The 8 Best Crappie Bait Rigs
No matter the situation or season, the most effective way to catch crappies is with live bait. So if you want to learn how to fish for crappie, learn how to rig these bait setups
Slab crappies are meat eaters—sure enough minnow munchers. They take lures well at times, especially jigs, but rarely will an adult “speckled perch” turn its nose up at a frisky minnow.
Yet delivering baits correctly in the wide variety of habitats where crappies swim can be challenging. So, there is a multitude of rigs designed to present baits well to the finicky whims of these fun-to-catch, oversized panfish.
Here are eight of the most effective bait rigs for catching crappies.
1. Slip-Float Rig
One fisherman favorite is the indefatigable float rig. This rig has many applications, but is most effective on crappies in moving current, especially when fishing docks, pilings, and cover like undercut brushy banks.
Many anglers prefer a Thill Center Slider slip float for this rig—one about the size of an adult index finger. To set this rig up, thread the line through the float and tie on a 1/8-ounce jig, tipped with a minnow. Tie a stop knot or use a commercial rubber stop above the float.
The beauty of this rig is that it can be fished at any depth from just a foot to 30 feet or more. By simply sliding the stop knot up or down the line, you can adjust for depth.
Because the float and lure are close together, the slip float casts easily and accurately—unlike many other bobber rigs. Upon landing, the bait drops away from the float to crappies hiding under deep docks, overhanging limbs, and other structure.
2. Drop-Shot Rig
Drop-shotting is a vertical bait presentation, using light line, with 6-pound test being the norm. In it’s simplest form, a sinker is fit to the end of the line with a hook tied anywhere from 1 to 4 feet above it. But it can get a lot more complicated, and considerably more refined.
For example, many anglers prefer octopus-style hooks, which are short-shanked models with up-turned eyes, similar to salmon egg hooks. These are superb live-bait hooks, and they have been popular with crappie fishermen for years. Also, to prevent line twist, and to keep rigging simple, some drop-shot anglers use a quality ball-bearing barrel swivel as a connection between the line and the leader. Small, black swivels are best as they don’t spook fish.
Almost any style sinker can be used for drop-shotting, however, bank and Dipsey models are best for avoiding snags. Specially designed drop-shot sinkers work particularly well for this rig, and they can be changed quickly according to depth. Many such sinkers are slender-shaped to resist snagging. Attaching a sinker to the rig end with a snap helps to change weights quickly to adjust to depth and current.
Some crappie drop-shotters rig leaders with two, three, or more baits, which works well when trying to pinpoint schools of suspended fish—especially on creek-channel ledges near deep humps. To fish this rig, nose-hook a minnow and drop to suspended crappies. Sonar is invaluable for locating fish-holding structure—and your bait—and an electric trolling motor can help you ease your rig into the strike zone.
Read Next: Crappie Fishing: How to Catch Prespawn Slabs
3. Minnow-and-Brush-Jig Rig
Crappies spend a lot of time in thick cover like flooded timber, brush piles, open pockets of weeds, and tall jungles of vegetation. Weedless jigs are one ticket to ferreting out slabs from such places, and adding a whole live minnow to a weedless jig is often the best way to put fish in the boat.
Some anglers prefer to tip dressed jigs of marabou or synthetic materials with a minnow. This works when bright color is important, however, the body dressing can make it difficult to thread baits onto a weedless hook shank. That’s okay when a lively minnow is barbed through the lips or nostrils, but when fishing cover, baits often pull off quickly.
When actively working weedless jigs in weeds and brush, put natural baits onto a bare jig hook shank. Weedless styles, like the Lindy No-Snagg Timb’r Rock Jig are especially good.
Either hook a minnow behind the head or thread it onto the jig hook as if putting on a plastic grub tail. Insert the jig hook point in the minnow’s mouth and carefully move it onto the hook shank, with the jig hook point coming out of the bait just forward of its tail. Used this way, a minnow-tipped weedless jig is more durable.
