To catch the most and biggest crappie in any lake or river that you fish, fish when and where most crappie anglers don’t fish and use tactics that others rarely use. Using his own late summer crappie fishing tactics, Jonathan Phillips of Wetumpka, Alabama, catches big slab crappie all summer long.
“The hotter the weather, the easier the crappie are for me to find and catch,” Phillips says. “I guide on Lake Jordan – on the Coosa River chain – and the Alabama River, as well as fish crappie tournaments. During the summer months, crappie are very predictable. I search for brush, logs, and stumps on main river channels that provide shade and cooler water. I usually catch crappie in water from 12-24 feet deep.
“I’ll sink structure for late summer crappie fishing but mostly in Lake Jordan rather than the Alabama River, because river currents may wash my stake beds away. I concentrate on sinking structure in underwater trees on the bottom, logjams and other types of cover on the edges of river channels.”
Phillips has discovered a pattern that pays off in plenty of impressive-size crappie during the hottest months. You can use this same strategy on any lake with slightly-stained, deep water throughout the state.
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Using the Right Crappie Equipment
Phillips has learned that during the summer, the crappie will relate to structure – drop-offs, humps, deep stumps and deep, underwater trees – that you can’t spot without a quality depth finder.
“I like a Humminbird Helix 10 HD side scanning and down scanning depth finder because I catch crappie with it,” Phillips emphasizes. “When I get over structure or a drop-off, I can tell the difference between crappie that resemble little leaves and other kinds of fish. I can’t always catch the crappie I spot, however, I know I’m fishing where the crappie are.”
Because Phillips fishes well offshore in the main lake on the main part of the river, he frequently has jet skiers, water skiers and pleasure boat riders create waves where he’s fishing. “So, instead of using multiple poles and spider rigging, I’ll fish with a single pole with either a double or a single minnow rig straight down to where I’ve located the crappie with my depth finder.”
Phillips generally tight lines with live minnows while late summer crappie fishing but does fish larger-profile jigs than in the fall and spring.
“I like larger baits in the summer, due to the size of the shad that just have spawned in the spring being fairly large – about 3 inches,” Phillips emphasizes. “I want minnows and jigs that size or somewhat bigger. I prefer to mix the sizes of minnows I take with me to fish. Aggressive crappie seem to prefer medium-to-large-sized minnows this month.”
To catch crappie on minnows, you must keep your minnows alive and lively. Phillips uses an Engel cooler to keep his minnows alive. However, any cooler with a battery-powered aerator feeding air into the cooler works. Phillips recommends you keep the minnows cool with ice that you treat with Better Bait to rid the water of chlorine and the minnows of their ammonia problem.
Phillips attempts to fish right on top of the spot where he pinpoints the crappie. The post-spawn is over, and the crappie are schooling up and feeding in cover. Phillips wants to put baits right in front of the crappie’s noses. So, the amount of weight he fishes depends on the depth and current – but his favorite is 1/2-ounce. With a reasonable current, he’ll use a 3/4-ounce weight. If the current’s stronger, he’ll fish a 1-ounce weight.
“I prefer 8-pound-test Hi-Vis for my main line that I put a slip sinker on before tying on a barrel swivel,” Phillips reports. “On the other end of the line, I’ll tie 18 inches of 6-pound-test leader line and then attach a #1 wire crappie hook at its end. I don’t lose nearly as many crappie on a #1 hook as I do on a #2 or smaller hook.”
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Finding Crappie Before You Fish
Before Phillips starts fishing, he marks the spot where he’s seen the crappie on his depth finder with a buoy. If he doesn’t have any wind on the day he’s fishing, he drops the buoy right in the middle of the structure he’s fishing. If the wind’s blowing hard, he’ll drop his buoy 5-feet upwind of the structure and the crappie to keep his boat from blowing into the buoy and spooking the crappie.
To fish very-thick cover, you’ll catch more crappie and re-tie less often using a single-hook rig that Phillips has described earlier. However, on overcast days or rainy days, the crappie often will pull out of that thick cover and hold off to the side or above the cover. Then a double-minnow rig works well.
Phillips also uses maps like Navionics and Humminbird’s LakeMaster. While mid- to late summer crappie fishing, Phillips searches for contour changes on the bottom – particularly humps about 14-feet deep out in the middle of a river that drops-off to 30-40 feet. Phillips uses his depth finder to scan all the way around a hump to know where the crappie are ganged-up.
On cloudy summertime days, Phillips may pinpoint crappie concentrating just above the hump. A bluebird day with bright, hot sun often means the crappie will be on the hump’s shady side. The hump’s west side may hold crappie early in the morning, since the sun rises in the east, with the hump’s east side more productive in the afternoons.
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Jigging for Crappie
To vertical jig for summertime crappie, Phillips fishes a chartreuse-colored jig or a jig with a chartreuse tail. He generally doesn’t tip his jig with minnows in the summer, although you can.
“If I’m vertical jigging, I like Slabslobber a fish attractant that I believe causes the crappie to hold onto the bait longer,” Phillips emphasizes. “When a crappie takes a jig, if you don’t set the hook immediately, it’ll spit that jig out within 2 seconds. When I’m fishing with jigs, I definitely believe Slabslobber helps me catch more crappie.”
