Crappie are among the most fished-for game fish throughout North America. They’re very fun to catch, and they’re also considered some of the tastiest freshwater fish. Along with bluegills and pumpkin seed, crappie sure are some of the first fish caught by almost any angler in the U.S. or Canada.
There are two distinctive species of crappie: black crappie (photo) (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and white crappie (Pomoxis annularis). Even though they’re easily confused one for the other, it’s not too difficult to distinguish which one’s which. As a general idea, white crappie have dark-green, vertical stripes (think tiger), while black crappie have irregular dark-green blotches (think jaguar) all over their bodies, in some cases the dark-green coloration covering most of their bodies.
Crappie are not very difficult to catch, they have a very diverse diet, and due to this fact, they can be caught in many ways, with different lures and baits.
So, here are a few bits of advice regarding crappie fishing, their feeding and living habits, along with a few ideas for crappie tackle and baits.
When and Where to Catch Crappie
Although both subspecies of crappie can be found in similar habitats, in general large bodies of clear water, lakes, reservoirs or large rivers, having preference for spots with low currents, and well-covered bottoms in aquatic vegetation.
The slight difference between the subspecies, when it comes to their habitat, is that white crappie seem to be more common in waters with higher degrees of turbidity, with less vegetation, and maybe sandy/muddy bottoms, while black crappie stick to very clear waters, submerged timber and abundant vegetation.
Crappie feed early at dawn and after the sunset for a few hours. However, depending on water temperature and levels of oxygen, as well as the assortment of baits that you offer them, and other factors, they can be caught more or less, daylong. They are more active during spring and fall, these being the seasons when crappie fishing can be more productive.
The general water temperature for catching crappie is between 55°F and 65°F. However, one of the most productive times of the year to catch crappie is the pre-spawn period, at 48°F-55°F temperatures, when they move to shallow waters, and begin a very aggressive feeding, preparing for the spawning.
Once the water temperature exceeds 65°F they start moving to deeper waters, in search of cooler substrats. Also, sudden temperature changes usually have quite an impact on their feeding habits, and may require the change of your approach.
Although they prefer the shallows, you can usually find them in waters up to 20 ft. deep. In general, especially on lakes and reservoirs, fishing for crappie from piers or in the close vicinity of piers, in waters 10-20ft. deep, is ideal. Since they prefer brushy bottoms, it’s best to look for spots with at least some brush.
Crappie Fishing Techniques
Due to their diverse diet, crappie can be caught in many ways, but the most fun method is float fishing, with live bait. Jigging (with small jigs), or using small spinners and other lures, still-fishing with various rigs, “spider rigging“, using multiple rods, usually from a boat, with diverse baits, and even trolling can be good methods to catch crappie. Chumming live or ground bait, mixed with various attractants is also a common practice among anglers, when fishing for crappie.
Baits and Lures for Crappie
Natural baits. Crappie are fish with versatile feeding habits. They eat almost any type of insects, small crustaceans and small fish, even their own, worms, insect larvae etc. However, you can also catch them with dough, various pellets or corn, but typically on ponds or spots where they were “educated” with these types of baits.
Anyway, the best natural baits for crappie, that shouldn’t be missing from your bait-box are nightcrawlers and minnows, or whatever small fish you can find at a tackle shop. But in general, bigger crappie prefer minnows to anything else. Also, wax worms and meal worms work well.
Lures. There are 4 types of lures that fit perfectly to the crappie preferences: Marabou jigs, Curly-Tail Grub jigs, spinners and crankbaits.
Marabou jigs are probably the number one artificial bait used by anglers for crappie. You can use a jig as it is, simply tied at the end of the line, and “feel around”. Or, suspended under a long, thin bobber. Adding half a worm or 1-2 maggots on the hook should improve the jig’s appeal. The best sizes for Marabou jigs for crappie are 1/16 or 1/32 oz. Also, jigging Marabous works best in clear water conditions.
Curly-tail Grub jigs should bring better results in slightly turbid waters as they emits a certain amount of vibration. Gulp Twister Tails or Berkley’s Power Grubs (of various colors depending on the water clarity and time of the day) are best. Simply attach the grub to a small (1/8 – 1/64 oz.) jig head, and start jigging.
When it comes to spinners, the smallest Beetle Spins or Minnow Spins are excellent choices. However, small Mepps spinners, or Willow Leaf bladed small spinners work nicely as well. By adding a small 2″ tube bait on a spinner it should increase its appeal. Spinners are great in both clear and turbid waters, since they have quite a vibration output, but also shine nicely when the sun is up.
If you want to go with crankbaits, the best ones are small minnow imitations, silver or white for clear water, or chartreuse, yellow or red, for turbid or semi-turbid waters.
Last but not least, since crappie feeding spikes after sunset, and up to midnight, you might want to use glow-in-the-dark jig heads, grubs and other plastics, or crankbaits. Although I haven’t tried this, baits like these should be more productive.
Tackle for Crappie
Your typical crappie tackle should be light or ultra-light. Nevertheless, depending on the lake you’re fishing and the assortment of baits you’re serving, other, bigger game fish might become interested. It would be a shame to lose a good lure, or end up with a broken stick if a big pike or walleye grabs your lure.
Your standard tackle for crappie should be a light, fast action rod, 5’6″-6’6″. A Shakespeare Two-Piece Light Action Ugly Stik Spinning Rod, is the perfect choice. It’s also cheap.
Pair your stick a light spinning reel such as an Okuma Ultralite, Pflueger Microspin or a Penn FRC4000 (love the last one). Spool your reel with 200 yds of fluorocarbon, 10-12 lb. test line, and you should be set.
If you’re spider rigging, or still-fishing with multiple rods, longer 8′-9′, medium action rods are a better choice though. Of course, in this case you should equip your rods with slightly bigger reels, like a Penn Battle BTL4000 or Shimano Symetre SY4000FJ.
Best hooks to use for crappie are within No. 1/0 – 2 range, Aberdeen style if you’re going with minnows, or Eagle Claw for other baits, Owner or Gamakatsu.