Night Crawling For Crappie

Upstate Outdoors
July 21, 2017 - 8:46 am

With the high heat and humidity we’ve been having lately around the Upstate, it’s hard to get excited at all about the prospect of going fishing. That’s just the way Robert Johnson from Pickens County likes it.

Johnson is a self-proclaimed night crawler. He doesn’t mind fishing for crappie in the spring when they’ve up around the shoreline and under many of his favorite boat docks, but the only other time Johnson likes to fish for crappie is at night during the summer.

It’s nearly impossible to consider night fishing for crappie without thinking about bridges. Johnson claims that crappie have a definite love for bridges and believes that some crappie will spend their entire lives hanging around bridge pilings if there is sufficient water depth. His reasoning is that bridge pilings offer crappie everything they need – depth changes to accommodate them through the seasons, algae growth to draw plankton and baitfish, and structure and cover for protection. This cover is in the form of the pilings themselves and debris that washes in under them.


“Bridges are almost a guaranteed bet,” he said. “The South Carolina DNR and DOT have made it easy to tie up under most of the bridges by installing mooring hooks on them.”


Johnson said he likes to fish lakes Greenwood, Hartwell and even Lake Keowee for crappie, although he was very tight lipped about his crappie fishing on the gin clear lake. Regardless of which lake he’s fishing, he will almost always be tied up under a bridge crossing that has at least 30 feet of water under the boat.

Once he’s settled on a spot to fish at night, the next toughest task is deciding on how deep to fish. Crappie will suspend upward in the water column after the lights go out but the prospect is tricky due to the establishment of summer thermoclines.


Johnson offers that the highest oxygen levels mix with the cooler waters right above the level of the thermocline. That’s where he wants to be fishing.

The veteran perch jerker has a trick for finding the ideal depth to fish once he’s either tied up under a bridge or solidly anchored near a creek mouth. He will use two rods baited with live minnows and set one at 12 feet and one at 14 feet. He checks the baits after about 5 minutes. A bait left in the thermocline will die within that time frame. If both baits are alive, he’ll inch down about a foot and test again. Ideally he wants his deepest bait to be a foot or so above the thermocline. Then he staggers the baits upward at 2 foot intervals.


“Most nights, we’ll catch all of our fish between 8 and 12 feet deep,” said Johnson who usually fishes with his brother-in-law. “I always set up on a contour line, a hard break that may be 18 – 20 feet on top and 30 – 40 to the bottom. Crappie will move along that contour line so when we get one bite, we’re likely to get several, then the fish will move off and we’ll wait for the next run.”


The final piece of the puzzle is lights. Johnson favors a green electric light and puts one near the bow of his boat and one on the stern. As baitfish move along the contour line, especially in clear water, they are drawn to the lights. The moon stage plays an important role in attracting bait as well. The darker the moon, the more bait will come to his setup, but the fuller the moon, with it’s ambient light, the more scattered the bait will be, making it difficult to concentrate crappie.


“Regardless of the moon, there’s usually two distinct bite periods through the night,” Johnson said. “The first is from right after dark till about midnight and the second is from about 4 am until sunrise. Once the sunlight hits the water, the bite cuts off like a switch.” 



Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest will be the Bass Chaplain, Chris Wells. Contact Gentry at


 Night fishing for crappie is more than just drowning minnows under a bridge. Knowing how and why crappie congregate in the summer is a key to success. Photo by Phillip Gentry

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