Crappie fishing has seen a surge in popularity in many parts of the world. Crappie fight well and can be caught on both live baits and artificial lures, giving you the ultimate freshwater challenge. Taking them using light-tackle and lure-fishing techniques is incredibly exciting.
Why is crappie fishing fun?
Crappie fishing’s popularity continues to soar across North America and around the world. This surge in popularity stems from increased coverage from tv shows dedicated magazines like Crappie Now. Another reason is the increase in the number of tournaments which offer large purses (which was unheard of a few years ago mind you). This offers a serious incentive, to want to go out there and compete. Crappie fishing also provides a stepping stone for novice anglers, from sunfish such as bluegill to a more intermediate fish that is bigger and slightly more aggressive. Some of the reasons that make crappie fishing enjoyable are;
What are the different types of crappie?
There are two main types of crappie, black crappie, and white crappie. (Both are common across North America because of their nomadic habits) but the white crappie is more widespread.
Black crappie are darker in color when compared to white crappie. Not only that but they have asymmetrical speckles on their sides. The speckles on their sides are spread throughout, not in noticeable bars.” Their dorsal fin has seven or eight spines on it. (They prefer cool and clear water)
The current world record for the largest black crappie ever caught is; 5 pounds, was caught in Missouri, in 2006.
White crappie on that other hand are lighter in color and have dark vertically barred speckles in a semi-symmetrical pattern. They have a more elongated body and usually have a maximum of six dorsal spines.
The current world record for the largest white crappie ever caught is 5 pounds, 3 ounces; Enid Dam, Mississippi; 1957.”
Where to catch crappie
If you want to catch a lot of crappie, irrespective of season, it is important to know that crappie will always concentrate in areas that provide the best living conditions and learning to identify these areas is imperative to your success. Anglers will sometimes refer to these living conditions as the 3 C’s current, cover and cuisine.
Current - crappies will look for good current to deliver food to them, so they don’t have to go chasing it around.
Chow or cuisine - crappies will not stick around unless there is food around for them to eat.
Cover - they use cover to deflect the current so they have a nice place to rest and also use the cover for protection against predators.
Crappie tend to favor places with lots of cover, such as; rock piles, submerged brush piles, sunken stumps and weeds to name a few, are places you should expect to find crappie. Crappie are known to be suspending fish, so fishing in deeper waters with plenty of structure is always a better bet especially during the colder months. As the weather warms up however, especially during Spring expect to catch spawning crappie in relatively shallow water.
What baits or lures do I need for crappie fishing?
The variety of baits and lures available for crappie fishing, and fishing in general, has risen exponentially over the last few years. What bait or lure to use will depend on the season and your geographical location. Below is a list of some of the more popular baits and lures for crappie fishing.
These consist of anything fish might consume in their natural habitat and are recommended for most beginners. Below are my favorites;
Minnows are a favorite for most anglers as they seem to attract fish like a magnet to lead. For crappie, you do not need minnows larger than 3 inches. Hook minnows on their tail or lip to allow them to swim naturally so they can attract fish.
Worms are the go-to baits for most novices and the ones I started off with. They’re really easy to put on a hook and attract a lot of crappies and other freshwater fish. They’re available at any decent bait store and are cheaper than most baits, saving you money.
Storage of natural baits
Live baits are hard to keep alive, especially during warmer seasons. But you use the following tips to increase your chances of keeping your bait alive;
Crappie fishing lures
Lures are designed to trick fish into thinking they’ve found an easy meal. Lures come in a variety of shapes and appearances which offer a plethora of different actions, scents and even sounds, all designed to make fish bite.
Advantages of using lures
A piece of lead with a hook attached. The hook is usually concealed with feathers, hair or a soft plastic.
Marabou jigs - made from feathers undulate in water just from the current making it seem alive which attracts crappie to them.
Tungsten jig - added weight makes it easier to get to where crappies are holding. They’re great for when crappie are holding deep and when using slip bobber rigs because they pull line.
Jigs work well when tipped with live minnows or soft plastics.
You want them to be long and slender and no more than 2 inches.
The bigger bill style is great for when crappie are suspended over deeper water and you want your bait to dive quickly.
