But when the "bite" switch kicks on, the reward is fast and furious action. Fishing after dark for these "slumbertime" slabs on Lake Wateree can provide that awesome action.
"Crappies are known to be in Lake Wateree in big numbers and huge sizes," said Bill Garner, a longtime Lake Wateree crappie devotee. "That's why I'm surprised not to see more fishermen taking advantage of fishing for crappie at night during the summer and fall months. When it gets really hot on the lake during the summer and right on into the fall, the action can be sensational at night."
Garner spends a lot of time taking crappie during the daytime as well. He'll work drop-offs and ledges right though the winter, spring and into the summer months. Garner's late-fall and early-winter days are devoted to deer hunting, but much of the rest of the year, crappie, particularly the slabs at Lake Wateree, are among his primary outdoors targets.
"Finding a good place to catch crappie at night is not really difficult on Lake Wateree," Garner said. "I have often fished for crappie during the morning and caught them in good numbers on a drop or ledge in 15 to 20 feet of water. Sometimes, especially if I want to take some friends, I'll return to the same basic area at dark and set up on them with the lights.
"This way, I already know there are crappies in the area I'm fishing," he said. "Plus, the air temperature is cooler, and during the week, there is almost no boat traffic on this lake at night."
Garner said he will anchor his boat in the same depth he caught fish during the day, or sometimes perhaps slightly deeper.
He also said that during the late summer and into September, the lake is stratified into layers, with most of the oxygen in water less than 20 feet deep.
"That's why most crappie fishermen continue to catch crappie in water depths less than 20 feet deep," he said. "Some nighttime fishermen will anchor over deeper water and do real well on the crappie, but they usually end up catching their fish in the 12- to 20-foot depths, even though they may be anchored in 30 feet of water or even deeper."
Garner said the key to fishing at night is getting in an area that he knows crappies are inhabiting and using lights to attract the baitfish.
"During the day, my thought process is to use my depth finder and electric motor and take the bait to the crappie," Garner said. "However, at night, the process is reversed. Anchor in a good area, use lights to draw the baitfish to your location, and then the crappie will follow. It's a really simple process and an easy way to fish and catch a lot of slab crappie."
Garner will anchor his boat along a drop, ledge or point so he can experiment in several depths of water. He said crappie will have specific depth preferences on different nights. What he finds on one trip may influence his starting point on the next, but odds are good he'll have to experiment to find the right depth on any given night.
"I have found on some nights, the crappie will actually move real shallow under the lights," Garner said. "There have been several times when I'm anchored in 15 to 20 feet of water, but the fish will tear the bait up at about four to six feet deep. When the threadfin shad get really thick and circling around the lights, that's when I can expect this type of fishing to occur. The action can be seriously fast-paced, because the crappies are obviously moving in to feed heavily on the baitfish."
Another way to catch crappie at night, particularly from August to October, is to anchor along steep, rock bluffs on the lower end of the lake. Andy Smith employs this technique to catch not only a lot of crappie, but striped bass as well.
"Actually, a few years ago when Lake Wateree was full of white bass, we'd catch more of those than we would crappie," Smith said, "but over the past several years, as the numbers of white perch have increased, the white bass have seemed to thin out. But the aggressive nature of the white bass must have overshadowed the crappie when they were here, because the nighttime crappie fishing seems better than ever right now."
Smith will typically anchor his boat in 25 to 40 feet of water, depending on the bluff he's fishing. As Garner said, most of his fish are caught in 20 feet of water or less.
"There are a couple of factors that influence where I set up," Smith said. "I will get on the lake before dark, and one thing I look for is threadfin shad in the area where I will be fishing. They do not have to be right where I'll be fishing at that time, but I want to see them in the pockets and flats near my fishing spot. They will move to that deeper water and bluffs at night and will be attracted to my lights.
"Second, most of the places I catch a lot of fish will have a shelf or small ledge in the 15- to 20-foot depth range," he said. "While the back of the boat may actually be anchored somewhat deeper, I'll be able to fish near the bottom on that rock outcropping or whatever the formation is.
"Sometimes the fish will be loaded on a little shelf like that, but on other nights, they'll simply be suspended over the deeper water. But that does give me two different options to fish when set up like this."
Smith will also have a few rods rigged for bigger fish, particularly striped bass.
"Lake Wateree is full of stripers," he said. "During this time of the year, they are beginning to hunt down the shad. In fact, by September they are usually surface schooling during the early and late portions of the day.
"Many times when anchored on these steep bluffs at night, we'll have a school of stripers come through at night. When they grab our crappie rigs, they are difficult to deal with, so I usually put out a few heavier rigs baited with live shad we catch in a scoop net, or we'll use large, live shiners. These stripers seem to come in quickly, bite like crazy and wreak havoc, and are gone. But they are a very welcome addition to our cooler."
