Hey there fishing enthusiasts and welcome back to my site where I like to discuss and research all things fishing – oh, and I don’t mind wetting a line occasionally as well. Today I am going to check out a target species as I discuss my 5 tips for catching Crappie this year.
Crappie are a very popular game fish that are a lot of fun to catch. As with most species however there are always some things we can try to get them onto the hook and into the net a little easier. Let’s have a look…
What are Crappie?
Crappie are the name given to two species of freshwater fish – the Black Crappie and White Crappie. They are native to North America and are popular as both a game and table fish.
White Crappie are found in more turbulent waters in the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay and Mississippi River basins expanding from New York and southern Ontario westward to South Dakota and southward to Texas. Black Crappie prefer the clearer waters of lakes in the Eastern parts of the United States and Canada.
They are a panfish with oval shaped bodies, downturned mouths, a long upper jaw and heavily concaved around the upper part of the head and back. There are also some additions in sub species as follows:
- White Crappie have faint vertical stripes and less spines on their dorsal fins. And as the name suggests, they are lighter in color than their cousins.
- Black Crappie are darker in color with irregular black spots covering their bodies. They also have more spines on their dorsal fins as well.
Crappie generally live for up to around 9 years depending on their habitat and can reach sizes of up to 30 cm in length.
Note: Many jurisdictions implement seasonal restrictions and well as licensing and bag limit regulations -always check with local fishing authorities if you are fishing in a new area.
5 Tips for catching Crappie
Ok, so let’s get into some of my tips for catching Crappie below…
1. Fish in the dark
Although they can and do get caught at any time of the day, the best time to get amongst the Crappie is just after dusk or just before dawn. So if you can get out to your favorite fishing grounds during these hours, then your chances of catching a crappie are going to significantly increase.
One of the best ways to catch them is with live bait – minnows are your best bet – which can be caught in the last of the daylight hours with a cast net or live bait trap. Minnows on a bobber rig will work best here but if you plan to use lures then go for jigging (soft plastic) options that are red, yellow or neon in color (other will work too of course).
I have also read in a few places that crappie fishers have had success with glow in the dark jigs as well. I haven’t tried these myself but I do know they are becoming more and more popular for a number of species at night so if you have them, give em a shot I guess.
Check out these: Live Bait Traps for Fishing
2. Do your research
This one is definitely a tip for all types of fishing but especially important for Crappie where water temperature etc. can play a large part in their feeding habits. If you fish in the same spot every time then you can probably move onto the next tip. However if not, then it probably goes without saying that what works in one spot may not necessarily work in another. If you are fishing somewhere new, then consider the following:
- Water temperature – We will discuss this a bit more in tip 4 below but how fish behave in different temperature water is relative to how cold or water the water is on average. Think of this as just like us humans – a water temp of 45 degrees might be considered warm for a fish in a lake that freezes over in winter. Alternatively, in warmer climates (such as Florida for example) this might be considered cold meaning fish are less active feed wise.
- Water clarity – Fish behave differently dependent upon whether the water is clear or murky – in clear water, look for structure or places fish can hide. They may even go a little deeper as baitfish will go there for protection as well. If the water is murky or cloudy however, you might find fish out in the open a bit more or in shallower water. Use fresh bait or brightly coloured lures in murky water too.
- Time of day – Again, such as it is with many fish species such as Largemouth and Striped Bass, Crappie are generally more active at night or at the very least early morning or late afternoon – especially in the warmer months. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t active in other parts of the day – especially if there is a lot of shade, rain or wind. White Crappie are also more active in more turbulent or faster flowing water so check with the locals to see when they like to feed in that neck of the woods.
- Structure – As with many other freshwater species, Crappie like to hide under structure so look for something that fish might like to hide under…
- What else is in the water? – We will discuss this next, however if you are wondering what bait or lures to use then you will need to check out what is in the water naturally. It is no good tying your favorite lure onto the line if it doesn’t match the type of live bait that shares the water with your target species. See what is found locally and match your fresh bait or lures accordingly.
- Ask a local – Want to know all of the above – ask a local. Lake or riverside tackle and bait shops are a good starting point here.