Small bill when crappie are in shallow water and are closer to the surface
Made form oval shaped blades made from a thin metal with a hook. The blades spin and propel in the water when reeled in, which mimics baitfish this movement attracts crappie. by movement propelling through the water when reeled because they have a reflective coating that catches the light and attracts crappies. Spinnerbaits work well with the cast and retrieve technique.
Soft plastic baits come in a wide range of shapes, and sizes. Most have tails that impart action during retrieve a give the baits a lifelike action. I prefer using soft plastics for tipping my jigs over live baits they’re more durable, come in a wider variety of colors for all situations.
Baits for fishing crappies in heavy cover
When you’re fishing crappies in heavy cover like brush, trees it is important to have a bait that has a lot of action without having to move your rod and move the bait that much because if you have to make big jigging motions for your bait to work you’re going to get snagged all the time. So you’ll need baits that have a good action without making a big jigging stroke.
Pre-rigged minnows - with an action tail. Tail wiggles without having to move your rod much. The wiggling tail will attract a lot of crappie and you’ll get a lot of bites.
Kicker tail baits - work with just a little bit of movement.
Tube jigs - which you don’t have to move a lot to get crappie to bite.
Baits with marabou hair - marabou hair fans out in the water and the current will move the hair giving it a little action which will trigger strikes.
Crappie fishing techniques
Still fishing is perhaps the most known and perhaps the most challenging fishing method because it requires a lot of patience. In a nutshell still fishing is presenting bait in your rig of choice, then waiting for the fish to find it and bite. Many people consider still fishing to be boring but it has its place and is most useful when the fish are easily spooked.
Simply put, vertical jigging is disengaging your reel and letting your bait drop straight down until it hits the bottom or until it is deeper than the crappie are suspended. Then, engaging your reel and slowly reeling the bait back up until you get a bite.
Once you get a bite, note the depth at which you got the bite and focus on fishing at that depth. This is a great technique to use when crappie are suspended in deeper water or when they’re holding in tight cover where normal horizontal casting would impossible.
Bobber fishing techniques
Bobber fishing is perhaps the most commonly used fishing technique for crappie. It is ideal when crappie are suspended near the surface and the bottom has a lot of structure where you can get snagged. Fixed bobbers will keep your bait at a fixed depth in the water column.
Fixed bobbers have one major disadvantage if crappie are suspended over deeper it becomes impossible to cast. To tackle this problem you can use a slip bobber which allows adjusting your bait to the depth the crappie are suspended.
Cast and retrieve
Casting and retrieving is one of the most popular methods of fishing crappie with jigs. The technique is self-explanatory, you cast your jig as far as you can then slowly retrieve your jig enticing the crappie to bite. The key is to retrieve slowly keeping your jig at the same water column as the crappie.
Crappie fishing by season
Spring is the perfect time to fish for crappie. As the water begins to warm reaching temperatures of about 55 degrees, spawning crappies will move to shallow water. How shallow they spawn depends on the clarity of the water. In murky and muddy waters you can find crappie on the banks spawning in water as shallow as 1-3 feet. In ultra clear water they might spawn as deep as 20 feet.
Crappie tend to spook easily making it difficult to approach where they are spawning. A stealthy approach is necessary when approaching their beds. A long fishing rod works best, as it allows you to place your presentation exactly where you want it, without spooking the fish.
Spawning crappie rarely leave their beds to chase after food and seldom feed on the surface, so it is important that you present your bait above them and close to them sometimes to within a few inches. You’ll need to experiment with this to see which depth works the best.
Spring crappie fishing rig
The perfect rig for springtime fishing is an ultralight reel & rod, a bobber with a size 4 or 6 hook that has an earthworm or minnow hooked on it. Soft plastics (minnows, worms, larvae) work extremely well too. 2-6lb test fishing line is sufficient for crappie fishing. Once you catch one, expect to catch a ton more because crappies tend to school.
Pro-tip: Crappie are sometimes referred to as paper mouth because of the thin membrane around their mouths so you don’t want to horse them in because the hook might tear out of their mouth.
