Catching Crappie 101

The Black crappie is commonly the highest regarded freshwater fish in the southeast for table fare. Fortunately, catching them is fairly simple as long as you know how. Often, the hardest part is just finding the fish. There are many great techniques and methods to catch this delicious panfish, and we’ll describe them all here, including when and where to find them, in this “Crappie 101” article.  

Black crappie.

When to Find Crappie

Fortunately for us freshwater enthusiasts, you can find freshwater fish any time of the year. Unlike their saltwater cousins, these fish are trapped in the lakes and rivers, and you simply have to know where to find them during each season, which we describe below. In general however, “crappie season” is essentially the winter season when the fish come close to shore, making them easy to find and catch on any type of gear.

Where to Catch Crappie

During the winter season, crappie come close to shore to spawn. Similar to all of the other sunfish, they spawn in the shallows and make beds – shallow depressions in the sand – where they lay the eggs. This is where most of the crappie are caught during this season, right near the vegetation, in 3-to-5 feet of water. Throughout all other seasons, crappie will be offshore, which makes finding them a lot more difficult. The best way to find them during this time is by using several rods to test the depth profiles, as the fish may be anywhere. Usually, they will be somewhat near structures offshore.

Tackle for Crappie

Crappie tackle varies tremendously depending on the method of fishing you prefer. From ultralight spinning tackle to using a plain old cane pole, we describe all of these methods and how to use them below.

Spinning Tackle for Crappie

Spinning tackle is the go-to method for shallow water anglers fishing that winter spawning season. Spinning tackle comes in a variety of sizes. Ultralight tackle is recommended, which can range between 2-and-6 pound test, so that you can cast the small lures and baits required for catching crappie far enough to cover some good distance.

Spinning reel for catching crappie.

Baitcasting Tackle for Crappie

Baitcasting tackle for other species allows you to cast far and have greater leverage for pulling up big fish. For crappie, the most beneficial characteristic of baitcasting gear is that it is easier to use while trolling, drifting at different depths, or dropping straight down on an ultra-long rod similar to the technique for a cane pole.        

Conventional reel for crappie fishing.

Cane Poles for Crappie

Cane poles are cheap, easy, and highly underrated for catching crappie. When it comes to cane poles, often the longer the better, and you can commonly find them up to 20 feet in length. Cane poles are great for dropping baits or lures into deep holes that are not accessible using other gears where your line would get snagged.

Cane pole.

Flyrods for Crappie

When it comes to small panfish, there is nothing better than a flyrod to keep the excitement going. Since crappie generally eat prey within the one-to-two inch range, there are many flies available that work well for catching crappie. In general, a flyrod and reel in the 4-to-6 weight range will be sufficient for casting far enough to cover distance, while keeping the flyline light enough for maintaining high sensitivity to feel the bite.

Crappie fly rod.

Baits for Crappie

In most situations, live bait will always work best for catching fish, and crappie are no exception. Crappie love eating small fish, so any small “minnow” is the perfect bait. This can range from the small “Missouri minnows” sold in freshwater bait shops to big mosquito fish caught in minnow traps or dip-netted along the shore. Other baits that work include

  • Crickets are a very popular bait and you can usually easily find them and catch them (by hand or with a small bait net like we use to handle baits in our live wells.
  • Grass shrimp are not commonly included in the natural diet of big fish, but common morsels for the juveniles, and they still have the taste for them.

Lures for Crappie

Although live bait works great as always for crappie, it is also one of the species out there that artificial lures are highly effective on. Basically, any lure that mimics their natural diet – small fish – will work best for catching the big ones. This includes

  • Small jigs
  • Spinner Baits made small for Crappie
  • Soft plastics
  • Hard plastics that look like small minnows.
  • Flies that resemble minnows, small bugs, crickets, or grass shrimp.

Assortment of artificial crappie lures. Crappie lures come in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Catching Crappie

Crappie are probably one of the tastiest fish in our waters, with clean white meat and without carrying the taste of the water they're caught in. They eat all year, but you are more likely to have banner days in the springtime when the fish go on a strong mating cycle and feed to prepare for the coming warm months. They are not generally surface eaters, and you're more likely to catch one for your table and the joy of the hunt below the surface. Small jigs with soft plastic tails are the most popular lure to use, and minnows, worms, crickets and other natural baits catch them all year long if put in the right place. Like all predators - and these are predators - they tend to hang out around bottom structure where they're likely to find food to eat.

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