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Winning The Crappie Hide-And-Seek Game

Focus on the shad for late-season crappies, and forward-facing sonar is the ticket.

Winning The Crappie Hide-And-Seek Game

Nick LeBrun’s not dissing the traditional fall/winter crappie tactics; he simply prefers a more time-efficient game. Sure, the pursuit is part of the fun, but when you’re grocery shopping, it’s best to get back to the cleaning table before dark.

“The fish we target in my part of the country are roaming in open water; they’re just wintering out there on shad,” LeBrun said. “A lot of people fish brush and standing timber, but man, everybody pounds that.

“I try to find fish that are suspended out in the middle of nowhere. Usually, they’ll be in anywhere from 15 to 20 feet and they’ll be suspended about midway in that water column.”

A professional bass angler from Bossier City, La., he’s keen to track down his “sac-a-lait” with the same forward-facing sonar tactics that serve him well his tournament tactics. Making the most of every minute on the water, LaBrun commonly employs this strategy from about Thanksgiving to New Years.

“The fish are not on any cover, so if you didn’t have forward facing sonar, you’d be out there trying to find a needle in a haystack,” he said, who runs Lowrance’s ActiveTarget. “You might be around the fish, but you (typically) have to get the jig right on their nose and then they’ll bite.

“You’ll see a lot of anglers spider rigging, but they’re just living on a hope and a prayer. They’re hoping they drift in front of one or two throughout the day, but when you have forward-facing sonar, it’s so easy to put that right on him.”

Crappies can be caught late in the season with forward-facing sonar.
Late in the season, crappies key in on schools of shad and can be quite easy to locate and catch.

He notes that, while smaller fish often cluster, he’s looking for the quality crappie of 1 3/4 to 2 1/4 pounds. These older, smarter fish more commonly appear as singles or small pods.

“You may find little pods of five or six, but some of the biggest ones I catch will just be on the screen shining like a diamond, all out there by themselves,” he said. “I’ll just go snipe that one and move on.”

Sounds pretty straight forward, but he shared a few pointers to facilitate the fun.

Screen Time

First and foremost, you must know what you’re looking at, so LeBrun offers his insight. In a nutshell, it’s about distinguishers the roamers from the sitters.

“A bass (largemouth or white bass) is always moving, always swimming, but crappies aren’t like that,” he said. “The bigger crappies mostly sit still, unless they’re chasing shad.

“Sometimes, you’ll see them busting through the shad balls and acting crazy. But when it starts getting cold, their metabolism slows down and they’re just out there sitting still and waiting for shad to come to them.”


Familiarization with your particular electronics also teaches brightness recognition. As LeBrun notes, catfish will also suspend on sunny days, but their return is much brighter than that of a crappie. Also, a cat’s return has a curve shape, due to their greater density.

forward-facing sonar crappies
Big crappies focus on schools of shad like other predators.

Keeping his down range at about 30 feet so his fish marks remain consistent, he sets his forward range at 60 feet. That’s considerably shorter than the 100-foot mark he uses for his bass work, but crappie baits don’t cast as far, and 60 feet gives him plenty of distance to set up a stealthy presentation.

“When I see one, I’ll ease up to him and I won’t cast until about 30 feet out,” he explained. “Crappies don’t like it when something shoots past them, so I want a slow pendulum fall back toward the boat.”

He turns off the unit’s noise rejection; a move that gives up some clarity, in order to maintain visual contact with his jig.

“In this game, if you can’t see your bait, you might as well pack up and go home.”

Tackle And Technique

Feel free to sling minnows on slip sinker rigs if you’d like, but he finds a light jig and soft plastic body does the job just fine. He likes a 1/16-ounce Hyabusa ball-head jig with a V&M Baits Drop Shad. Trimming 1/4-inch off the body gives him the right profile.

“The cool thing about forward-facing sonar is you can serve them the way they want to be served,” he said. “Sometimes, they want to feed up, meaning they want that jig about a foot or two above their head and they want to swim up to get it. Other times, they want to be served at eye-level.

“Sometimes you’ve got to (find the fish on forward-facing sonar) and then drop that jig right on ‘em and hold it on their nose. He’ll just light up and he’s on there.”

LeBrun fishes his crappie jig on a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy Fitzgerald spinning rod with a 6:1 Fitzgerald reel. To his 12-pound Sunline SX-1 braided main line, he attaches 10 feet of Sunline FC Sniper Fluorocarbon leader. A longer rod aids in casting and bait control, while a peppy reel helps him quickly gather line.

“This is a unique way to fish,” he said. “A lot of people are hung up on fishing brush, timber, and stumps—and you can use your forward-facing sonar to find that structure. But those fish out in the middle of the lake, not many people are fishing for them. Once you get it dialed in, it’s very consistent.”

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