Post spawn, as the weather gets warmer crappies tend to move to deeper water. A lot of anglers perpetuate the misconception that it is hard to catch crappie during the summer. But this is far from the truth. You can catch tons of crappie during the summer you just need to remember two things;
- 1Crappie have a tendency to suspend over open water more than any other panfish sometimes as deep as 25 feet.
- 2Crappie are low light feeders.
A lot of times during the day crappies are going to be suspended over deep water, in brush and other woody cover which makes them tough to find and catch. Unless you get lucky and get a bite it will be no easy task to locate them in deep water. The easiest method would be to troll deep waters using a fish finder.
During summer it can be tough to catch crappies during the day, but one place you should be looking in, which is often overlooked is in the weeds. You can sometimes find crappies there during the day.
Crappie fishing rig for summer
Use a slip bobber rig with a minnow or jig. If you’re fishing in the weeds or where there is a lot of structure you're probably going to lose a few jig heads and hooks you might want to consider using (larger test line to avoid being snagged and constant breakouts).
It is important to note that, even if they’re in the weeds, a lot of times they’re not going to be that active until right before dark. In the evening crappie will move up to feed. You’ll have a lot more success if you try to catch them when they’re feeding at dawn or late in the evening. If you plan on fishing at night, a good artificial light will go a long way.
A good rule of thumb for summer crappie fishing, is to fish in deep waters during the day and shallow in the evening or when there is low light.
Fall crappie fishing tips
When fall comes around, a lot of anglers make the grave mistake of storing their boats away and giving up on crappie fishing entirely. As the weather gets colder crappies are often scattered and difficult to find, you’ll start to hear things like it’s impossible to catch crappies during the fall. But, fall, in my opinion, is the best time of the year to catch crappies! You just need to look in the right places and the right technique to present your bait!
In early Fall water temperatures begin to dip and when this happens, crappies will start to do 2 things;
- 1They will move from the deep water following bait fish into shallow water (not as shallow as spring though)
- 2Schools of crappie will go on a feeding binge to bulk up for winter when food will be scarce.
Crappie get easier to catch during fall because all summer long they’re usually hiding in the weeds and are suspended over deeper waters but now you can see them on your electronics it makes it really easy to pinpoint them which is all triggered by the cool weather.
Also, crappie that do not eat enough going into the winter months might die before the onset of Spring. This need to feed makes them a lot easier to catch because they’ll be bitting at any and everything and you should take full advantage of this.
Where to find crappie during the fall
As a rule of thumb, if you want to catch crappie, find their food (bait fish, shad etc.) and you’ll find lots of crappies. It’s hard to see bait fish with your naked eye, but what I tend to do when I’m fishing crappies in the fall is to do one of two things;
- 1Either use my sonar to find bait fish that’s milling around the areas that I suspect crappies to be.
- 2I use my eyes and use the telltale signs of the birds. Typically the gulls will follow the bait whenever the bait goes and if you can find gulls you’ll typically find the bait if you can find the bait you’ll find the crappies.
Cover: two important kinds of shallow cover to consider when fishing for fall crappies and that’s rock and wood. Rock talking primarily about main channel riprap and wood deadfalls that have fallen from shore into the river. Both of those will provide good obstructions from the current, good places for the crappies to hide and good places for you to focus your attention on. Wood is good heat absorber, absorbing heat from the sun and transferring it into the water, which draws baitfish and crappies.
Late fall crappie fishing tips
In late fall the water will start to get colder all the way down to the low 30s, this will have an adverse effect on the crappies, they will start to move slower because they’re cold-blooded and will not have a lot of energy which means they are not going to move very far to chase baits. They will move into deeper water where the water is a bit warmer.
Fall crappie fishing baits
You’ll have to slow down your approach and barely move the bait. If you’re drifting it has to be very slow. trolling motor to slow the boat down so that you’re barely moving.
Minnows it is usually hard to out fish a minnow. During the Fall when the water starts to get really cold into the low 30s, crappies will want to bite on a smaller bait. Regular minnows might be a bit too big so try and use crappie minnows during this time of year.
VMC wax tail jig - tiny jig which is very small so you can get those really finicky bitters when the water gets really called to feed on the bait. fall crappie in deep water when you’re using a bait this small you’ll have to put a big sinker 1 to 2 feet above the bait so you can get it down to the bottom.
