Crappie are by far one of the most popular fish across the country. Some reasons for that are: they are decent fighters on light line, they generally school up in large numbers, and they are absolutely delicious to eat. Another great thing about crappie is how predictable their movements are. While some fish are very difficult to track and keep up with the crappie normally are where they're supposed to be. This easy to pattern quality makes them a perfect species for a beginning angler to target.
While in the spring time they are generally shallow, during the summer months the majority of the crappie school up in deep water around the thermocline level, where the water is rich with oxygen which attracts small organisms like plankton, and in return attracts baitfish such as shad and other minnows. If you can find these ingredients then the crappie will not be far away. Crappie are aggressive feeders when you get them fired up and it is not uncommon to catch more 50 fish in one area. Crappie are common in the 7 to 11 inch range, but you never know when a 16 inch or bigger crappie might bite, and that is a blast to fight on light line.
The best time to target summer time crappie is definitely at night. Now one of the keys for night time fishing is attracting the baitfish to your boat. The way to do this is by using a light of some some such as the Optronics Floating Fish-N-Lite or a Bass Pro Shops Submersible Fish Light. The baitfish will gather around your boat and like I said earlier the crappie will not be far behind. A lot of the time when fishing this way your boat will be sitting over 30 feet of water with the fish suspended feeding up off the bottom in about 10 to 15 feet.
I would recommend using either 4 or 6 pound test line. When fishing regular jigs with no flotation I prefer Trilene 100% Flourocarbon, it's low stretch, sensitive, and the fact that the line actually sinks is perfect for this presentation. Artificial baits will work great. The Bass Pro Shops Baby Shad in a variety of colors is my artificial bait of choice. Rig these soft plastics on a small 1/16 ounce jig head and simply drop the bait down into the school of fish. While artificials will catch alot of fish there is honestly nothing that will works quite as well as live minnows. Hook your minnow through the tip of the nose on a Gamakatsu Bait Holder Hook in a size 2 or 4 depending on the size of crappie you are catching. Pinch a reusable split shot about a foot up the line and you are ready to go. For this light line and light weight technique there is no better rod and reel setup then the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Maxx Combo. It is light weight and sensitive, yet still has a soft tip so that you won't tear the hook out of a crappies paper soft mouth.
If your looking to get into fishing this is a great way to start, and there is nothing better then providing for your family by putting fresh crappie on the dinner table. Make sure you always check your state regulations to find out what the size and quantity limits are in your local area, and most importantly enjoy yourself while spending time out in beautiful nature. I'll see you on the water!