All throughout North America, crappie provide year-round fishing opportunities for anglers who love to catch as much as they love to eat. Lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and ponds are home to these slabby sunfish, and the good news is that where you find one, you often find many. We’ve put a bow on our top crappie fishing tips outlining how to catch crappie so you can catch your limit every season.
Let us start off by saying that this is a monster article. It was designed to be a complete guide to Crappie fishing all in one location. Please read on below for all the Crappie Fishing Tips you need and please share the infographic we’ve put together with all your fellow crappie anglers!
- An InfoGraphic on Crappie Fishing
- Meet the Crappie Species: Black vs. White
- Looking for Crappie: Where can you find them?
- The Different Types of Rod Choices for Catching Crappie
- Three of the Best Reels for Fishing Crappie
- Choosing the Right Line: Line Selection for Crappie
- The Best Lures and Bait for Catching Crappie
- Five Crappie Fishing Tactics: How to Fish For Crappie
- How to Catch Crappie in All Four Seasons
- Crappie Fishing Tips: Parting Thoughts & Insider Advice to Catch More Crappie
An InfoGraphic on Crappie Fishing
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Meet the Crappie Species: Black vs. White
Crappie are a native species to North America, existing in healthy numbers throughout nearly all of the lower 48 states. They also reside in parts of southern Canada. They are known in different parts of the country by different names.
Here are some of the names you may hear them go by: Black/White Crappie, Speckeled/Bachelor perch, calico/strawberry/oswego bass, papermouth, dirty sunfish, sacalait (sa-ca-lay from your friends in Louisiana), Moonfish, Barfish.
There are two typical varieties of crappie: white crappie and black crappie. Both can be found living in the same waters, often schooled up together. They can both be caught using the same lures, bait, and tactics. Black and white crappie share the same general body shape, but differ slightly in coloration and markings:
- Black Crappie: Primarily silver/slightly gold with black speckled markings all over, and they have 7 or 8 spines on their dorsal fin.
- White Crappie: Mostly silver, but have only faint vertical bar markings on their sides, and only 6 spines on their dorsal fin.
Crappie can grow up to 20″ long and weigh 5 pounds, but the average size is around 1/4 – 1/2 pound and 8 to 12 inches long. Crappie over 1 pound are considered a prized catch.
Mature crappie feed primarily on aquatic insects, baitfish, worms, and small crayfish.
Looking for Crappie: Where can you find them?
One of the most critical steps in catching crappie is finding them. Crappie move around throughout the year as the spawning season comes and goes and as water temperatures fluctuate. They also have some key habitat requirements that remain constant.
Crappie Tend to Love Structures: Underwater structures like weed beds, rock piles, fallen sunken trees, and dock pilings are places where crappie spend most of their time. They either hovering above, around, or under their favorite areas. For crappie, structure provides safety from predatory birds and larger fish like northern pike. It also offers a reliable source of food such as smaller bait fish that seek out structure for similar reasons.
Crappie also like Deeper Waters: Unless it’s spawning season, crappie favor deeper water making them harder to find, generally 10 to 15 feet deep. Deep water maintains a more consistent temperature than shallow water, which in turn means more stable living conditions.
While crappie prefer deeper water, they don’t go straight to the bottom, which can make locating a school of fish somewhat challenging. Rather, they hang suspended at various depths in the water column. Fishing tactics and strategy come into play here, and most anglers use electronic fish finders to make finding schools of crappie easier.
The Different Types of Rod Choices for Catching Crappie
You don’t need fancy or expensive gear to catch crappie. Since crappie aren’t the largest or toughest fighting fish you’ll encounter, just about any fishing rod setup will work. You’ll want to avoid fly fishing rods and stick to Carbon Fiber or bamboo, and usually keep the weight on the lighter side. Here’s an overview of the rods best suited for crappie fishing.
Telescopic Crappie Poles: If you like the idea of the classic cane pole, but want the advantage of modern materials, a graphite or fiberglass telescopic crappie pole may be just what you need.
