Lots of anglers ditch their catfish poles and bass-fishing rods this time of year to catch a mess of crappie.
With a slew of spinners, crank baits, grubs and other bait choices available, we asked three crappie-fishing fanatics who work for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission a simple question: "When you look at the hook, what's on the end of your line?"
Dance a jig
Andy Yung is regional fisheries supervisor in the Camden regional Game and Fish office and one of the agency's die-hard crappie chasers.
"My family farms, so when we finally got to take a break from work, it would be summer," Yung said. "It wasn't the best time to fish, but it taught me how to fish for crappie in standing timber."
No matter the depth, Yung's favorite approach to crappie still relies on casting a jig.
"In deep water, you can jig vertically, but I try to stay off the fish and cast to them as much as I can. I typically stick with soft-plastic jig bodies instead of minnows, but it's more about convenience. If I had a minnow tank in my house, I'd probably use them a lot more, but soft-plastics work well and are always around.
Yung sticks to black and chartreuse shad-style bodies and tubes.
"I tend to catch some really nice bream on that color as well as crappie," he said. "I'm normally casting a 1/16-ounce jig head on fluorocarbon line to feel the bite. The fluorocarbon line sinks a little faster than monofilament too.
"If you're not getting snagged occasionally, you're not fishing in the right place for crappie," Yung said. "You can sometimes straighten the hook with a steady pull on the line and get your lure back, but you need to be prepared to lose a few if you're fishing brush, it's just part of it."
Sarah Connolly is an administrative assistant in the enforcement division at Game and Fish headquarters in Little Rock. She's also one half of the crappie fishing team that took home the first-place trophy at the Arkansas Team Trail Crappie Tournament on Lake DeGray in March. She and her partner Cody Rhodes brought in seven crappie weighing 14.55 pounds with a 3.35-pound kicker to anchor the bag.
Connolly has been fishing since she was a child in Northwest Arkansas, but nearly all of her fishing until 2019 was from the bank.
"We didn't have a boat, but we always fished at the fishing derbies at the Game and Fish Centerton hatchery when I was growing up," Connolly said. "When I started fishing with Cody, it was something we could do together and have a good time with. Plus, we both love to eat crappie. I'd pick it over just about anything except maybe walleye."
Black and chartreuse is a top jig color for Connolly as well, but she said water clarity will play a large role in the decision.
"We want brighter colors, or black, for muddy water, but will change to more natural colors if you can see your lure at 2 feet or deeper," she said.
Matt Schroeder is the Game and Fish fisheries management biologist at Lake Conway north of Little Rock. He's spent as many hours as anyone chasing crappie on its waters since joining Game and Fish in 2001.
"I'm a huge fan of a Bobby Garland Baby Shad," Schroeder said. "It has a single tail that gives a lot of lifelike action and a good profile. My second favorite lure would be a Crappie Magnet, especially when I'm fishing near cypress trees on Conway."
Schroeder primarily fishes lakes that have stained or dingy water. When it comes to a choice of jig or minnow, he leans toward plastics as well, but throws in a curve.
"If you're after big crappie, use both," Schroeder said.
"Big fish like big profiles, and the biggest fish I have caught have come from a jig tipped with a minnow. Something with chartreuse on the body and a pink jig head with big eyes seems to work best for me."