Smith said that another bonus fish are catfish. While channel cats have long been part of his nighttime catch, blue catfish are now coming on strong.
"Certainly the focus of the trip is on crappie," he said. "But when fishing at night with live bait, there's no telling what's going to bite. During September and into October, huge schools of shad are visible everywhere, and almost all the gamefish, as well as catfish, are feeding on them. The shad are attracted to the light, and the shad-eating fish follow."
According to both Garner and Smith, lights are a key to their success, but there's no single one that always works best.
Garner has used 12-volt white lights with a sliver reflector for years, until new green lights debuted and became popular several years ago.
"I know they both work well, because I've used the regular white lights with great success," Garner said. "However, most of the time now, I use the green lights and circle them around the different sides of my boat. I like to have at least four of the large green lights out, and that seems to do a very good job. However, more light is fine."
Smith prefers to employ both types.
"I really like to light the area up," Smith said. "I don't like a lot of refection in my eyes, so I will use the commercially-prepared lights that have a styrofoam float on them. Plus, I'll alternate with the green lights. I do think the green lights are very attractive to both baitfish and crappie, but my overall success rate seems to be better when using both."
The preferred bait is medium to large minnows, which can be kept alive and frisky by battery-operated aerators - another key to success, according to Smith and Garner.
"Having a live, wiggling minnow is very important," Garner said. "Remember, the crappies are moving in to feed on shad circling the light under your boat. If you want to lure them away from the real thing to your bait, it needs to be alive and get the crappies' attention. I do check my baits often and keep fresh bait on the hook all the time.
"If I get a good bite and miss the fish, I'll give it few seconds to come back, but not long," he said. "If the fish has taken the minnow, or stunned or killed it, I replace it as soon as possible. Many times, as soon as I've let it back down, the fish nails it again, and I'll hook it since I'm already holding the rod."
Rod holders are another key element at night. Both anglers use them; Garner makes his own out of PVC, while Smith uses DriftMaster rod holders.
"The nature of nighttime fishing is one of peace and tranquility for periods of times, interrupted by furious frenzies of activity," Smith said. "While crappie action can sometimes be consistent with occasional bites, usually it's a lot of action for a while, and then it slows. Later it will again get fast again.
"I like to use a lot of rods, often putting out 10 or 12 rods around the boat, especially if there are two or three of us fishing to help watch them all," Smith said. "I prefer light-action rods, usually with spinning reels loaded with 6-pound test line. I'll use split shot to get the bait down to the right depth. Occasionally when fishing shallow around the lights, I'll use floats, but most of the rigs will be tightlines. We just watch for the rod tip to arch down when a crappie bites. A quick hookset reaction is the key to hooking the fish most of the time.
"When the action is slow, we'll enjoy the peace by talking quietly, and then catch fish like crazy when the bite begins. A lot of times, we'll have three or four rigs with fish on at once.
"I think it's really important to have good rod holders. While a slab crappie can pull your rod over the side if it's not attached to something, a big channel or blue catfish will literally yank it out of the boat, and it will be gone in a heartbeat. Use rod holders, or you'll likely wind up with fewer rods than you started the trip with - based on my experiences."
Ever the technical expert, one final word of advice from Garner is to employ some degree of quiet while fishing at night.
"I think it's okay to talk as long, as it's not loud, and it's fine to even play a radio kind of low," he said. "However, consider your surroundings. Usually Lake Wateree is very calm and peaceful at night during this time of the year. You need to make an attempt to blend in to your surroundings when crappie fishing at night. If you're make loud noises, jumping up in the boat and clanging gear, I think you'll hurt your overall catch rate.
"I try to have everything organized so I can reach the rods I'm fishing, get to my bait bucket, drop the fish in a cooler and grab food or drinks with a minimum of movement," Garner said.
Smith said one of the things fishermen need to do when crappie fishing at night is to decide if they are going to party, or to catch a bunch of fish.
"My idea for a good party is tossing one fish after another into the cooler or live well," Smith said. "Certainly a little noise is okay, but I've found the more subdued we are on the boat, the bigger the fish catching party gets."
How long to stay at night is another logical question, but is one that is difficult to answer. For Garner, it really depends on what his plans are for the next day.
"Sometimes, the fishing will be very good right after dark, and I'll be packing up to head home with a limit of crappie well before midnight," he said. "Sometimes, the action can be slow for a few hours before turning on at one or two in the morning."
Smith usually plans to stay most of the night when he can.
"When I pick the right area, we'll usually be into fish pretty quickly after dark," he said. "However, some of (my) most productive nights ever have been when the fish didn't bite at all until after midnight. I've seen nights when we had very few in the cooler at one in the morning, then things literally got crazy wild until just before dawn. My advice is to just plan the trip and stay as long as you can."