Show me an experienced crappie angler and I’ll show you a good angler. Actively hunting for crappie develops angling skills that transfer across a broad range of angling disciplines.
The conscientious crappie angler, well versed in solid crappie basics, will, over time, become the complete angler.
In a relatively short time, new but thoughtful crappie anglers develop an ability to apply their knowledge to most fish targets, fresh and saltwater.
Why? Because catching crappie successfully, requires a solid grip on angling essential skills.
From locating the target to bait selection. From the battle to landing and cleaning the catch.
Crappie fishing is an angling classroom where you remain a student until the day you hang up your rods.
Let’s have a look at essential crappie basics, from kitting up to cooking. And let’s see why crappie fishing helps you become a complete angler.
A Brief Crappie Overview
Catching crappie is great fun. They’re abundant, available all year round, and they taste fantastic.
The other great thing about crappie is that they’re kind of social and hang out together in numbers.
This is great news for the crappie hunter. If you catch one, there’s definitely more of them right where you’re fishing.
In all honesty, do we need to know any more? Where’s my rod…hold my beer.
Actually…hand me my beer…fishing for crappie can be a very chilled and relaxing pastime – the epitome of weekend dangling for the casual weekend angler.
However, for the sports angler, they can be an awesome and rewarding target. And it’s very easy to become addicted to the crappie hunt. Countless anglers have.
If you have a rod and reel, a simple handline, or a piece of cane and string for that matter, you have access to crappie.
You don’t need a boat. While it helps, as would a kayak, there’s awesome crappie fishing to be had from the land.
Importantly, the crappie is a great target for all ages and all angling skill levels.
Crappie fishing is just as good for the 4-year-old learning to handle their first rod, as it is for the master angler, who remembers what 5 pounders look like.
As most of us know, there are two types of crappie, black and white. Apart from a few locations that are exclusive to black or white, when you find one, you will likely find the other.
There’s plenty of crappie maps online, but I really like this one for a great overview.
Hailing from Canada and the eastern states of the US, the freshwater species has managed to take hold in nigh on all states.
This wasn’t a natural migration, however. There was a determined human hand involved in seeding the crappie countrywide.
While a native to the continent, introducing species non-native to particular waterways, lakes and river systems is fraught, to say the least.
Given the crappie’s propensity to breed like rabbits, the potential remains for crappie to dominate the locals.
Black crappie females can lay more than 188,000 eggs which can hatch in less than a week. White crappie lay just short of 100,000.
They’re considered mature at age 2 to 3 years.
It’s not hard to see them taking over, should predation and lack of food not keep numbers down.
Given they can live up to 10 years, they can really make their presence felt. Fortunately, they’re native to the continent and therefore have nothing like the impact of the foreign carp.
For example, large quantities of crappie can quickly diminish local food sources for other fish species.
Also, where a large number of crappie compete for food, growth rates of fish can be much slower.
Crappie Are Pretty Small
The crappie you’re most likely to catch weigh in at around half a pound. 7 to 10 inches is pretty common, with white crappie a slightly larger max and on average – it’s negligible, however.
While they can grow up to 20 inches and weigh as much as 5 pounds, these guys are pretty rare.
However, they do exist. And a determined angler with a great eye for location and habitat will find the 3 + pound fish more often.
In many respects, this is one of the great challenges of the crappie hunt. Crappie hunters like to pride themselves on locating the 16-inch whoppers – we’ll talk about that shortly.
Yep, they’re small. You’re not hunting marlin here. However, when fished with the appropriate light gear, the sport is great.
It’s Crappie Season
Crappie are available all year round. Spring is the most productive, with fall running a close second.
Don’t give up during summer and winter however, crappie are still hungry, feeding and abundant. They’ve just moved, that’s all.
It’s important you vary location and tactics as the seasons change. Crappie like more constant water temperatures.
So they will move between the shallows and deeper water looking for greater consistency in temperatures. More on that later.
Also Read: Ice Fishing For Crappie Tips
The Crappie Diet
It’s fair to say that crappie aren’t too fussy. They’re opportunistic feeders, which is great for anglers. Live minnows are the crappie favorite.
In my books, there is no better bait for crappie.
Depending on the location and conditions, insects and bugs are also part of the crappie staple, as are the fingerlings of other fish species.
Crappie do have a fussy side when it comes to lure colors. Often crappie hunters will go through a boatload of jig colors before they find a winner.
Finding a color the crappie like for any given session drives me crazy…and I’m not sure there’s any reliable science to it, apart from the standard, natural colors in clear water, dark colors in the murky stuff.
Do you match the hatch? Or contrast? Experiment. It’s the only way. This is where spider rigs can be beneficial.
Crappie love structure and cover. This is not surprising, so many fish do.
They also like the water temperature, ‘just so’ and reasonably constant. As the seasons change, so too does the preferred hangout of the crappie schools.
Fishing For Crappie – Tip and Tricks
For me, success with crappie is all about the percentage play. While getting creative certainly can help, it’s the pragmatic approach to solid basics that delivers the best results.
It’s nigh on impossible to cover everything here, there’s plenty of ways to skin this cat.