For many crappie fishing techniques, very long rods are required to fish effectively. The idea is that the further you get your bait or lure away from the boat, the better your chances are of hooking a fish before scaring the entire school away. Modern crappie poles come in lengths from 8 feet all the way up to 20 feet. Telescopic crappie poles, like the B’n’M Black Widow, collapse to a relatively small size, making them easy to transport and store when not in use.
Telescopic crappie poles are a good option if you plan on doing a lot of bank fishing, especially in heavy brush. They can also be used effectively from a boat for spider rigging, which we’ll cover later. One of the main advantages of a long crappie pole is that they often have a very sensitive tip that helps you detect the most subtle crappie bites.
The PLUSINNO Spinning rod and Reel Combo is a great choice for beginning crappie fishermen just starting out. If you already have a reel you can save a few bucks and check out the Shimano FXS 2 Piece Spinning Rod. This is also a great choice if you are looking for an ultralight option that comes in a variety of different lengths.
Ultralight Spinning Rods: Of all the rod types for crappie fishing, you’ll have the most options in terms of selection and configuration when you go with an ultralight spinning rod.
Ultralight spinning rods for crappie come in a wide range of lengths from less than 5 feet to over 16 feet. The length of the rod should be determined based on the fishing tactics and methods you plan on using.
Shorter rods in the 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 foot range are best suited for vertical jigging from a boat. Vertical jigging is usually done with the aid of a fish finder, with the fish you see on the screen located within a small circumference under and around your boat. Using a shorter rod allows you to keep your lure where the fish are without question.
Mid-length rods in the 6 to 7 1/2 foot range are perfect for cast and retrieve fishing with jigs and other lures. The longer rod length helps you make longer, more accurate casts. This is helpful when you want to skip your bait under a dock or an overhanging tree.
Longer spinning rods in the 10 to 16-foot range are the go-to choice for trolling baits and lures when spider rigging. The long length keeps the bait and lures away from the boat and propellers, and helps you cover a broader sweep of water when trolling. Long rods can also pull double duty for fishing slip-float rigs and dipping jigs into places with tight cover.
Most crappie anglers prefer rods with highly sensitive, soft action tips and sturdy butt sections. The soft tip helps you detect the delicate bites crappie are known for, and the sturdy butt section gives you adequate power if you need to horse a crappie out of heavy cover.
Some crappie anglers prefer rods with faster action tips, especially when vertically jigging in deep water. The faster (stiffer) tip helps you impart action to your jig when it’s down 20 feet or more.
For more details on Rod Length, check out the great video below:
Three of the Best Reels for Fishing Crappie
Most ultralight or lightweight spinning reels intended for freshwater use will work just fine for crappie fishing. Since you’ll be using lighter line that’s prone to annoying coiling, choosing a reel with a larger diameter spool is beneficial. It will reduce line memory and help you cast further. To cover a wide range of crappie fishing scenarios and techniques, a good starting place is to select the smallest or second to smallest reel size of a given model.
1. For Shorter Rods: The Pfluger Purist 1325 reel
2. For Mid Length Rods: The Shimano Sedona 1000 reel
3. For Long, Trolling & Slip Float Rods: The Abu Garcia Cardinal STX20 reel
Choosing the Right Line: Line Selection for Crappie
Most crappie fishing is done with very lightweight line, between 2-6 pound test. However, some crappie anglers who primarily use cane poles and telescopic rods prefer using heavier line. Some anglers choose up to 20-pound test, especially when fishing in heavy brush along the bank.
The standard line type for crappie fishing has always been monofilament, but lately, anglers have started using braided line. Braided line has little or no stretch, which helps when vertical jigging in deep water. Braided line also has less memory than monofilament, and has a smaller diameter; both of which help achieve greater casting distance.
There is one problem you may encounter when using braided line for crappie is that since it has little or no stretch. That problem is that you have to be very gentle when setting the hook so it doesn’t break the line. Monofilament is much more forgiving and shock absorbent, which works in your favor when setting the hook in a crappie’s soft mouth. Monofilament is also easier to break when you get hung up on structure, keeping you from losing your entire rig when you get snagged.
