Although crappie fall into the panfish category and don’t grow very large, they’re highly prized and they’re actually some of the most fished species in the sunfish family. That’s because they’re fun to catch which makes them very popular among recreational anglers, but they’re also considered among the best-tasting freshwater fish in North America.
There are two distinct species of crappie, black crappie (P. nigromaculatus) and white crappie (P. annularis). However, they have similar behavior and feeding habits, so, regardless of which species you want to fish, it will require pretty much the same tackle.
Optimal Weather And Water Conditions For Crappie
The best temperature range for crappie fishing is 65 – 72°F (18 – 22°C). This temperature range is when they’re the most active and that can produce the best results. Evidently, for northern areas, the waters normally reach this temperature range in June, while for the southern areas of North America, waters can reach this temperature range as early as March.
Lower temperatures than 60°F (15°C) usually coincide with their pre-spawn periods, in spring. So, within 50 – 60°F (10 – 15°C) they’re still pretty active but not as “bitey” as at over 65°F (18°C). As temperatures start to fall at the end of the summer, they’ll still be active, but they usually start moving deeper. And finally, at temperatures below 45°F (7°C) or above 74°F (23°C), crappie become sluggish and feed less.
Crappie typically feed throughout the day, but they’re more active at dusk and dawn. They are visual feeders, so they prefer sunny weather as it offers better possibilities to locate food sources. Some of the best crappie fishing conditions are semi-clear water with sunny weather without any rain for several consecutive days. However, bright sun, calm weather, and clear water can make them pickier
Like most other sunfish, crappie will become more active right before the rain, or throughout the first rain shower. Several factors enable them to increase their activity right before a rain, including barometric pressure drop, temperature drop, and the fact that rain will wet many insects and put them into the water. However, if the rain persists, or turns into heavy rain leading to muddy water, they will stop feeding.
Although the wind may not provide the best weather conditions for fishing, it can considerably increase the overall activity of crappie, especially if the weather was hot, calm, and sunny for a few days in a row. That’s because wind oxygenates the water, and also enables most of their food to move more making it easier to spot. Wind will also make crappie move to shallower spots.
Where To Look For Crappie By Season
In winter, crappie usually stick together in large groups, seeking spots with some cover such as structure, logs, rocks, or some brush. Docks that maintain a good depth over them such as 10 ft. or more, provide excellent cover for winter crappie. Sometimes they can be as low as 30 ft., as long as the bottom provides some structure for cover.
Their suspended behavior makes it easier to detect with a fish finder, even with a basic flasher. If you have a fish finder with live imaging, that extends sideways you can find them even easier, sometimes even on the first hole. Also, on the ice, even if you’ve located a large group of crappie, it’s still best to cut multiple holes. That’s because they move much slower than in other seasons, and dropping the bait or a lure right under the fish’s nose has a higher chance to generate a strike.
In spring, crappie move towards the shallows to spawn and that’s where they’ll also feed up until early summer. They still prefer cover, though, either man-made or natural. So, either fish from a dock or look for weedy bays. You’ll often find them in spots less than 5 feet deep.
In early summer, you can still find them in the shallows, in pretty much the same places as in spring. However, as the weather and the water warms up, they go deeper, in search of cooler waters. Throughout the summertime, you’ll find them suspended along weedlines, sometimes down to the 30 ft.
During fall, depending on weather and water temperature, some crappie, especially the smaller ones, can move back to the shallows. However, the larger ones still prefer deeper spots, where they’re less affected by temperature and barometric changes. So, look for the bigger ones along brush piles along ledges, at depths between 15 – 20 ft.
Rods and Reels
There are several popular techniques used by anglers for crappie. So, if you’re fishing actively with jigs, lures, or even with a bobber & minnow rig, an ultra-light or light rod, within a 6’5″ – 9′ range should do. However, for spider rigging, you’ll need longer rods, between 12′ – 16′, sensitive enough to “feel” a light strike.
From left to right, the first two rods in the table below fall into the first category, while the two on the right are longer rods for trolling.
Since you’ll be working with light baits and lures for crappie, it’s always best to opt for spinning gear. The rods above are all for spinning. So, pair your rod with a spinning reel within 1000 – 2500 range. Here are a few examples:
Most anglers use monofilament for crappie, within 4 – 8 lbs test. However, depending on the environment or the lures you’re casting, choices can vary. For example, if fishing in thick brush or logs, up to 20 lbs braided can be a better choice. A full spool of fluorocarbon is a bit of an overkill, but you can always use 10-20″ of fluoro leader, for a better presentation.
Baits, Lures, Rigs, Methods
First of all, if using live bait, the best choice is almost always the minnow. Worms, leeches, maggots or other larvae, and insects can also produce excellent results. However, the fishing method of your choice may call for various baits, lures, or bait / lure combinations.
For jigging, the range for the jig heads used by most anglers for crappie is 1/32 – 1/8 oz. If you’re dropping the jig, you can use jig heads closer to the left side of the interval, but if you’re shooting the jig, you might need a bit of extra weight for some precision.
The beauty of jigging is that you can fill up the jig head with a variety of baits. In terms of soft plastics, the swimmers imitating a minnow, shad, or shiner are excellent choices. A few good examples would be Bobby Garland 2″ Slab Slayers, Shads or Slab Hunters, or Dr. Fish Fork Tail Soft Minnows. Curly tail worms, double tail worms, or grubs are also excellent choices. Preferred colors may vary depending on day and water clarity. That’s why it’s always best to have a full box of different types and colors.
Crappie are also interested in spoons and spinners. An interesting method to lure in crappie with spoons is in winter, when ice fishing. Once you locate them, you can drop a deadstick jig with a live minnow in one ice hole, and play a small spoon like a Williams Wabler W30 or a Freedom Minnow in the hole next to it. The spoon will work like an attractor for the crappie (and even other fish) and bring them closer to take the deadstick bait. Of course, you can catch crappie throughout the year with small spoons or spinners as well.
If trolling for crappie with spider rigs, 1/8 – 1/16 jigs tipped with curly tail worms are almost always an excellent choice. Colors like green, chartreuse, and yellow produce better results. Leaving the jigs at 35 ft. behind the boat, and moving at approx. 1.0 MPH is just about right.
Crankbaits also work pretty nicely when trolling for crappie. Bright-colored crankbaits such as Rapala Ultra Light Cranks, yellow-red-orange Bandit 300 Crappie Cranks, or Strike King Slab Hammer Cranks are excellent choices. But when trolling, sometimes it’s a good idea to add a small sinker (1-2 oz) 2.5 – 3 ft. in front of the crank, for a better dive.
Finally, another fun method to catch crappie is with a bobber, split shot or drop shot rig, and a minnow as bait. If using this method, it’s a good idea to drop the minnow close to the weedline, or at least suspended at 1 – 1.5 ft. above the bottom. The bobber should be fixed to keep the selected depth better, but you can use a slip bobber set-up as well.