Fishing the Cracks for Crappie: Top Tips From The Expert
I once had a dream that I was fishing for crappie through the floor of my living room. If the fish was too small I’d throw it on the carpet. It would wiggle around a few times and then disappear. I remember thinking as I dreamt that it would be so cool to be able to catch crappie right through my floor! When I woke up and realized it was just a dream, I was so disappointed.
I was thinking of that silly dream one Fall day, though, when I was fishing from a dock on the Lake of the Ozarks. Suddenly, I felt the boat slip and, as I turned, I dropped my lure through a large space in between the boards of the dock and BANG – A frisky crappie engulfed my lure. And thus, “Crack Fishing” was born.
First of all, the cracks to which I refer are not found when someone’s pants ride a little low on the hip but are simply the spaces between the wood flooring on the docks.
Any space wide enough to pull a crappie through is fair game. It could be the space between the walkway and the dock, a missing board, an attached swimming dock or a trap door. It only needs to be near whatever is keeping the dock afloat, and be 1 ½ to 2 inches wide. You’d be surprised at how big a crappie can fit through such a small space!
The best Crack Fishing occurs in the Fall. As the temperature starts to drop, crappie leaves their summertime hangouts and move to shallower water, such as mainlake flats, points, coves and creeks. Docks in these areas will be good candidates for Crack Fishing.
When water temperatures drop into the 70’s, Crack Fishing starts to get really good. Peak activity occurs as the temperature drops into the mid 60’s which, incidentally, coincides with the same temperature at which the crappie spawn in the spring. Although they do not spawn in the Fall, you will be able to find crappie in a lot of the same places you do in the Spring. Crack Fishing will remain good even on shallow docks (5 feet deep or less) as the water temperature drops through the 50s.
In Missouri, I have caught crappie in the cracks from September through mid-December.
What makes Crack Fishing successful, is the algae that grow under the float material on the docks. Shad and other baitfish feed on small organisms in and around the algae. For this reason, and contrary to popular belief, brush is not necessary for good crappie fishing. At times, however, crappie tend to show a preference for one float material over another. Plastic may out-produce foam, or vice versa. The white foam may be better than blue or orange, etc.
Just make sure you fish all types at first. If a pattern develops, then you can concentrate your efforts. If you’re fishing during a period of stable weather, shallow docks well away from deep water will produce the best results. During adverse weather and times of change, concentrate on docks that are closer to deep water or that sit over the creek or river channels.
Fishing the cracks is simple. As you approach a dock, use slip bobbers set 6 inches to 1 foot deep to cast the outside of the dock as close to the foam or plastic floats as you can.
Crappie hang out just under the foam and quite often you can see the crappie dart out from underneath to grab your bait (an occurrence that will give any fisherperson a heart attack).
My dad taught me at an early age that when a fish bites your lure, you should try to pull its lips free from its face. This is a technique which is a little bit of overkill when it comes to the tender mouthed Crappie. Under a dock, hooksets like that can lead to missed fish, a broken rod, and a good deal of language that the kids just shouldn’t hear. Use shorter rods and set the hook gently.
Artificial baits are my favorite choice this time of year although minnows are also good especially when the fish aren’t very active. I like tube baits when vertical fishing. In murky water, I use white or chartreuse but always experiment and let the fish tell you what they like. In clear waters, use darker colors like purples, blues, clear with metal flake.