Cajuns call the fish “sac au lait,” literally “sack of milk,” for reasons that amount to “who cares.”
It may be because the crappie offers resistance like a sack of milk or because its light color reminds grit-heavy anglers of milk, but whatever the origin, Missouri anglers cherish the fish perhaps beyond all others.
Most of that reverence is not because the crappie puts up a grueling fight, but because, reduced to skillet, it is as good as fish get. “Papermouth” is another slur, because a crappie is tender-lipped and you don’t sock the hook to it as if you were hooking a tarpon. Crappies call for finesse and tender-loving angling.
Crappies move into shallow water looking for spawning places from mid-March through May. The exact timing depends on water temperature. They spawn when the temperature is between 55- and 70 degrees. Look for brushy areas in protected coves with fine gravel or light vegetation on the bottom. Spawning depth varies with water clarity (clearer water, deeper spawning).
To find the right depth, lower a white lure until it is barely visible. Fish up to twice that depth. Fish close to shore and if you’re catching males, cast out the other side of the boat (or farther out if you’re fishing from shore) — larger females will lurk outside the males-only area.
An old trick to try is use a dropper line to attach a second or even third hook (where legal). Try two different lures and switch to the one that works best. About half a crappie’s diet is small fish, so any lure that imitates a minnow is a crappie lure. Jigs are the most popular because they not only imitate minnows, but also aquatic insects and crayfish as well. A 1/64-ounce jig with a white chenille body and a shocking pink head can be deadly.
Try Jigs, Spinners, Minnows
If you’re not into hot pink, try a yellow jig in clear water and a white one in murky water. Small spinners also can work minnow-magic on crappies. Live minnows are the choice of many for fishing with a bobber. Rather than casting, you can vertical jig in a brushy area, but buy jigs by the dozen because you’ll lose them in the brush.
An ultralight spinning rig is ideal to use. Cast and let the jig sink to the desired depth and then retrieve slowly with twitches to give the jig action. A strike can be light so if there’s a hitch or slight tug, set the hook gently.
In summer, crappies often hang around bridge pilings, usually 10- to 15 feet deep. Cast beyond the piling and let the jig or minnow drift past the fish, or fasten a bobber and let wave action tickle the bait. Summer fishing is tough, but an old trick is to find a brushy area and fish at night by the light of a lantern. Hang the lantern away from the boat (perhaps on a pole or from a tree limb. Back off and fish with minnows in the cone of the light. The light attracts insects, which attract minnows, which attract crappies.
If you’re catching only small fish within a few feet of the surface, go deeper, say 10- to 15 feet, and see if you don’t start catching larger fish. Check with resort owners to see if there aren’t created brush piles (sunken Christmas trees are a favorite artificial brush pile). Many resorts and fish managers wire trees to a concrete block and sink them to attract crappies and the anglers who fish for them. There may even be maps showing the location of such artificial fish attractors.
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