3. Match baits and lures
When it comes to Crappie, they seem to share similar traits to Pompano in that they aren’t incredibly fussy on what they will take. They do love a good minnow and most lures will get them however, like most wild animals, Crappie will chow down on whatever is available to them in their local environment. So if you want them to nibble on your bait, then try to match as closely as possible to what they eat naturally. All too often we tend to just run into the old bait shop and purchase what we have always used without any considerations to local conditions.
The same goes for lures – we all have our favorites but if you want to give yourself the best chance of landing yourself a big mouthed beauty, then I would strongly suggest finding out what lures are popular in that area. Admittedly there can be a science to this and many seasoned Crappie fishers will swear by using different lures at different times. Others only use certain types (or fresh bait) and won’t hear of anything else.
Basically, anything that will attract a fish is the right type to use – but as above, regardless of where you sit in the old fresh bait vs lures debate – if you can match what is found locally, then your chances of a good catch will increase.
4. Adjust for the seasons
Like almost all fish, Crappie are are cold-blooded meaning that water temperature etc. can greatly affect their eating habits and hence the amount of times they are charging at your bait or lure.
This means that as with others species found in these conditions – such as Bass – optimum water temperature for catching Crappie is usually anywhere between 50 and 65 degrees. And whilst I could spend hours talking about the science behind it all, keep the following in mind depending on the season:
- Winter – Let’s start with the ‘down’ month that is winter. Crappie are like the rest of the animal world in that they are lethargic, don’t feed as often and will do whatever they can to keep warm. The best time for fishing here is different to summer in that mid-afternoon tends to be better as the sun has had the opportunity to warm the water a little. They will go deeper early when the top is cold (or icy) and come in shallower if the water is warmer there (as that is where the baitfish will go too). Of course Crappie can be caught whilst ice fishing as well.
- Spring – Spring is for spawning and feeding. As the water temperature increases after winter, Crappie will start to actively feed and guard territory (often up small tributaries and bays) in the shallows as they prepare for the spawn – often called pre-spawn. All in all, many Crappie ‘experts’ call the spring pre-spawn season as the best time of year to get amongst them.
- Summer – Summer is when post-spawn Crappie leave their nests and head back out in the lake proper. As the water warms, they tend to either go deeper to cooler water (again a common trait amongst many fish species) or in shallower lakes, will seek the shade of a structure or drop off. Fishing is usually better in the pre dawn and post dusk hours when the water is a little cooler as well. If you are fishing in the daytime, leave the surface lures at home.
- Autumn – Autumn is considered another great period for Crappie fishing for a number of reasons. Firstly, the water is cooling after the summer heat bringing the fish out of the depths and secondly, they are fattening up for winter. Look for big balls of baitfish that are also coming into the shallows or if the weather cools quickly, go to the deeper water for some bigger lurkers.
Note: Many states and jurisdictions work to protect fish stocks via the implementation of fishing seasons throughout the year. Always check your licensing body for seasonal regulations in the body of water that you plan to fish in.
5. You don’t need fancy gear
And finally, the thing with Crappie is that whilst they are fun to catch, they are not a species that is going to really work your rod and reel hard. This not only makes it a great species for those who just like to get out there every now that then, but also means you don’t need the best of the best gear either.
In general terms, a good budget rod and reel combo will do the trick. However as with all fishing gear no matter what you are chasing, always do the following:
- Maintain your fishing reel – Make sure it is clean with a good quality line. Rinse it off after every use with a full clean and oil after each season.
- Clean your rod – Even though when fishing for Crappie you are in fresh water, it is still highly recommended to rinse your rod after each session and check for any crack or breakages – especially in the o-rings and guides. Remove the reel and clean the seat, screws and handle every month or so as well.
- Use new tackle – Blunt hooks means no fish. I am a strong advocate of replacing your tackle after every trip. And whilst this is not as important in fresh water fishing as it is in salt, keep in mind that hooks are dragged over rocks, logs and along the bottom meaning they can go blunt even if you don’t catch anything.
- Check your tools – Tools should also be rinsed after each use however this is not always done. And trust me there is nothing worse than getting out there and finding out your pliers are rusty or knife blunt. Clean and lubricate tools and sharpen your knife every month or so.
So there you have it, my 5 tips for catching Crappie this year. As always, these are not going to guarantee you a catch, however they should give you a little more chance of success that you may not have otherwise had.
Have you tried anything else that has worked well, or not so well for you – or of course have a different opinion than above? If so, please comment below and we can have a chat.