A Humminbird sonar-inspired presentation change for consistent late summer crappie
In recent weeks, my boat has enjoyed a very consistent bite for slab summer crappie, with most fish running between 10-12" and fish in the 13-14" class on nearly every trip. As I have mentioned in other crappie articles, our primary presentation has been to cast 1/32 or 1/16 oz VMC Hot Skirt jigs tipped with the rear half of a Trigger X 3" walleye minnow. On most trips, we spot hop, picking off the active fish from a school before moving on to find another active group. However, on a recent trip, I decided to stay with a school once the active fish had been depleted. Where had they gone (if anywhere)? Could they still be taken once the volunteers had disappeared? Our results indicate that the fish do move, and that a presentation change can indeed make these less active fish very catchable!
Professional Walleye Angler
To understand the changes that occur once the active fish are removed from a school, consider what typically occurs when I encounter a school of fish. I am generally casting to shoreline rocks that drop relatively quickly into 8-12 fow. The first few fish are often taken right along shore, as they forage in the nooks and crannies for small baitfish and invertebrates. With time, the best bite transitions to the base of the shoreline rip-rap, typically 10-15 feet from shore. Once this near-shore bite fizzles, I typically start hunting for a new school....except on this particular trip. Rather than buzzing away, I fired up my Terrova 101 and started patrolling the shoreline with my Humminbird 1198c. I expected to find that the school had moved one way or the other along the shore, but found something else entirely.
As indicated in the Side Imaging screen capture above, these fish had continued their push off the shoreline and had taken up position in a region with higher current that is much closer to the main channel. Some of these fish are somewhat difficult to see in the screen capture; however, their sonar shadows (small dark spots to the right of each individual fish) are clearly evident. Since these fish are in a higher-flow area, I suspected that most of the fish would be relating to the bottom; however, the Humminbird dual-beam sonar on my bow unit (a Humminbird 858c) demonstrated conclusively that these are NOT all bottom-oriented fish. In fact, the vast majority of these fish are suspended in the water column, even though the current in this area is relatively brisk.
Fishing a 1/32 oz jig in 12 feet of moving water is a pretty tough assignment, so I opted to fish vertically with 1/16 oz VMC Hot Skirt jigs, tipped with a *fresh* piece of Trigger X minnow. These are neutral-to-negative fish, and I strongly believe that the fresh Trigger X bait, full of scent and flavor, helped to turn these lookers into buyers. I felt very few of these vertical jig bites; rather, my line (Sufix Siege 4 lb in Tangerine) hopped or didn't straighten out on the jig fall....being a line watcher will help you put more of these very light biting fish in the boat.
So, the next time that your hot shallow water crappie bite fizzles out, slide out deeper and finesse those neutral fish with a VMC jig tipped with Trigger X. The fish haven't moved far, and with a slight adjustment to your presentation method, you'll be able to keep catching them with as much consistency as when the fish were up in the shallow rocks!