The Best Lures and Bait for Catching Crappie
Crappie can be caught using both bait and artificial lures. What you use largely depends on the time of year and conditions, but also depends on your personal preference for how you like to fish.
Lures can be highly effective in catching crappie but you shouldn’t ever completely pass on live bait either. Both are extremely effective and have their benefits over the other.
Bait is usually cheaper than picking a top dollar lure but lures will be something you can use over and over, year after year. We will dive into the best lures and types of bait in further detail below.
1. Jigs: The Best Lures for Crappie Fishing
By far the most popular and effective lures used to catch crappie are jigs. Jigs are very versatile, highly adaptable to any fishing condition, and crappie are usually eager to take them when fished properly.
Some jigs are sold as pre-made lures, but for the most part, jigs are more of an interchangeable lure system than a specific lure. The base of every jig is a jig head hook, which is simply a hook with a weighted head. Typically the eye of the hook is positioned 90 degrees to the hook shank. On the jig head, you fix a plastic jig body of your choosing. You can mix and match jig heads and jig bodies until you find the right combination that the crappie want to eat.
Here are our favorite Jigs:
Spinnerbait: These little guys are essentially a jig with a spinner blade attached. Spinnerbaits for crappie are similar to those used for bass fishing, just a lot smaller. The spinner’s small metal blade, either gold or silver, flashes and vibrates in the water attracting crappie wherever you cast.
If you’re not sure which spinner bait to use, grab a Yakima Bait Wordens Rooster Tail. The brown body and golden spinner will definitely get the attention of a nearby slab.
Self Made Jigs: If you like to customize, making your own jig will appeal to you because there are endless choices and matchmaking you can choose from. This will help test what works best for crappie in your area. There are two parts you need to buy when you make your own. The Jig head and the Jig Body.
Part #1 – The Jig Head: Jig heads come in a wide range of sizes/colors and are used to catch a multitude of fish species. For crappie fishing, you’ll want to use some of the smallest sizes available: 1/8 oz, 1/16 oz, 1/32 oz, and 1/64 oz. The Strike King Mr. Crappie jig heads are very high quality and are the perfect size and colors for catching crappie.
Part #2 – The Jig Body: Jig bodies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They are usually plastic and fixed on a jig head hook. The primary choices for body grubs are curly-tails and tubes. Sometimes spinnerbaits are used as well, but they are generally their own complete lure.
Curly-Tail Grubs are a popular jig body style made of soft plastic and fixed on a jig head hook. With a ribbed body and a curved or corkscrew tail, curly-tail grubs swim through the water with incredible action. They provide an excellent imitation of minnows and other bait fish.
You’ll want to have a good selection of curly-tail jigs, and the Mister Twister brand makes some of the best. Check out this 20 pack to jump start your collection.
Tubes are another style of jig body that you fix to a jig head hook. They have a smooth body and a skirted rubber tail that pulsates when pulled through the water.
The Southern Pro Crappie Tube kit that gives you a huge variety of color combinations along with some lead head jig hooks to get you started.
2. The Best Live Bait Choices for Crappie
While crappie can often be caught with lures, sometimes you need a little more “meat” to get the bites you seek.
Using bait is great if you’re just getting started and aren’t yet versed in the ways of lure fishing.
Live Minnows: Live minnows are by far the most widely used bait for crappie. At most bait and tackle shops, you’ll find live minnows in multiple sizes. To catch crappie, you want the smallest minnows they have, ideally between 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. If you’re up for it, minnows can be caught in the lake you’re fishing using either a minnow trap or a cast net.
Grubs: Although not as widely available as live minnows, larval insects — mealworms, wax worms, and other grub-like creatures — can be used to catch crappie. These baits are commonly used when ice fishing for crappie.
Man Made Soft Baits: If you don’t want to go through the trouble of either catching or buying live minnows or grubs, there are a broad selection of soft baits available for purchase. These smelly little pellets and dough are shelf-stable, sold in jars, and come in many different colors and scents. Berkeley’s Powerbait Crappie Nibbles are readily available and great if you don’t want to fuss with live bait.
