This article is in response to the many questions I get in regard to the night fishing I do and will cover the basics enough to give you the ability to put together a successful outing. Of all the different ways to find and catch Crappie, night fishing is my favorite. No running and gunning from brush pile to brush pile, no standing for hours with a jig pole in my hand, at night it's all about relaxing. With just a minnow under a slip cork, probably the most basic of rigs, I have hauled in stringer after stringer of Crappie over the years fishing under the lights, and it is an effective method of fishing for them year round.
The first thing one should take into consideration is safety. The Lake you are so comfortable on and familiar with during the day, becomes a totally foreign place after the sun goes down. Landmarks and horizons seem to vanish, buoys and bridges easily noticed during the day, become invisible hazards at night. During Winter with the low water temps, never go alone and always have a spare set of clothes packed in a water proof bag. Always let friends and family know where you will be, and when to expect you back home. Fishing at night does come with added hazards, but for the cautious and careful angler, night time is the right time.
I have found over the years that a full Moon, or very near to being full is the best time to plan on putting a trip together. Not only does a full Moon help illuminate some of the lake hazards like buoys and so on, it also gives Game fish the ability to feed on schools of shad that are backlit by the full moon. It's no secret that Crappie are low light feeders, and anyone that has ever been on the water at night during a bright, full moon knows what I am talking about. You can hear fish breaking the surface and smashing schools of bait all over.
Although the market is flooded with different styles, colors, and sizes, not mention the price tags on a few of them, I find that the old school floating white light works as good as any for open water. It also happens to be the cheapest also, and lasts as long, or longer than the more expensive LED's. For Stands of timber I like to hang propane lanterns from tree limbs. The reason I use two different light sources for different areas of the lake is shad behave much differently around standing timber than they do in open water. In stands of timber, shad will circle the tree trunks, and in that situation a simple lantern works just fine.
The fish really don't care what color light you have, they aren't there to admire your equipment, they are admiring the ball of shad that are gathering around it, and after noticing how shad behave around different lights I have owned over the years, the reason I went back to the Old School floating styles for open water,....is the shad will circle around the beam that casts down, where as submersible lights don't cast a beam, and it greatly dampens it's effectiveness. You will see what I mean about the shad circling the beam in the video.
When it comes to picking a spot to fish on any body of water, the first thing I consider is shad. If you are in an area that isn't holding bait, I can promise you it won't be holding much in the way of fish either. My favorite areas to target are bridges over a creek or river channel, areas of standing timber, or large Marinas. Once I find bait fish present in any of these areas, I have also found the Crappie, as well as a spot to tie the boat off before I bought a GPS enabled trolling motor. If your boat is rigged with one, it saves you the trouble of being tied off or dropping an anchor rope out of the back of the boat.
Setup, Bait, and Rigs-
After finding a spot with shad breaking on the surface, scanning with sonar and seeing fish, whether on structure or scattered out on the schools of shad, I get about securing the boat. Whether it be with a rope tied off to something, anchor out the back or a GPS enabled trolling motor. After that, you want to get your lights out about 45 mins before Sunset. The plan is to let the Daylight fade into your fishing lights, and it will take an hour or so for the foodchain to build up. The first to show up will be the plankton, followed by the shad and Bluegill, with Crappie underneath them, followed by Bass, Catfish and so on.
Your sonar will let you know when things are getting thick under your boat, this will also tell me how deep the fish are holding under the ball of shad, and therefore, how deep to set my lines down. I always use minnows and will vary the presentation between vertical fishing and slip floats. The floats help me see a bite on the rods off to the sides or in a blind spot. You will want to try to keep you baits right on the edge of the light. In typical ambush predator fashion, the Crappie sit back in the shadows and dart in and out of the bait ball.
I hope this article helps give you a good idea of basic night fishing techniques, and helps give you another option when it comes to putting a nice mess of Crappie in the grease. Below is a video that a really good friend of mine put together and shows some of what I touched on in action so you can visually see how to get out there and get it done.