbaits constructed so the spinner blade revolves around a wire lure shaft rather that at the end of the shaft. Below the blade is a fairly heavy, metal body that can be almost any size, shape or color. Some noteworthy examples include the Mepps Aglia, the Panther Martin Spinner, Worden's Rooster Tail and the Luhr Jensen Shyster, all of which I've used to catch numerous crappie.
Because they're usually fitted with a small treble hook, in-line spinners are easily snagged when fishing brushy cover. To avoid this problem, concentrate on open-water structures — bridge pilings, riprap, rock outcroppings, boat docks, underwater points, submerged humps, etc. — where crappie are likely to be holding. In-lines can also be effectively fished along the edge of cover. Cast and retrieve along the edges of thickets, man-made fish attractors, weedbeds and other likely hideouts, avoiding the tangles within the structure.
Some anglers like to troll with in-line spinners, but if the troll is too fast, these lures are inclined to spin and thus twist the line. A better tactic is to drift-fish with a light breeze that moves your boat slowly across the lake, or to use an electric motor to maintain an ideal speed. Movement should be just fast enough to turn the blade on the lure. Too fast and the lure "rides up" and twists your line. Too slow and the blade doesn't spin, rendering the lure ineffective. Done properly, this is an excellent technique for catching crappie suspended over inundated creek and river channels.
When it comes to selecting crappie baits, many anglers are like the folks in those old Tareyton commercials: They'd rather fight than switch. It's got to be jigs or minnows or nothing.
But if you're like me, if you sometimes get a hankering for a change of pace, if dabbling minnows and twitching jigs gets a little boring now and then, remember: jigs and minnows aren't the only good crappie-catchers around. Spinners are also part of the crappie buffet, and if you serve them up right, they can be every bit as effective as the old reliables.