For this crappie article, however, I’m going to focus on the tips and techniques that are sure to win you a great crappie every time.
Location is Pretty Critical
Lakes, rivers, and ponds, large and small – sounds simple enough. However, crappie move about the system depending on the season, water temperature, and their spawning instincts.
Evidence suggests the timing of movements can also be influenced by the availability of an easy feed.
Thing is, fish habits can be peculiar to local waterways, and behaviors differ between black and white crappie.
For example, research in Kentucky showed that, contrary to popular belief, black crappie will stay in the shallows a couple of months following the spawn.
While the whites had moved to deeper water, the blacks had stayed in the shallows.
Interestingly, local crappie behaviors tend to repeat year in year out. And that delivers benefits for anglers.
Over time you can build up a diary of the areas you fish which can save you a heck of a lot of search time, and increase your time actually catching fish.
So… what does that all mean? It means you must do your research. You need to develop your instincts based on basic rules of thumb.
If you’re new to an area, asking around is the prudent first step. For your local area?
Sure, ask around, but getting out and fishing through the year is a must.
In that regard, there can be a level of patience required. Particularly for the anglers without boats and sounders.
How Do You Know Where to Start?
These days the experts and well equipped seem to take it for granted that everybody has a boat and a sounder.
Well…it’s not the case, and your average angler doesn’t always have such access.
When looking for advice online, I frequently find advice from experts giving advice assuming expensive arsenals of equipment.
Clearly, with a sounder, you can check the water temps at particular depths, as well as find the submerged structure, not to mention fish.
It’s even easier if a local can point you in the right direction or give you GPS coordinates.
It’s finding fish without these aids that makes you a more complete angler. Essentially, it’s not that complicated, but it can be a little time consuming with a few fishless attempts.
Baits, Rigs and Critical Tackle for Crappie Fishing
Here’s the process I take if I’m at a place of which I’m not familiar with, and all I have is rod and reel, and my wits.
I’ll tackle this dilemma below and consider fishing land-based and afloat.
I’ll not go into ice fishing here either, that’s an article unto itself. Importantly, I’m limiting myself to one rod.
I like a light to ultra-light 8-foot rod. It’s a great compromise for compact fishing and casting distance.
I can use this easily from land or in a boat. I’m not a kayak angler, but I’m pretty sure I’d drop the length to 6 foot should I be casting seated and inches from the water.
A slow action is preferred, and I like a rod rated 4 to 6-pounds. The slow action takes out a little of the sensitivity, however, the graphite tends to balance that out a little.
I’m not too fussy about the grip, but the cork grip tends to transfer the feel a little more efficiently.
The Reel and Line
Because you’re fishing so light, a spin reel is the best choice. They perform a lot better with light lines and light lures than baitcasting reels.
Spool a 1000 or 2000 spin reel with 4 to 6-pound mono. Experienced anglers will use two pounds.
For your average angler, I suggest 2 pound is a little too light. For the weekend angler and inexperienced, I’d recommend 6 pound. It’s just that little bit more forgiving.
Crappie is not a job for braided lines. The lack of stretch is not ideal for the paper mouths of crappie. Having said that, there are some braided lines that are suitable for crappie.
Crappie will make a liar of the most secure hook-up; this is why light rods and lighter mono line is the best option.
The stretch of mono is far more forgiving and will result in far fewer bust-ups.
Baits for Crappie
Minnows, minnows, and minnows. Alive. In all honesty, it doesn’t get better than this. At different times of the year and in certain locations, crappie will take insects of all sorts.
However, a live minnow is the best bait there is for crappie bar none. If you can’t manage live ones, fresh dead ones will suffice.
Do yourself a favor and take the time to collect live minnows. If you can’t get minnows, move on to lures. Remember. We’re talking about the percentage play here.
Hook the minnow through both lips or behind the head above the lateral line. If weight is required use the smallest split-shot directly above the hook.
Short of natural baits, Berkeley makes a great bait that’s effective and brilliant for the kids to bait up hooks. In my books, it’s not ideal, but it definitely works.
Lures for Crappie
1/8th ounce jig heads with half-inch grubs are ideal. Choosing a color can be a nightmare.
As I mentioned earlier, crappie can be color fussy. Your only option is plenty of color options. Asking locals can save a lot of wasted time too.
Simply drop your jig to the desired depth or cast it if you need to. There’s no need to put serious work on it.
When it settles to your required depth a simple subtle jerk and pause is all you need.
Expect a hit on the pause.
Try lighter, more natural colors for clear water and dark colors for murky water. That applies to hard body lures as well.
For hard body’s I like very small cranks and minnow profiles. Work them slowly with occasional pauses.
Don’t overthink it, and there’s no need to put in serious tip work to generate action. The retrieve and pause do the trick.
Make sure you have lures that can be worked at different depths.
Rigging with a float can be a lot of fun and deliver advantages as well.
While some anglers like them for fishing at depth, I like them for fishing directly above shallow structure.
Keeping a live minnow suspended just above the structure will deliver outstanding results.
