Hot Slabs in the Summertime

Late afternoon thunderstorms in central Florida sometimes pop up with such regularity that you can, as the saying goes, “Set your watch by them.” Heat and humidity go together like biscuits and gravy down around Deland, Florida in mid-July. While saltwater fishing in nearby places such as New Smyrna Beach can still be good, many freshwater anglers, especially crappie fans, find the bite a tad on the sparse side. Then there is Jack Smith, a lifetime crappie angler who says the “nighttime is the right time” when it comes to catching slabbers.

Smith, a horticulturist by trade, grew up in Florida where his father served as a game warden. Father and son enjoyed fishing together but job requirements meant most of their opportunities came at night. They fished both saltwater and freshwater, but Smith recalls the only fish they wanted when it came to freshwater was crappie.

Nighttime anglers have used lights to attract fish for many decades. Smith and his father began by using Coleman lanterns and then switched to the lights that were, basically, a vehicle headlight floated in a molded piece of Styrofoam and powered by an alligator clip on a 12-volt battery.

Smith owned a landscape company but began guiding for nighttime crappie 20 years ago. He fishes year-round, but says his best success comes during the hottest months of summer.

Georgia Turner is all smiles showing off this crappie caught in the dark of night. (Photo courtesy Georgia Turner)

“I catch my biggest Florida crappie when the water is almost bathwater hot, ranging from 85-90 degrees,” Smith said, rattling off a host of night fishing advantages, among them almost nonexistent boat traffic, cooler temperatures and diminished chance of storms.

“Come April, many people switch from trying to catch crappie to targeting bluegills, shellcrackers and other panfish. I’ll walk into a bait store in summer and people will ask, ‘What are you fishing for?’ When I tell them it’s crappie, they say, ‘I didn’t know you could catch crappie in the summertime,’” Smith said.

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