John's Journal...

Catching Crappie with the Sipes Brothers

Day 5: Crappie Bite All Year Long with Sonny Sipes

Editorís Note: Gilford ďSonnyĒ Sipes of Moody, Alabama, is one of the nationís top crappie fishermen. He and his brother, Shannon Sipes, just have won the Alabama State Championship on the Alabama River near Montgomery, Alabama, on the Crappie Masters tournament circuit. His first partner was Coy Sipes. He won the first Crappie Masters championship in 2004 in Grenada, Mississippi. His two-day catch of 20 fish weighed 37.88 pounds, the heaviest ever weighed-in for a Crappie Masters tournament. In the Alabama 2013 State Championship, Sonny and Shannon Sipes weighed-in 14 crappie, a total of 27 pounds and a few ounces. They also caught the biggest fish in the tournament, a 3.01-pound crappie.

Click for Larger ViewCrappie will bite at any time of the year. Theyíll bite in the hot summer months and also in the cold winter months. You just have to find the fish and present a bait to them in a way that theyíll eat it. For instance, during the cold months of December and January, crappie usually will be close to the bottom and will want the bait presented really slowly. When Iím looking for crappie in December, I go to the deepest part of the lake and start looking for fish near the bottom. On the Warrior River in Alabama, which is a fairly warm state, we caught crappie at 27-feet deep in the month of January one time. We were fishing a tournament and won by 4 pounds.

Click for Larger ViewThereís quite a debate going on about whatís the best bait for crappie: jigs or minnows. Instead of arguing with people or trying to take crappie with either jigs or minnows, I fish with both. If I put a jig on one of my lines, Iím going to tip that jig with a live minnow. Iíve learned that big fish most often will take a jig/minnow combination. Youíre not going to eliminate smaller crappie, but Iíve learned that the bigger crappie consistently prefer a combination of a hair jig and a big minnow. The jig color I use to catch big crappie depends on the color of the water. In clear water, I prefer chartreuse jigs or some kind of combination that has chartreuse in it. In stained water, Iíve been most successful fishing an orange jig. In real-muddy water, black seems to be the crappieís preferred color. These arenít absolutes, but traditionally these have been the best colors for me under these water conditions. The jigs I fish most often are the Roadrunner 2.0. This jig has a really-good hook and a small blade on it, and that flash of the blade often will cause the crappie to bite. I like the bubble grubs on them.

Click for Larger ViewDuring the spring, we usually get some fairly-heavy rain throughout the country. Many fishermen will turn around and go back home if the river looks like a Hershey candy bar (very muddy). But you still can catch crappie in that muddy water, because there will always be water thatís not as muddy as the water in the main part of the lake or river. You start off by picking the part of the lake thatís not nearly as muddy and then plan to fish there really slowly. You can always get a crappie to bite, if youíre using an orange-and-black jig. Also, remember that in the spring of the year if you encounter muddy water, fish shallower than you normally fish. I probably wonít fish any deeper than one foot. The crappie move up to shallow water to get more light and heat from the sun. Usually at this time of the year, they also have spawning on their mind. Theyíll be close to the bank as well as suspended in deep water.

Another question Iím often asked is if I build brush shelters and/or do I put out stake beds for crappie? The next question Iím asked is where I put out these brush or stake beds. The answer is quite simple. I put out fish attractors in places where Iíve always caught crappie. When you put structure out in a place you catch crappie, you can be 100% sure that youíre always going to catch crappie in that spot, if you provide the structure where the crappie can hold. If you put structure in a place where youíve never caught crappie, thereís only a 50% chance that structure will attract crappie to that spot. There are certain areas in some lakes that never will hold crappie. You could sink the Empire State Building in these areas of the lake and still not catch any crappie. There are also other sections in that same lake where youíll consistently find crappie. So, when I put out structure, I put it in the places I know the crappie will want to be.

Click for Larger ViewI use both brush and stake beds. I use whatever structure is the least expensive and the easiest to create. As Iíve mentioned earlier, I like to catch crappie all year long, so I sink some structure in really-deep places, other areas in medium depths and some in extremely-shallow water. This way, regardless of the time of the year or the depth of the water, I have places I can catch crappie. My favorite place to sink structure is along an underwater creek channel that makes a 90-degree turn. Whether you sink the brush on the upside of the creek bend or the down sides havenít really mattered. Points are another good location to sink structure. If youíre going to put fish attractors out, youíll need to make sure you have some in shallow, medium and deep depths. The crappie will move into the deepest structure during the prespawn and the summer. Theyíll hold on the middle structure prior to the spawn and immediately after the spawn. On the shallow-water structure, theyíll hold there during the spawn.

People also want to know how close I sink the brush piles to each other. I try not to put my brush piles any closer than 50-yards from each other, unless Iím putting out three brush piles in a row at different depths at points or other structure-like points. One of the reasons I like to have brush piles close each other is I donít have to burn a lot of gas running from one brush pile to another to fish. Most of the time the crappie will hold above the fish attractors. If Iím fishing brush, Iíll let my jigs run right into the brush, and when one pole gets hung up, I donít try to get that jig unhung. I just watch my other poles, and the crappie usually will start biting on those other poles. When the crappie quit biting, Iíll get my jig unhung and move to the next brush pile. I really donít think Iíve learned everything there is to know about crappie fishing. But I feel like Iíve gotten a pretty good education on how to find and catch them. Every year I tend to learn a little bit more than what I knew before.

The Sipes team use either Tru-Turn hooks or Xpoint hooks on their minnow rigs. They also use Roadrunner lures. One of their favorites is the Roadrunner Pro 2.0 and the Lake Fork baby shad in the lime or lime trues glow colors. To learn more about the jigs and hooks that the Sipes use, visit

Sonny Sipes also guides for crappie on several lakes in Alabama. You can contact him at 205-919-0982, or you can email him at

To learn more about crappie fishing, go to Or, to view an online crappie fishing magazine, go to

To learn more about how to catch crappie, click here, or visit, and type in the name of John E. Phillips’ latest crappie-fishing book, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer.”

About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (AMA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Check back each day this week for more about "Catching Crappie with the Sipes Brothers"

Day 1: How to Catch Crappie in the Spring When a Front Hits with the Sipes Brothers
Day 2: Why Sonny Sipes Believes Slow Trolling Is the Best Way to Catch Crappie
Day 3: When to Catch What Crappie as the Spawn Begins with Sonny Sipes
Day 4: How I Learned to Find and Catch Crappie with Sonny Sipes
Day 5: Crappie Bite All Year Long with Sonny Sipes

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Entry 711, Day 5