The Spinner Advantage
Spinners, both in-line and the safety pin style, can be brilliant crappie lures. In fact, if I’m exploring a location it will often be the first bait I cast.
In my experience, spinners have a habit of getting success first cast. The flash and vibration is often irresistible, and crappie grab them without hesitation.
Fishing Crappie in the Spring
As a rule, head for the shallows, or 10 feet of water and less. They’re taking cover in structure, like reeds, reef/rocks, timber – natural and manmade, like docks or moored boats. I love using a bobber here.
Land-based anglers shouldn’t need a long cast at all, boat anglers should be casting toward the structure by the banks.
Fishing Crappie in the Summer
Come the summer, crappie tend to gravitate to water depths of 15 to 20 feet. If you’re land-based look for steep banks and quick drop-offs.
Again, make sure there is structure there. Fishing under a bridge or a dock can be very productive if you’re land based.
For the boaties, use your sounder to find depth and structure. Bridges are fantastic places, so too is old timber.
Without a sounder, use other methods to assess depth and structure. Look for dramatic changes in water color to indicate depth. These drop-offs are a good place to start.
This is when I’ll drop a live minnow straight down or vertical jig for the best results. Spinnerbaits are great here too.
It can be difficult to find the strike zone depth. So, drop your jig to the bottom and work your way up the water column.
Fall’s a Great Time for Crappie
Crappie tend to school up in big numbers come the fall…social as they are. Cast the points and coves that are loaded with structure of any kind.
Cast your jig and let it sink 3 to 5 seconds and reel it in slowly. The action can be thick and fast here, so I prefer jigs here to live baits.
Winter Crappie Tips
Essentially, use the same process as you do for the summer. They’re deeper in the water column.
It’s important to remember that they get a little on the sluggish side during the cold. This is when I like to use particularly small jigs, usually a grub tail, and I work it as lazily as I can.
I find that I catch more fish land-based in winter because I’m not mucking about with boats and searching.
I go to places where there is deep water and plenty of structure. When you find them, it can go crazy, as they’re all schooled up.
The Best Time of Day To catch Crappie
Like many fish species, crappie are most active at dawn and dusk. I also like to fish after midnight for a few hours.
When I fish the late evenings, I like to use a big unweighted minnow. I would have to say that this is when I have caught my biggest crappie.
If for some reason I find myself fishing the middle of a hot sunny day, I find live baits deliver the best results.
My Thoughts on Spider Rigs
Spider rigs can be very productive. Particularly when you’re looking to find the perfect bait and best spot in the water column.
If you intend using spider rigs, make sure you are aware of local laws. Some locations have strict limits on the number of rods you can have in the water.
For me, the spider rig seems to take a little of the sport out. It feels a little like a production line where the quality of the fight is sacrificed for numbers.
It’s great for the anglers who can’t sit still, particularly when you hit the school. By the time you have a boat and 8 rigs, the spider rig can become a pretty expensive exercise.
The Crappie Fight
As I mentioned earlier, it’s very easy to pull the hooks from a crappie, such is their mouths. Violent strikes and sudden jolts are an easy way to pull the hooks.
The most important thing in a crappie fight is pressure. Lift the tip to set the hooks, don’t ‘strike’ as such. It is also important to keep the pressure on throughout the fight.
Whenever there is slack line one of two things can happen. Firstly, a slack line is a great opportunity for the fish to throw the hooks with head shakes.
Secondly, when you look to regain the pressure after the line has gone slack, the is a tendency to jerk your rod and pull the hooks. Keep the pressure constant throughout the fish for the best results.
Crappie for the Table
Arguably, crappie is our best freshwater table fish. They’re absolutely delicious. You will even find that those not particularly partial to fish will enjoy perfectly cooked crappie.
The flesh is firm, white and not oily. They don’t seem to retain the dirty flavor of the muddy pond from where you caught them.
Learning to fillet crappie is a great way to become a good filleter. This fish you catch are often small, so you learn how to get plenty of meat from the frame without leaving any behind.
I always fillet and skin crappie. Eating small whole fish can be a pain because of bones. So, a little time at the cleaning tables makes all the difference come dinner time.
Here’s an awesome video showing how to fillet crappie for beautiful boneless fillets.
For me, cooking is a very simple affair. Such is the perfect flavor of crappie I prefer to eat them unadulterated without sauces and flavors.
A simple light beer batter is perfect. Then shallow fry the fillets in butter. Season to taste, but apart from a little salt in the batter mix. I leave it to my dinner guests to season their own fish once cooked.
The Crappie Wrap
The successful crappie angler has an excellent grasp of fishing basics. Where do they live? When are they active? What do they eat? And how are they impacted by the seasons and the environment?
Once you understand this, you not only have access to crappie, but you have a road map to mastering other species as well.
Finding crappie is the hardest part. So long as you understand structure and seasonal water depth, you have half the battle won.
It’s a simple fish that requires a thoughtful pragmatic approach. Don’t overthink it, just look for the structure and following our crappie fishing tips above.
With a few seasons of successful crappie hunting under your belt, you’re well on your way to becoming an accomplished angler.