Night Fishing for Crappie: Expert Tips from an Experienced Slab Hunter
Night fishing is one of the best methods to fill a life well full of crappie.
It works like this: You need to put out lots of light. This will attract bugs. In turn, minnows and other small forage fish attract them. The crappie then attracts them. It works in this way as long as you’re in the right place. This isn’t a secret to crappie fishing, but a tried-and-true method that is used in most lakes and reservoirs.
To maximize your success, there are many things you need to know.
The time of the year is one of these things. This technique is best used in summer when the water temperature at night is cooler. Large numbers of hungry crappies will head higher up the water column to seek out easy meals.
Excessive heat has driven hungry crappies below the oxygen-rich and prey-rich epilimnion. They wait until sundown to get up and feed.
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Night fishing for crappie: Some things to consider
- Place your fishing platform. It is better to keep your boat right where it is needed than to troll.
- As much light as possible
- Make sure you have the right equipment
- The right bait is essential for crappie fishing. Minnows are a popular choice.
- Choose an area with deep water or one that has a steep slope to deepwater.
- Learn how to use slip bobbers and rod holders for multiple rods and poles.
- Follow all local regulations.
Stable fishing platform
An active school is not going to let a fixed fishing platform drift from it.
Anchors, power poles, and something to tie offered is essential if you want your place to be permanent.
A trolling motor is a good choice, but it can also be noisy enough to spook fish.
Turn on the lights
You want big, bright, powerful lights.
There are many options: from battery-powered lights that can be mounted to the boat to lights that can be hung below the water surface to generator-powered lights of different types.
The 48-inch shop lights on both sides of the boat are one of the best rigs. There are also a few outdoor lights fore & aft.
This photo shows an example:
This photo shows the rig with all temporary lighting hung on the rails of the boat.
Many pontoon boats can be found on Florida’s crappie waters, such as Lake Okeechobee. But before you dismiss this, remember that a pontoon boat is also great for crappie fishing in non-tournament circumstances.
Brad Wiegmann explained that pontoon boats are viewed by anglers as being a boat for weekend crappie fishermen. They have astroturf floors and cookie holders rigged on the railings. These are correct when it comes to fishing from pontoons for crappie tournaments, where speed and distance play a major role in tournament success. However, they cannot be ignored when it is time to crappie fishing for enjoyment. Many successful crappie guides charter groups to fish from pontoons due to the many benefits of doing so.
As you can see, V-bottom boats are also able to get in on this game.
A good basic gear list includes:
- Multiple anchors
- a depth finder/fish finder
- Trolling motor
- A Livewell or an ice chest
- Minnow buckets with aerators
- Rod holders
- Generator if required for lights
- A measuring stick or board
- Fishing requires a lot of rods and/or fishing poles. Are you lacking one? You don’t have any?
- Good fishing reels
- A good headlamp (optional, but nice to have)
Live minnows are the best choice for bait at night. To ensure good oxygen uptake, use an aerated bucket with minnows and drop in a small container of frozen water.
This keeps minnows happy and healthy for a longer time.
Pay attention to how big the minnows prefer. This can change rapidly and is often determined by the size of natural forage minnows, or shad attracted towards the lights.
Find the perfect spot
The real problem is where to put it all together!
Night fishing with lights is not recommended during the spawn unless you’re there just before they start to prepare for their move inshore.
We mentioned that higher water temperatures push crappie towards the “middle”, where they’ll be found suspended at 12-15 feet or keyed into a structure like a steep underwater slope, from shallow to deep.
The possibility of finding them is increased by the proximity to marshy and shallow areas.
One good spot to look in large reservoirs is the area where the flooded river has left a vertical wall that rises above the water as a cliff. Each end of a vertical wall is best. In some cases, a unique feature may be found along the cliff face that will house a school. It could be a fallen tree, or a rock sticking out from the wall.
Another potential spot is visible clefts in a wall or other steep submerged features.
Old flooded creeks that enter the main lake are another great location. Look out for steep slopes under the water, especially in areas that are marshy or have large shallow areas that serve as a holding area.
Slowly move over the area to find the best spots during daylight. Then, check your fish finder for sunken trees, schools, or other indicators of larger fish. Drop a line with a minnow, a jig, or a worm to see if any crappie is around.
Catch one if you can and bring it back tonight so that you have enough water for the next day.
Use rod holders and slip floats
There are many rod holders available on the market. They all work pretty much the same way, but it is good to have a few tips for using them with crappie.
Slip bobbers are used in a way that I open the bail whenever I see the bobber drop. I then lift the rod from the holder and reel it down to remove any lack. This allows the fish to feel no pressure and will not spit out the minnows before you set it.
Remember that crappie hunt prey from the bottom, so you need to keep your distance from any school you find on your electronics.
Measure your line carefully and place the slip float so that it will keep the minnow at least a foot above the crappie.
Follow the rules and regulations of your state
One word about regulations.
This is a Florida Game Warden that measured two crappies that a friend of mine caught on a night fishing expedition.
He also brought his fishing lights and received a warning. He was allowed to keep 29 legal crappies.
If your fishing lights become so bright, you are breaking the rules that they obscure your red-green running lights.
Lastly, there are some restrictions on how many poles can be used at once in certain states. Make sure to check the local regulations before you get out on the water.