Lot of good info in this article. The author is from SC but most all of it applies to here.
Nightstalking for Crappie
The night was coming on fast as I picked up my fishing partner Gary Kunes at his dock and we set out for a night of Lake Wylie nightstalking for the slabs this lake is known for. As we set up and prepared the boat for a another night stalk I looked over our operation and realized that we was a long way from how we used to night fish years ago before the evolution of fishing equipment had evolved to the present state . There's more to night fishing than just dipping a few minnow and hoping for a bite to take a good mess of fish home for some tasty fillets fried up golden brown for a Saturday afternoon fish fry with the family and friends.
When I first became interested in crappie fishing, I was a day fisher hunting the brush piles and docks during the daylight hours, braving the hot sun, fast boats and a ton of water craft that seemed to be every where interfering with all our fishing plans and makin it tough to stay on fish once we did find em. This was back before we had sonar and we located brush piles by throwing weighted treble hooks in the water .Years ago, more than I care to remember we began our nightly search for slabs to escape the maddening crowds and boats present on the weekends, I was limited to making my night trips on the weekends because I was still working. As everyone knows, with so many boats on the water now, the weekends are a mad house on the waters. On the weekends the night is the best time to fish cause the water traffic is usually a good bit lighter.
Like any evolution , it was a long slow process to learn what I've learned from the beginning in 1968 when I purchased my first boat, a 14 ft alumacraft with a 20 hp motor, which I used for 30 years till my second boat, a 20 ft sea ark with a 90 hanging on the back. In this narrative I am gonna explain to you how I have my boat set up and how I anchor the boat for a successful night stalk.
To start with, if you haven't done this kind of fishing before, you will need a good topo map of the lake you are going to be fishing in. Finding a starting spot is fairly easy with a map. Just look for any steep drop offs, points or ledges that are close to deep water. River and creek channels are also a good starting point. Find yourself some spots at different locations in the lake, so you will have several options in case the wind is blowing in one spot you can move to a quieter area. You will want to set up in a location that is fairly protected from the wind. I NEVER set up over a brush pile because you will be hanging your rigs all night and retying small hooks with thin lines it's a real chore for aged eyes.
Once we arrive at our location, the first thing to do is find a spot where the falling bank, levels out on the bottom, in deep water, in 20 ft of water or more. If you have a good map, you can get by without sonar if you have to. However sonar makes it a lot easier to pinpoint exactly where you want to set up.
I don't look for fish when I am searching for a spot, but seeing fish makes me feel good about where I'm at. remember the lights will attract the small stuff that in turn attracts the minnows which in turn attracts the crappie, so not seeing any fish when I set up is no big deal for me because I know the lights will usually bring em in. Be patient and give em a chance to work before you decide to move to another spot.
I seldom fish water any shallower than 20 ft deep. You may want to throw a marker buoy out so you will have something to relate to when you are setting your anchors. I carry two chain style anchors aboard my boat, with each anchor having 150 ft of 3/8 in nylon rope stored in plastic buckets to keep them from getting tangled. Once we've decided on where we want the boat to be, we drop a buoy and move a short distance from the spot and drop one anchor and drag it with the boat till it hangs, then we will move to the other side of the buoy and drop the second anchor and pull towards the first anchor which has been set till the second anchor hangs. On hard bottoms you may have to make several drags till the anchor hangs. Once you have both anchors set, then you can shift the boat in either direction you want with the anchor ropes till its located over the spot you want to fish, then tie one anchor off and then draw the boat very tight with the other rope and tie it off so the boat wont be shifting with the wind or wave action. This is very important as you must be able to see the bite when it comes and if the boat is moving to and fro you will not be able to see many of the bites due to the shifting boat.
When you get ready to pull anchors , if they are hung to the point you cant pull em loose by hand, then tie the anchor rope to the tow hook on the transom and pull in the opposite direction you hung it and they will come free. In all the years I've been using the chain style anchors I've never failed to recover one. At times I've had my doubts but they finally pulled free. Caution: don't tie the anchor rope to a boat cleat and use the motor to pull it free. You will probably pull the cleat out and make some nasty looking holes where the screws had the cleat attached. The cleats are not made for pulling, but for holding. That's a huge difference.
Once the anchors have been set, then we finish setting the boat up for the nights stalk. The submersible fishing lights are set in the water. The fishing lights I use are made by Qbeam called starfires. The floating and clamp on lights also work great and are used successfully by night stalkers. Over the years I've used a lot of different lighting setups from car headlights with a pair of wires attaching it to the battery, lanterns then on to the floaters to the submersibles and the green fluorescents. I seemed to have better results with the white lights than the green ones but That will be a matter of preference for each angler. Some swear by the whites and some by the greens.
Some nights you will notice a lot of bait fish swarming around your lights and some nights you don't see much, if any. Don't despair if you don't see any bait fish as you will usually catch fish even if the bait fish are not visible. They are probably deeper and out of sight.
For lighting the inside of the boat, I use several clamp on lights you can find at most hardware stores which I've modified by removing the clamps and adding a large plastic alligator clamp, which I mount on several short poles mounted on the center console, with one light pointing to the front and one to the back. this gives very good lighting for the interior. The clamp on lights have been modified by removing the 110 volt bulb and replacing it with a 12 volt, 40 watt rv light bulb and adding a couple clamps to clip em to the battery.
In warmer weather the bugs that gather around a light can be aggravating so locate the lights where they present the least amount of interference. I've noticed a lot of nights, the bugs seem to be worse when we first start but seem to taper off later in the night. A slight breeze will also help keep the bugs away.
Aboard my boat I carry 4 deep cycles and one cranking battery. The 4 deep cycles are used for the submersible lights and for the clamp on interior lights. Also onboard I have two on board battery chargers of two 10 amp banks each, with one bank attached to each of the deep cycles. When I return home and park the boat its just a simple matter of plugging in the chargers to recharge the batteries for the next trip. Make sure you keep your batteries charged at all times and keep a check on the water levels. It will extend the life of the battery considerably.
I have plenty of rigs on my boat for visitors to use, or they can bring their own . Quality rod holders are a must for your night stalk as you will be using multiple rods. Over the years I've lost a few rods overboard due to carelessness so I keep a weighted treble hook handy to retrieve the rod. Sometimes I get it back, sometimes I don't. The treble is good to have though in case you do loose one. I use driftmaster rod holders and have never lost a rod out of one by it being pulled out by a crappie. I have room aboard my boat for up to 8 fishermen, with each fisherman having a rack of 4 rod holders for holding his rods.
The number of rods used by each fisherman will be up to the the man and the laws that govern how many rods are allowed for use. Some nights you can handle six rods or more and other nights its all you can do to keep two rods in the water. In my state there is no limit on the number of rods you can use on a boat so if we have a full crew then each man uses up to 4 rods. Arrange your holders so they will be convenient for you to reach your rods on a moments notice once the bite happens.
The rods I use are all ugly stick ultra lites. I like these rods because of the very soft tip and the rods are very tough and durable. All my rods are treated very rough, rode hard and put up wet so to say, and a rod that's quick to snap wont last long aboard the beast. Your choice of rods is a personal preference but again you must have a rod with a soft tip that will readily show you the bite when it comes. Rods with stiff tips will not do this so you will miss a lot of bites with stiff tipped rods. This is not a time to employ your bass or catfish rods. I also use the 9 ft ugly stick crappie rods which again shows me the soft bites of a hungry fish..