Catching What Kind and How Many Summer Crappie
More than likely, the crappie you catch in the summertime won’t average weighing as much as the crappie you catch in the spring and fall. However, you’ll still catch some fine summer crappie. In Alabama, an angler can catch and keep 30 crappie per day. Phillips says he’s caught and released 100 crappie before during a summer day, only keeping the biggest. The best summertime bite generally occurs from just before daylight until 10:00 am and then again from 4:00 pm until dark, although you can fish the entire day if you prefer.
A problem you’ll often encounter after early morning is the boat traffic – generally the heaviest from about 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. The middle of the day is when the most boats, skiers and jet skiers are out on the water. If you’ll fish in the middle of the week too instead of on weekends, you’ll often catch more crappie, since fewer pleasure boaters tend to be on the water then.
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Knowing How Often to Fish a Productive Spot
Phillips scouts for crappie often to have numerous places to take a party for some late summer crappie fishing. However, he mentions he can return to these same crappie hot spots just about every day and catch crappie off the same sites he has previously. When you’re fishing a main river channel, crappie are moving in and out of heavy brush all day. The good spots he finds during late summer crappie fishing trips will replenish themselves just about every day.
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Changing Bad Fishing into Good Fishing
On a non-productive summer’s day, Phillips looks at lake and river maps and attempts to pinpoint structure, bottom drop-offs and/or a humps different from the bottom around it.
“Often a sharp bottom break or rise may concentrate crappie,” Phillips reports. “I check them out and fish a foot or two above the crappie.”
Summer crappie fishing in deep water during the summer months is much like picking cotton. You need to start at the top of the school and catch as many crappie as possible. Then move deeper into the cover or the ledge, and catch the center of the crappie school to keep from spooking other crappie.
“If I have to fish the heart of brush for crappie, I prefer a single hook, which is easier to get out of brush,” Phillips says. “I like to have two poles rigged – one with a single hook and the other with a double-hook – catching the easy crappie with the double hook rig and using the single hook to go into the brush.”
Phillips usually has 50-100 different locations identified where he’s caught crappie before a trip. “I never try to catch all the crappie on any location. I believe crappie attract other crappie.”
The summer crappie Phillips catches are usually old and big crappie – generally weighing 1-1/4- to 2 pounds each.
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Enjoying a Half Day of Hot Weather Crappie Fishing
I did some late summer crappie fishing with Phillips and his friend Anthony Milner last summer and was blown away at the size and the numbers of crappie we caught on a half-day fishing trip. Once Phillips found crappie, he dropped a buoy right on top of the school. When I asked if he wasn’t afraid he’d spook crappie with the buoy, he answered, “No. When the lead on the buoy bottom falls 14-20 feet, it’s not going fast when it hits the bottom and doesn’t seem to spook the fish. Generally, the crappie are suspended up from the bottom. However, with a high sky, bright sun and deep fish, if your bait’s 5 feet away from the school, you won’t catch the crappie. I want my bait to be right above the school with a minnow dancing on it.”
Call Jonathan Phillips at 334-391-9735, or check him out on Facebook.
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Jonathan Phillips’ Tackle for Summer Crappie
* Line and Sinker – Phillips likes 8-pound test SpiderWire Invisi-Braid, when summer crappie fishing, due to the heavier boat wakes. Phillips feels his bites better with that thin, small braided line than with monofilament and uses a lighter hook set than when fishing shallower water with monofilament that stretches. Phillips likes a 1/2-ounce sinker on the bottom of his line to get the bait down to the depth of water where the crappie are and to knock the hook out of any type of wood structure.
* Poles – Phillips prefers ACC Crappie Stix poles, made in Illinois by Andy Lehman. “I use the jigging poles designed to hold in your hand,” Phillips says. “Fishermen may get 30 to 100 bites but not be able to feel many of them. I like the strong 10’ and the 11’ jigging poles to get far out in front of and on the side of my boat to pull a 2-pound-plus crappie in without a net.”
Since Phillips fishes with braided line, the least bit of slack in the line may allow the hook to pop out of the crappie’s mouth. So, Phillips likes to swing a big crappie (2-1/2-pounds) into the boat rather than use a dip net.
Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics – Creating Crappie Habitat
Crappie fishermen and crappie guides who catch limits of crappie each time they fish for them create habitat for crappie in a wide variety of places to have productive places to fish under different wind and weather conditions and times of the year, nit just for summer crappie fishing.
“I use small cardboard boxes and cane to create crappie hot spots,” Jonathan Phillips explains. “I can take 8-10 of these easy-to-build and inexpensive crappie habitats and sink them in various locations every time I fish. The concrete in the boxes holds the habitat in place on the bottom, and the cane provides structure where the crappie can hold. Because that cane has no limbs, I can drop jigs and minnows into the center of the cane and around its edges without getting hung. Even in flood-water conditions, these habitats rarely get washed away.
“Once I sink the boxes with concrete I mark the spot as a waypoint on my GPS. Depending on what depth of water the crappie are holding in and at about any time of the year, I’ll generally have several crappie attractors in that depth of water in several regions of the lake or the river I’m fishing.”
This article first appeared in the August 2018 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.
If you enjoyed learning some of these Late Summer Crappie Fishing Tactics, check out my E-Book, the Master’s Secrets of Crappie Fishing, Tactics to Catch Crappie Year Round. Just click the book image above or HERE to check it out on Amazon.