1/16 ounce VMC hot skirt jig in chartreuse tipped with the tail end of a 3-inch trigger x walleye minnow. trigger x walleye minnow gives favorable scent, excellent taste from the crappies perspective, and gives me just a little bit more action than that hot skirt jig will have all by itself. a deadly combination for crappies all over the country, at all times of the year.
Winter crappie ice fishing
For the adventurous or serious angler who is willing to brave the cold and get out there, winter offers great opportunities for you to ice fish and catch a ton of crappies provided you have the right game plan
Where to find crappie during the winter
A good place to always start is your local DNR website which will have detailed information like fish populations, size and lake characteristics and patterns of catching the populations. Once you have this information you can start scouting the lake. You want to concentrate on steeper banks with prime structure. Your transition area is between each corner of a steep bank into a flat. What you should be looking for are deep basins off a point. Crappies like these inside turns and you should be looking for 30 plus feet of water depending on your location.
If you pinpoint them during fall a lot of times if you go visit that location in the ice season they’re usually still in that location.
If you don’t want to be drilling holes all day with little to no success I would recommend investing in an ice flasher.
You can find crappie in deep water (20 to 40 feet) in the winter, but they will move into shallower water during a string of warm days. The key to catching crappie in the winter is to use a very slow retrieve. In cold water, crappie will not chase a fast-moving lure like they will during the warmer months.
In addition, winter crappie tend to congregate in large, dense schools near structure instead of scattering in loose schools over a large area. Casts to one side of a brush pile may yield nothing while the other side may produce a fish on nearly every cast.
Recommended Crappie ice fishing gear
When purchasing gear you don’t have to go all out. But there are some essentials that will make your trip more enjoyable and successful.
Crappie Ice fishing presentations and rigs
There are a lot of different presentations that are effective for crappie from thick spoons when they’re aggressive, to the tiniest baits for finesse bites.
Fishing for crappie anytime is never hyper-aggressive. Knowing that you should always have the following 3 presentations with you at all times.
- 1The most subtle of all is live bait. Crappies love minnows either dead sticked or under a float.
- 2A more aggressive approach is to use a VMC hot skirt jig rigged with some sort of plastic or maybe waxes or larvae. if you’re not getting any response from those I filter down to a meat presentation a jig a tungsten with a waxie or go down to a move finesse presentation like small tungstens jigs and plastics.
- 3The third and most aggressive method is to use either jigging spoons or. little jigging spoons a lot of times crappies like a lot of movement. When fishing in big deep basins you’re probably moving fast and looking for active fish. These heavy lures allow to get down quickly when you’re fishing in deep water.
Ice fishing technique
After finding the right presentation it’s all up to you to tease them into biting with a variety of jigging cadences.
You don’t want to be dropping the bait right on the fish you want to drop the bait right above them. If you drop it above them they get active. You want to keep that bait above them at all times. Usually, if you suck the fish 3 or 4 feet off the bottom or above where they’re suspended, they’re going to bite.
You should be reading your graph, a lot of times you’ll find the depth that they’re not going to go above to chase a bait (10ft mark will stall out and go back down. Always want to keep that bait above the fish but having a tool like a Vexlar makes fishing more fun also making it easier to change your fishing techniques because you can see how crappie are reacting down there.
A lot of people with drop their bait right to the level of the fish and I think that spooks them a little bit. If you can get them to come up to the bait they seem to want to commit a bit better.
Always be prepared to set your hook the moment your line goes slack. Winter crappie strikes are usually very subtle. They might feel like you’ve hooked on to leaf. But once you feel like something is hooked set the hook immediately.
A note on clothing and safety
It is important to dress appropriately for the weather in order to succeed. That means finding the right balance between warmth and comfort. As a rule of thumb always wear more clothing than you think you will need. Your body should always be warm and dry.
For safety, I recommend that you always wear a personal flotation device (PFD). In the unfortunate event of a fall through the ice, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Make sure it is in proper working condition by testing your PDF as recommended by the manufacturer.
In a nutshell, crappie will always be attracted to areas with a lot of cover regardless of season. For Spring and Fall look for crappie in shallow water and during Summer and Winter fish for crappie in deep water.