By Nick Simonson
There are many options when it comes to catching crappies, most involving a small minnow. Whether under a slip float or on a jig, live bait is king when summer slabs are feeding, but on some lakes, baitfish are prohibited, and in many cases, light tackle anglers enjoy the challenge of fishing crappies without it. With today’s selection of plastics, however, not having live bait or not being able to use it provides a chance to explore various plastic bodies from classic options to newer models to give crappies a presentation they can’t resist. What follows are a handful of plastic types to try out and increase crappie hookups this summer, even without a bucket full of minnows.
The crappie tube and tiny twister tail are staples in any crappie angler’s plastic arsenal. Still the cheapest offerings on the rack at the tackle shop, crappie tubes come in a variety of hues, which is great for these finicky fish that can switch preferences for color as the sun sets or clouds roll in. The original manufacturer of plastic baits, Creme Lure Company, still produces its line of Mini Tail and Maxi Tail tubes, and other companies offer these baits which can be rigged on an insert head for a compact, streamlined package or added to a standard 1/32 or 1/16 ounce jig as a body-and-trailer presentation for something a little larger. Make sure to have a selection that includes silver flake, chartreuse and any confidence colors learned on a particular water.
Twister tails in one- and two-inch sizes are effective crappie plastics as well and can be rigged on any small jig head the same way their larger counterparts are set up for walleyes. Simply thread them on and get casting. Bright offerings in yellow, white and glow are favorites and have long been the base for good crappie fishing. While Mister Twister Lil Bit and Teenie curly tail grubs remain go-tos, there are many other offerings with slight shifts in tail size, shape and segmenting for variety. For added flash and vibration, rig them on a Road Runner jig or a small spinner arm, such as that from a Beetle Spin lure.
From the marrying of these classics along with some creative tweaks and additions, new baits have come forth over the past two decades. Small shad bodies with single tails, paddle tails or even split tails provide offerings with subtlety or something a little more exciting for aggressive crappies. Strike King’s Lightning Shad provides a classic tapered tail, and its Slabalicious crappie plastic ties the ribbing of a grub with a blunt, paddletail finish. While most are thread-on style plastics, some shad-shaped baits do have insert-head options, akin to the standard crappie tube.
Taking a page from the bass plastic playbook, many companies are cranking out creature baits for crappie fishing as well. Equipped with paddles, legs, skirts and other additions which can be left or trimmed, smaller creature-style plastics in two-inch sizes like Bass Pro’s Baby Beav, and the Mister Twister Nymph – which mimics an underwater insect such as a mayfly or dragonfly larva – provide artificial options with some natural flare for crappie anglers.
The expanding plastic market for these popular panfish has put together a Frankenstein’s lab of sorts, with more options than ever before. Experimenting with a few new plastics each summer can be a great experience, particularly when an angler stumbles upon a combination of body type and color that seems to work better than others and becomes a go-to for future crappie outings. Best of all, crappie plastics are cheap and come in bulk, making the opportunity to try different models an easy affair that doesn’t break the bank. Simply grab a few packages and hit the water to find that combination that may even work better than live bait for hungry summertime slabs.
Featured Photo: The classic jig-and-tube combo works well for crappies, but experiment with a few new baits each season to find new options. Simonson Photo.