Five Crappie Fishing Tactics: How to Fish For Crappie
Now that we’ve covered the tackle, lures, and bait you’ll need to catch crappie, it’s time to dig into the tactics and methods that will actually get crappie on your line!
The majority of crappie anglers fish from boats or other watercraft. But, if you don’t have a boat, don’t worry: most of these tactics can be used on a dock, from the bank or while wading.
1. Vertical Jigging: What is it and how can I do it?
When crappie are holding tight to cover like brush piles and stumps, vertical jigging can be very effective no matter how deep the crappie are.
Setting Up a Vertical Jig Rig: The basic vertical jig rig consists of your jig of choice tied to the end of your line. Simple as that. Some crappie anglers tie two or more jigs to their line, one below the other. Others use “umbrella rigs” that hold anywhere from two to six jigs. But there’s no need to over complicate things when you’re just starting out; stick with one jig so you can focus on fishing.
Vertical jigging can be done with nearly all rod lengths. Some anglers like short rods in the 5 to 6-foot range, some like long rods in the 10 to 12-foot range. Use what you have to start and you’ll do just fine.
How to Vertical Jig for Crappie: There’s no real casting in vertical jigging. Simply hang your rod over the side of the boat or bank, and let your jig drop down into the water. When you first start, you can let it sink all the way to the bottom. If you’re using a fish finder and you know the depth of the fish or at least the structure, let your jig sink to that depth.
With your jig hanging in the water directly below your rod tip, animate the jig by lightly bouncing the rod tip up and down a few times, then let it sit. Reel in some line, bounce the jig, and let it sit. Continue until you get a bite, and if you don’t, drop your jig down and try again. There’s no right way to do vertical jigging; the key is to experiment with different actions, bounce patterns, retrieve rates, and depths until you get a bite. Once you get a bite, try to repeat the routine that got you the bite. Keep fishing in that manner until the fish stop biting, at which point you should start experimenting again until you get more bites, or move to a different location.
Below is a great video by “TexasFishingOnline” that walks through how to propely jig for crappie.
2. Sticking with Traditional Bobber Fishing
The most iconic method of fishing for any species is by use of the humble bobber. Bobber fishing can be incredibly effective on crappie, and is a tactic every angler should be well familiar with. Bobbers can be used with both jigs and lures as well as bait. The basic rig is the same for both.
Setting Up a Bobber Rig: The basic bobber rig can be used on any type of rod, and setting it up is easy.
Take the end of your fishing line and slide a cork up or fix a plastic bobber to your line anywhere from 1 foot to 3 feet from the end. If using a weighted jig, tie it onto the end of your line with your favorite fishing knot, and you’re good to go.
If using a live minnow, attach a small split shot about 8 to 12 inches from the end of your line. Then tie on a small, light-wire crappie hook. Hook the minnow through the lips or just behind the top dorsal fin.
One of the nice things about fishing with a bobber is that it’s very easy to adjust the depth of your lure or bait. This helps to know exactly how deep you’re fishing. That said, bobber fishing is best used in water that isn’t too deep. When your bobber get’s too high up your line it can be quite cumbersome to cast and your rig will be prone to frequent tangles.
3. Fishing Deeper: The Slip Float
For those times when you want to fish deep, and want to know exactly how deep you’re fishing, the slip float rig saves the day. The slip float rig is just like bobber fishing, except instead of the bobber being fixed to one point of your line, it slides up your line until it hits a stopper. Adjusting your lure depth is as simple as moving the stopper up or down your line.
How To Set Up the Slip Float Rig: To build a slip float rig you’ll need:
- Slip float
- Tube bobber stopper
- Plastic bead
- Small barrel swivel
- Leader material – monofilament or fluorocarbon
- Light wire crappie hook or jig head
Slide the tube bobber stopper up the line to the approximate depth you’d like to fish. Slip the yarn off the tube and tighten it to the line.
Slide the plastic bead on the line followed by the slip float. Next, tie the barrel swivel onto the end of the line.
Tie a 2 to 2 1/2 foot length of leader onto the other end of the barrel swivel. Tie your hook or jig head to the end of the leader and you’re all set.