4. Simple Bobber Rig
Sometimes a bobber and bait are all that’s needed to hit crappie pay dirt. This is especially true when crappies are feeding in shallow, clear water, where minimal terminal tackle rigging is desired. The beauty of this rig is in its simplicity.
Any of a wide variety of bobbers and floats can be used, from snap-on plastic models to more sophisticated balsa or cork ones. Position the bobber on the fishing line several feet above a bait hook, and pinch on a split shot or two between hook and bobber. If fishing deeper water, slide the bobber up the fishing line toward the rod tip. If you’re probing shallower water, close the distance between bobber and bait.
Where the bait is hooked can make a difference in success. Standard nose, throat, or head hooking of minnows usually works. But sometimes hooking a minnow just under the dorsal fin or at the tail triggers strikes from more finicky crappies.
5. Floating Bottom-Walker Rig
This is an excellent bait rig for slow trolling and drifting for deep crappies on rocky bottoms, in areas with stumps and logs, or near well-defined weed edges.
Commercial bottom walkers in various weights are available from many tackle companies, including Lindy, Eagle Claw, Northland, and Cabela’s. The advantage of this rig is that the lead weight or the “cruiser” walks along the bottom, while the leader and bait are suspended due to the addition of a small piece of foam or cork threaded onto the leader. These “mini-floats” are available in many colors which adds even more fish-attracting quality to a lively minnow.
Read Next: How to Throw a Crappie Party
6. Double-Jig Bait Rig
Two jigs usually are better than one (especially for crappies), and this may be the quickest way to set up a double-jig minnow rig. It’s suitable for casting, trolling, or drifting, and can be set up in short order.
With a 3-foot length of 4- to 10-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon line, tie a jig to each end. Grasp the leader tied to the jigs about one foot from the lighter jig, loop it, and tie a double overhand knot. Keep the loop small, because this attaches to your line. The fishing line can be tied directly to the leader loop, but by adding a snap swivel, you can quickly change out frayed leaders and different lures.
It’s best to use two jigs of different styles and colors, and one slightly heavier than the other. For example, a curly-tail bright color 1/8-ounce jig and a tube-type natural hue 1/16-ounce jig. Rigged this way, the heavier jig is positioned at the bottom, which facilitates tangle-free casting and works well for drifting and trolling. Both jigs can be sweetened with a whole minnow to add crappie-catching appeal.
7. Three-Way Swivel Rig
The three-way swivel rig is easy to set-up and can be configured in many ways according to fishing conditions, water depth, or season.
It can be rigged to fish just a single bait though many anglers prefer fishing several baits to learn what crappies prefer. Incorporating bare hooks with minnows and jig-and-minnow combinations to the rig has almost unlimited possibilities.
Usually, small, all-black three-way swivels are preferred. To set up, tie the main line to one of the swivel loops and add about 18 inches of leader to the other two. Tie a bait hook to one leader and a crappie jig to the other. Tip each with a minnow.
There are a lot of modifications to this rig. Some crappie anglers run the lower leader through a small barrel sinker, then tie on a bait hook and minnow to the other. A second three-way swivel can be connected to the lower leader, attaching another leader and bait or two, which allows for multiple bait-and-lure presentations. This rig is best used when drifting or slow trolling since it can be cumbersome and tangle when casting.
8. Bullet Bait Rig
This rig gets deep fast, and is a good one for slow-trolling and drifting over stump flats and scattered cover areas like sparse weeds.
To rig it, thread the main line through a bullet weight appropriate to the water depth and current you’re fishing. Next tie the line to a barrel swivel and add an 18-inch leader. Depending on the cover, the leader can be light or heavy. (Many anglers use braided line when probing brush, timber, or thick weeds.) Next, tie on a baited lightweight jig or bare hook.
The bullet bait rig can be cast and retrieved. A floating jig head or small foam float can also be added to the leader to raise the bait off the bottom for suspended crappies or to get over snags.