Ladson, SC – Sparkling like fresh lit Christmas bulbs, they dance and glow among the evergreen branches. Dozens, maybe hundreds of big crappies encircle the sunken brushpile, lively little orbs doing their best impression of holiday cheer. You see it happening right on sonar, screen shimmering with star-like bogeys. One cast, and you’re already imagining full livewells–and soon, golden brown fillets decorating your dinner plate.
Late fall through winter, crappies really do enjoy the company of a good balsam fir, though some anglers claim planted hardwoods last longer underwater and ultimately attract a few more fish. Surely, they find solace in the columns and complexes of aquatic cover.
Crappies come here to chew, too. Yet whether you find them huddled around submerged shrubs, tucked into fields of green foliage or suspended in the abyss, catching Christmastime crappies isn’t a guarantee. Especially so as plummeting water temps and declining metabolic rates induce sluggish, unwilling-to-chase attitudes.
In short, dropping a rapidly sinking lure past crappie snouts is a no-no.
A Fresh Panfish Approach
A season of bigtime bass tournaments behind him and back on his favorite crappie lake, Major League Fishing star David Walker understands the situation all too well. It’s Walker’s favorite time to pursue crappies, white bass and other intriguing panfish, after all. This season, though, he’s even more excited than usual, given some interesting new arrivals to his crappie bag of tricks.
“I can’t believe more anglers haven’t discovered the magical properties of these baits for crappies,” remarks Walker, launching his boat near home at Douglas Lake, Tennessee. “But they will. And when they do, every crappie angler out there is going to catch a lot of fish.”
On Douglas and numerous other reservoirs around the country, winter means cooling water and receding lake levels. Dropping water, Walker knows, can consolidate crappies around remaining woodcover, docks, submerged vegetation or suspended in openwater. “When the water falls and a lot of my favorite cover is left high and dry, I’ll chase crappies like I’m bass fishing on a smaller scale,” Walker explains.
“I’ll target ends of points or go right down the middle of pockets in creek arms, looking for bait and groups of crappies on sonar. With live sonar, I’m also sniffing out isolated pieces of cover—sometimes, a single rock or log is enough to hold some fish. What’s also cool is that crappies school by size, and often, you’ll catch the biggest fish in the school first. But I always release those bigger 14- to 16-inchers in favor of 11s and 12s, which taste so much better in crappie tacos.”
“My new favorite crappie bait—a Z-Man Shad FryZ™ swimbait—is orders of magnitude smaller than bass-sized offerings. But its subtle, lively action, buoyancy and durability put it right at the top of my crappie lure depth-chart. I’ve been catching a ton of crappies on this little paddletail lately, part of the remarkable new Micro Finesse system.
“What’s cool is I can rig the Shad FryZ on a slightly heavier 1/10-ounce Micro Finesse ShroomZ™ jighead and retain plenty of weight for casting distance. Meanwhile, the bait’s buoyant ElaZtech® material slows its rate of fall. So, in terms of drop-speed, the lure flutters and fishes more like a 1/16-ouncer; it’s got that nice little tail-kick on the fall that attracts a lot of crappies.
“As veteran anglers know, crappies primarily feed up,” he continues. “So keeping your lure at or a few feet above their eye level is of utmost importance, especially in colder water.”
Unlike traditional PVC soft plastics, which sink like rocks, Walker notes that ElaZtech baits float, slowing the drop-speed of the jighead. “That’s something you simply can’t do with other crappie baits, because traditional plastisol baits sink fast—often, shooting right through the active strike zones of coldwater panfish.”
To further tweak rate of fall, Walker spools with “straight 6- or 8-pound test braided line and no leader,” he suggests. “After trying those micro-thin 2-, 3- and 4-pound test braids, I realized thicker diameter braid, which floats, slows the lure’s rate of fall a bit more.”
While most anglers target shallow water fish, Walker prefers to pursue bigger, less pressured crappies in 15 to 25 feet of water. “Simply count the lure down to the right depth and begin a slow, steady retrieve. The hover can also be key to triggering reluctant fish. While retrieving, I’ll pause every 5- to 10-seconds. Let the bait stop and hang momentarily. That hesitation or hover—when the bait isn’t darting away—often makes a fish that’s been following commit; opens its big pouting jaw and gulps the bait down.”
“Man, I love feeling that thump of a big crappie inhaling my Shad FryZ swimbait. It’s an awesome pattern through at least the first of the New Year. After that, when fishing gets tougher and crappies don’t want excessive bait movement, I’ll trade the swimbait for a Micro TRD™, Tiny TicklerZ™ or LarvaZ™.
“If you’re a fan of the traditional TRD or TicklerZ for bass, all I can say is, the micro sized versions live up to their reputations for crappies and panfish, too.
“And in extra clear water, the LarvaZ shows fish a creepy-crawly bug imitation; perfect for vertical presentations—either right below the boat on a jighead or beneath a bobber. What’s really cool about these Micro Finesse baits is their durability. Especially for perch, bluegills and fish that nip tails and tear other baits to shreds, durable ElaZtech is the answer we’ve all been waiting for.
“As a bass angler familiar with the toughness of ElaZtech, I spent years trying to slice and customize bigger worms into panfish-sized offerings. They worked, but the Micro Finesse baits give me panfish profiles and actions I’m after, no knife needed. When it comes to small shapes and bait action, traditional plastics are simply too stiff; aren’t soft or pliable enough to move like living things—the exact opposite of natural, lively ElaZtech.
“As more and more crappie anglers discover these advantages—buoyant, super soft and easy to activate and surprisingly durable—we’ll all be sitting down for a lot more crappie dinners.”
About Z-Man Fishing Products
A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.