Fishing a Slip Float Rig: The main benefit of a slip float rig is that it allows you to accurately fish any depth and change it on the fly. The key to effective slip float fishing is to constantly change depths until you find crappie. Once you find crappie, keep fishing that depth until you stop getting bites, at which point you should move spots or try other depths.
Crappie tend to hold at similar depths across an entire lake, so if you find fish at 15 feet in one spot, chances are they’ll be close to 15 feet in all other spots.
4. The Cast and Retrieve Technique
The cast and retrieve technique is probably the most active and involved method for catching crappie. It’s fairly simple in essence: cast your lure near structure, let it sink, then slowly retrieve.
Getting Set Up for Cast and Retrieve Fishing: Casting is best done with a mid-length rod, in the 6 1/2 to 7-foot range. For cast and retrieve, many crappie anglers prefer rods with highly sensitive tips to feel the lure pulsing through the water as well as the full impact of the “thud” when a crappie hits the lure.
Jigs and spinners are the most common lures used for cast and retrieve fishing, but plugs and small crank baits can be used when the conditions are right.
Rigging up for cast and retrieve fishing is easy: just tie on your lure of choice and you’re ready to cast.
Fishing Cast and Retrieve: When deciding where to cast, look for structure. The trick is to cast close to the structure without getting snagged, because, with cast and retrieve, you don’t have a float to protect you from hang-ups.
Once you’ve found structure, your next goal is to discover how deep the crappie are suspended. This will take a bit of trial and error.
Start by casting your lure and letting it sink all the way to the bottom. Try to get a count (one Mississippi, two Mississippi) to find out how long it takes your lure to reach the bottom. Slowly reel in your lure, feeling for any bites. Then, start casting and letting your lure sink to different depths before retrieving until you get a bite. When you get a bite, cast to that same depth and keep catching fish.
5. The Spider Rigging Technique
This special setup is something you might only see crappie anglers do. And when it comes to finding crappie, especially on big bodies of water, spider rigging is by far the most efficient, effective, and productive tactic out there.
What is Spider Rigging? Spider rigging is a slow trolling method, where a number of long rods (usually 8) are splayed out 180 degrees. Usually you fix the rods to the front of a boat using rod holders. The boat looks like a spider with all the rods sticking out, hence the name.
Crappie anglers set each rod at a different depth and with different baits and lures. They troll along, thoroughly covering the water in search of schools of fish. Then, when they get a hit on a rod, they take note of the depth and bait or lure used, and start switching the other rods to match that setup.
How to Set Up Spider Rigging: First of all, you need a boat with a trolling motor, a bunch of rods, and a bunch of rod holders at the front of the boat.
Serious spider rig fishermen gravitate towards the longer spectrum of lightweight spinning rods, from 14 to 16 feet in length. Longer rods keep the baits and lures out away from the boat so that the fish find the lures before they see the boat. Long rods also keep the lines out of the boat propellers and help the anglers cover a much broader swath of water.
All manner of baits and lures are used when spider rigging. Using eight rods means you have the opportunity to try eight different lures all at once if you’d like. Most fishermen, however, limit their lure selection to 2 or 3 different varieties and instead focus their efforts on experimenting with depth.
When spider rigging, your boat setup and the control you have over your boat is often more of a factor than the rods and lures you use. A variable speed trolling motor is practically mandatory when spider rigging as the speed of your drift is one of the most important factors.
Fishing with Spider Rigging: Once you have your boat under control, your rods rigged up with different lures dropped at various depths, it’s time to troll. Most spider riggers use fish finders and other electronics to help them find fish quicker.
While trolling along, you’ll be watching your rod tips, looking for any signs of a bite. When you see a tip twitch, grab it and set the hook! Once you key into to where the crappie are and what they want to eat, you can change the rigs on your rod to what’s working and start filling up your live well.
Below is a great video from Fle-Fly Lures on how to properly spider rig.
How to Catch Crappie in All Four Seasons
Crappie are a year-round fish, but their behavior and patterns vary throughout the year. To catch crappie all year long, you need to change and adapt your tactics just as the crappie change their behavior.
