Jigs employing synthetic, sparkly materials like krystal flash will catch crappies on those waters where minnows aren’t allowed as bait, as the lures give off that shimmering vibe a baitfish would. Simonson Photo.

By Nick Simonson

A number of my favorite crappie lakes are designated “no live baitfish” waters.  Whether that’s in an effort to keep invasive species such as carp or suckers from entering the water, or just to provide an added challenge to anglers on these typically smaller lakes which receive some solid pressure, adjusting to the inability to drop a minnow under a slip float (perhaps the easiest way to catch crappies in summer) may seem like a daunting task with those restrictions in place.  However, crappies take quickly to those lures that look like the baitfish they prey on, and what follows are five go-to summer lures that give off that minnow vibe as needed on such lakes, or when an angler is feeling sporty.

1. Summer Tubing.  The 1-inch crappie tube comes in a rainbow of colors, but those that shine the brightest are often the ones which imitate the flash of a small baitfish which crappies key in on.  Thus, crappie tubes sporting glitter or flecking in bright colors such as silver, chartreuse, and pink, in addition to their undulating tentacles, are a must-have when pursuing slabs without a minnow bucket in tow.  Rigged on an insert jighead which slips in the tube and the eye pops out the top, or threaded onto a standard ballhead jig, having a selection of sparkly tube options and some standard ones is a great arsenal for landing more summer specks.

2.  Flickering Blades.  Lures that add a little extra flash will help draw in more crappies, especially when retrieved through various depths of the water column.  Jigheads with spinner blades attached, such as the Road Runner, are easily cast and retrieved with some added flicker from the blade spinning behind the lead head, and the addition doesn’t often foul the presentation of a grub or tube on the hook shank either.  Beetle Spins work well too, as the angled arm holds the blade above the jig-and-hook area, drawing in some attraction and providing a bit bigger target for crappies to hit.

3. Crank them Out.  Small crankbaits are dynamite on summer panfish, because they already look like the profile of a prey item.  Rapala Countdowns in size 3 are good options for summer slabs, as their fall in the water column can be traced simply by counting, and they can be worked back with slight jerks and pauses the way a minnow would move.  Get an idea what kind of forage crappies are feeding on in a given water and then offer up these small wonders in patterns that match the hatch.

4. Fur and Feather.  Dressed jigs are another great go-to option for crappies as both hair and marabou feathering can provide a lifelike appearance in the water, and that drives slabs wild.  Deer hair jigs and feathered jigs with skirts tied in at the collar are great options, but those slip-on dressings such as Lindy Fuz-E-Grubs and others with a built-in tail of marabou also help mix things up and provide a minnow-like appearance in the water for crappies to key in on.  Whether tying them up at home, or purchasing them off the shelf, dressed jigs from one to three inches in length make great lures with a solid baitfish look to them.

5. Pop Synth.  Finally, crappies are known to go off on anything sparkly, and the use of synthetic hairs, krystal flash, flashabou, and other non-natural materials that have some shine, shimmer, and undulation, will elicit strikes from specks all summer long.  The twinkle imitates the scaled sides of a minnow and provides a one-piece solution to those waters where baitfish aren’t available for use.  Have a selection of these higher-tech offerings to appeal to the appetite of summer crappies in addition to those discussed above.

With this handful of lure types in a tackle stash, it’s easy to overcome any hurdles from those waters where minnows can’t be used.  Along the way, they’ll make for better angling by providing a greater understanding of the cues and presentations that trigger crappie bites, and a solid pattern can be established for summer fishing.  Keep them in mind and find a better connection this season with some big slabs on those special regulation waters, and any lake where the mission is to just get down to fishing. 

Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.