By Darl Black

You know its spring when novice anglers flock to tackle shops to buy colorful round floating globes to clip on their line. But few of these newbies understand that a bobber is more than a bite indicator.  A fixed float is a key ingredient in early season crappie fishing success.

Fixed floats allow you to keep a jig or bait at a certain depth even when holding the bait stationary. It’s best used when fishing for crappies holding no deeper than 4- to 6-feet-deep.

A fixed float also allows for a super-slow retrieve while keeping that jig at the right depth. At times crappies are less than enthusiastic about chasing prey, so choosing the correct style float can keep the bait or jig at the right depth even when sitting stationary.

The lack of horizontal movement is more important with crappies than with any other species. They don’t feed like bass. Instead of slashing violently, crappies are more likely to slip up on prey and just suck it in. Keeping a bait relatively motionless while they make their move is important.

One drawback to traditional red-and-white clip-on bobbers is that they damage the light line often required by early season crappie fishing, so if you’re serious about landing a limit of big slabs, consider a few other styles.
crappie cork
When I want a fixed float, I reach for the appropriate style and size Thill Gold Medal float. These balsa floats are held in place with silicone sleeves. First, the line is run through the sleeve, then the sleeve is slipped onto stem of the float – no nicks, no kinks – and you can adjust depth without clipping the line and retying.

Another fixed float style features a spring attachment, which is easier on your line than a clip-on but not as much as the Gold Medal style sleeve. You pull the spring up and wrap the line around the notch in the stem. When you let go of the spring it keeps the float in place.

One of the most versatile spring-attached floats is the Thill Crappie Cork, which also can be used as a slip float if crappie are holding deeper than anticipated or when fishing thick brush with a long pole. The float slips down the line to the jig so you can pull it up to the rod tip and poke the rod into thick cover, then let go of the line to drop the jig into the brush. When a fish hits, reverse that move to pull the crappie up to the rod tip and then pull it out.

To rig the Crappie Cork as a slip float, first, pass your line through the short plastic straw that holds the slip-knot (bobber stop), then slide the knot off the straw at the desired depth and pull the tag ends to tighten into place. Next, pass your line through the center column of the Crappie Cork, then tie a lightweight jig to the tag end of the line. The Thill Crappie Cork has a built in bead on the top stem to prevent the cork from sliding past the bobber-stop knot on the line.

Float presentations begin with the very first open water in shallow black-bottom bays, canals and marshy inlets of lakes. Immediately after ice-out, black crappies (and a few white crappies) follow baitfish into these specific quick-warming shallows. Schools of baitfish are here to feast on exploding plankton hatches, and in turn, crappies feed on the minnows.

Even though the water depth typically ranges from 2 to maybe 5 or 6 feet in these areas, it is critically important to position the bait at the level of feeding crappies. They usually move closer to the surface on warm sunny days and drop closer to the bottom when the water temperature dips. Although feeding, they are not into chasing baitfish. Therefore, your jig must literally bump into the nose of a crappie.
When fishing these ice-out backwaters, keep baits small and light so crappies can easily slurp it into their mouth. A small fathead minnow or a couple strong-smelling maggots on a 1/32-ounce jighead is a good option. To add color to the presentation, slip a small Fuzz-E-Grub body on the jighead before tipping with bait.

If crappies are particularly finicky, try switching to a small profile 1/32-ounce Lindy Little Nipper in either black or Pink/Glow and tip it with a minnow or maggot.

How you fish the bobber rig depends on the mood of the fish. If they’re active and feeding, a slow, constant retrieve is effective and allows you to cover a lot of water. It’s important to note that this retrieve requires a fixed float rather than a slip float. If the fish are less active, twitching the rig and letting it sit for up to a minute may be your best bet.

Crappies do not remain in these areas for very long. They follow baitfish schools out of the backwaters as the water temperature on the main lake climbs towards 50 degrees. Black crappie schools will generally set up on rockpiles, along points, or secondary creek channel edges in depths anywhere from 5 to perhaps 12 feet to await spawning temperatures in the shallows.

Note: Veteran outdoor writer Darl Black also guided for crappies on lakes in northwestern Pennsylvania, including Pymatuning Lake – the best crappie fishery in the state. He may be reach through his website at or by phone at 814-720-1407. The best months for PA crappies are April through July.