Below we’ve laid out a guide based on the different times of year and the best options to crappie fish in our opinion. Your mileage may vary depending on the environment around where you plan to fish.
1. Spring Crappie Fishing: The Best Time of Year
Spring time is perhaps the best time of year to fish for crappie. The main event of spring is the spawn, with the pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn periods all bringing about different crappie behavior as well as fishing tactics.
As soon as the water starts to warm up, crappie start moving into shallow water for pre-spawn staging. These fish can be caught using vertical jigging near shallow water cover in bays and mouths of creeks. Since crappie prefer deeper water, try bouncing your jig off the bottom, as crappie will likely head to the deepest water, even in the shallows.
Once the spawn is in full swing, crappie will be in very shallow water guarding their nests, snapping at anything that comes close. Try casting small curly tail grubs on light jigheads or small spinnerbaits to the bank, then slowly retrieving over the nests.
After the spawn is over, crappie will be worn out from reproducing and are often tough to catch. Give the fish a chance to rest and head back out in a few weeks for better action.
2. Summer Crappie Tips: Not Quite Spring or Fall
The heat of summer sends crappie swimming for deeper waters, generally 8 to 20 feet deep. In larger lakes, crappie tend to spread out, making them hard to locate, but with a good fish finder and spider rigging set up, you’d be surprised by how many fish you can catch.
In the summer months, look for crappie near submerged structures like fallen trees and brush piles in deeper water. Many man-made lakes and reservoirs often feature artificial fish structures, which can also be very productive fish holding spots in the summer. Once you locate a school of fish with your spider rigging, anchor up and still fish or do some cast and retrieve fishing.
3. Fall Crappie Fishing: Our Second Favorite Time of Year
In the fall, baitfish move into shallow water, with crappie close behind. Cooler water temperatures boost crappie appetite, making fall perhaps the second best time to fish after spring.
Find crappie holding over structure in shallower water. You can catch them with spider rigging, or by cast and retrieve fishing with small curly-tail grubs, tubes, and spinners. Live minnows under bobbers are also particularly effective in fall.
4. Winter Crappie Fishing: Less Popular But still an Option
Crappie tend to stay deep during the winter months, but bouts of warm days may bring them into the shallows. The best strategy for catching quality crappie in the winter is to use your fishfinder and focus on the deepest waters in the lake. In the winter, fish will often be tightly huddled together, so even though it might take a bit more effort to find them, the rewards will be worth it.
When you do find those schools of deep water winter crappie, the best advice is to fish slowly and pay close attention to the bite. The bites in winter can be very subtle, and if you look away you might miss it. Slip float rigs are great for winter as they present your lure at a consistent depth with relatively slow action. When you finally connect with a fish, send your lure straight back to the same spot as there are likely many other crappie willing to bite.
Crappie Fishing Tips: Parting Thoughts & Insider Advice to Catch More Crappie
To help you make the most of your time out on the lake tracking down crappie, here are a few insider tips to help you be more successful in your crappie fishing pursuits.
- Be careful with your hook set. Crappie are known as “papermouths” because the tissue in their mouth and lips is very thin. A strong, bass-style hook set will easily rip the hook out of the crabbie’s mouth. Try to set the hook firm but soft. Crappie are not like other fish with thicker skin that require you cut the hook out with a knife.
- Keep a tight line. After you hook a crappie, keep the line tight and reel in steadily. A loose line will give the fish the advantage and it can easily shake the hook.
- Change depth before changing lures. Crappie are very depth sensitive, so before you go and tie on ten different lures, make sure you’re thoroughly covering every possible depth within an area.
- Check local regulations before using multiple rods. Some areas prohibit the use of multiple rods. You don’t want to get busted for fishing eight rods off the bow of your boat when only one is allowed!
- Use light wire hooks and light line when fishing heavy structure. This may seem counter-intuitive, but using light hooks and line in structure has advantages. If you get hung up, you can easily straighten the hook to get it free, or worst case, break the line. This can save you from losing lot’s of gear over the course of a season!