How to Catch Crappie
Crappie are very unique fish that anglers love to target. Some enthusiastic crappie fishermen even go so far as to create underwater structures to hold fish and build out their honey holes. It’s hard to understand at first. They appear to just be a glorified sunfish, but they are so much more than that. Their name stands in stark contrast to how they taste, and their nickname of papermouth is something you can only truly understand once you’ve spent a day fishing for them. Once you’ve done that you’ll come to understand why there is almost a cult following of anglers that target this particular fish.
What You Need to Know to Catch Crappie
Fishing Gear for Crappie
Crappie are strong fighters for their size and they have a very delicate mouth that can tear easily, resulting in a lost fish. Therefore you have to fish for them with specific gear and techniques to be successful. These techniques can be challenging so let’s start with the proper gear for these unique fish. There are only two species of crappie. White crappie have white patches merged into stripes across their backs and sides. Black crappie have black patches spread over their sides. The fish otherwise are the same, so the gear is going to be the same as well. They average about 10 to 11 inches long and weigh only about 1/2 a pound. The gear to focus on for these fish is going to be light and long rods with flexible tips to prevent tear outs. I’d suggest a rod that is 10ft and light or ultra lite power. These are perfectly suited for crappie fishing.
Fishing rods for crappie need sensitivity, length, and flex. The industry has created very specific rods for crappie fishing that help you reach further into downed timber and snags for these fish. The rods also have a good flex to prevent the hook from tearing through the soft mouth. A good starting point is around a 10ft rod with light power rating, however some crappie anglers use up to a 16ft rod. The extra long length lets you get deep into cover and downed timber in the water where these fish like to hide. Rods for crappie can also be used for any type of panfish such as bluegill as well.
Crappie are strong fighters, however with a fish that maxes out around 2lbs you aren’t going to need a big reel. I’d suggest a lightweight spinning reel, around a size 10 or 20. I always suggest buying well built reels with quality drag systems, because in the long run these will pay off and you’ll get to use better gear in the process. I’ve had my Shimano Stradic reels for over 12 years and they just take a bit of maintenance to keep them functioning perfectly.
Fishing line for crappie should be anywhere from 6-10lb test fluorocarbon or monofilament. I recommend these lines because they are invisible in the water and give you a much better chance of catching these panfish. I am a huge fan of braided lines, however with the amount of tree cover these fish are around braid is not going to help and it is a very visible line underwater. It also has little to no flex and it is more likely to tear right out of the mouth of the fish.
If you get a good haul of crappie you will want a good cooler to keep them on ice, and an excellent fillet system to get them ready for the pan. Don’t forget to invest in a hook remover for the ones that swallow your lure deep down. Keep them alive for next time.
Bait and Lures for crappie
Crappie are suckers for natural live bait. A red worm, minnow, or cricket will get you a strike quite often and work very very well if placed appropriately. Try these baits for catching crappie:
- Live Baits – live crickets, minnows, and red worms are some of the best baits when targeting crappie
- Jigs – simulate shiners or small fish, use a 1/16 ounce jig head and pair with a plastic minnow or grub tail
- Umbrella Rigs – these rigs incorporate five or more trailing leaders with jigs attached to simulate a school of fish. They are quite effective for crappie
Fishing Techniques for Crappie
Fishing techniques for crappie can range from a single line and bobber – the most simple and basic way to fish, to an entire arsenal of rods and rigging setup specifically to target the fish. Read more to see what style suits you best.
Float Bait Under a Cork
The most basic and usually the most effective way to fish for crappie is putting on a bobber and floating some live bait under it such as minnows, crickets, or red worms. Keeping it simple goes a long way. Float your live bait a couple few down from the bobber with a size #1 or #2 hook. This setup works best with a longer rod anywhere from 8 to 12 feet for casting and flipping into cover. Be sure to adjust your bobber if you come across a brush pile in deeper water.
Jig fishing for crappie is a great way to get started as well. You can use a light to medium action spinning rod around 7ft and pair it with some mono or fluorocarbon line in the 4lb – 10lb range. Target docks, brush piles, overhangs, and any other cover that could hold fish. Use a 1/16 oz jig head with a soft plastic attached such as a minnow or grub. Running the jig over the cover or dropping down vertically and hovering in the strike zone both work equally well. For color selection check out our guide based on weather and water color.
Fly Fishing for Crappie
Fly fishing for panfish is actually quite exciting in my opinion. Crappie can put up a great fight especially on lightweight fly gear, which makes it so much more exciting. Throwing a lightweight fly for crappie is so much fun and you can even sight fish from docks if the water is clear enough. Pulling a clouser minnow through the water works great for this fish and I’d recommend a 5wt 9ft setup.
Skipping Jigs Under Docks
Another popular method for fishing crappie is skipping jigs under docks. This involves a technique that takes a lot of practice, but really pays dividends. It essentially is done by loading tension on your rod and line by holding your jig in one hand and fingering the line in the other. Then you have to quickly release and shoot that jig right through the gap of the dock and water to get it all the way to the back of the dock. Being able to sling a jig way back under a dock where the fish are hiding can be super effective for finding and targeting crappie. This method really does require a fishing boat however, because you need to be able to maneuver into the right position while standing at the correct level to get a good shot with your jig.
Spider rigging is the most complex crappie fishing method. It gets its name from the number of rods you have fanned out at the front of the boat. You’re basically trolling 8 or more small rods at once with minnow jigs tied at various depths to target schooling crappie. This takes a lot of investment, prep, and gear and could go wrong pretty easily trolling 8 rods, however some people swear by it and you could really hook up with a lot of fish this way. You definitely need a spider rig rod holder setup to be able to do this.
Where to Catch Crappie?
The best places to search for crappie are lakes, ponds, and slow flowing rivers throughout the US. These fish like to stay near the bottom and love and sort of cover. Just like all other fish, crappie adhere to spawn cycles and seasonal changes.
Pre spawn fishing for crappie is generally when water temps are around 40 – 55 degrees. The best method during this time is to troll for fish in deeper water with a jig or spider rig and target schools of shad which will likely hold crappie below.
Spawn fishing for crappie opens up a lot of different fishing techniques. Live bait under a float, casting jigs, shallow water trolling, or shallow dock fishing all work well. The key here is that crappie are spawning in shallow water and are aggressive so work it well.
Post spawn fishing for crappie involves warmer summer months when water is warmer than 78 degrees. Fish start to slow down in hot months so work a slow troll method in deeper water to find fish. Utilize an umbrella rig with minnows to simulate a small school of baitfish.
Go Out and Catch Crappie
You’ve held on this long, so now get out and go fish. Try your luck at catching some of these paper mouths. With light gear this can be a truly fun time and you might even hook a few slabs!
After you’ve caught a few maybe it’s time to go learn how to catch all these other fish.