Crappie Fishing Tips and Techniques
Crappie are one of the most fun fish to catch for the young, old and everyone in between. They are also one of the best tasting fresh water fish that can be caught. Crappie have that wonderful white flaky meat similar in taste and texture to Perch and Walleye. They average between 6 to 12 inches in length, with larger fish being generally caught in the South due to the longer growing season. As of this writing I believe the largest Crappie on record was caught by Lionel “JAM” Ferguson in East Tennessee. It weighed 5 pounds 7.86 ounces and was caught on a farm pond in May of 2018
There are two sub-species of crappie, Black Crappie and White Crappie. Both Black Crappie and White Crappie can be mostly silver to almost all black in coloration, depending on the clarity of the water and the time of the year. Where water clarity is at a minimum (muddy or algae laden water) both species can just about be all silver and look extremely alike. Normally they will have dark, mottled camouflage like spots on them. The main distinguishing characteristic between the two species in that on the White Crappie the black spots will form vertical stripes. In the image below you can see that the crappie on the bottom of the image is a White Crappie due to its visible vertical stripes pattern.
Another way to determine if it is a Black Crappie or a White Crappie is to count its dorsal spines. Black Crappie will have 7-8 dorsal spines whereas the White Crappie will have 5-6 dorsal spines. Both species can be found in the same waters together, but as a general guideline, White Crappie are more open water fish, and Black Crappie relate to structure more. Another observation is that White Crappie do not tolerate extremely warm waters as well as Black Crappie. This likely explains why only Black Crappie are found in Florida.
Jigs are very versatile. You can cast jigs, or fish them straight down. You can bounce them up and down (hence the term jigging), or simply swim them slow and steady through the water. You can also bounce them across the bottom slowly, hopefully avoiding snags.
Additionally, you can use jigs under bobbers. This technique is often done when casting towards shore from a boat so that you can hold the jig at a specific depth while utilizing a slow retrieve. It’s also good when fishing over structure like brush piles, so that your bait stays just above the brush pile and out of snags.
Speaking of snags, you have additional options with jigs to help prevent snags, and that is to use a weedless jig head. Weedless jigs have a bristle cover over the hook which will give way when a fish bites, but it will slip slowly through brush without snagging. This is best to use when the crappie are holding real close to cover and not feeding aggressively.
An option when using jigs is to tip the jig with a minnow. Put a minnow on the hook of the jig, either through the eyes, or through the mouth. When the bite is tough, this can be a very productive method.
You will have to vary the weight of the jig you use depending on how and where you are fishing. In current or deeper water you will likely need a heavier jig to get to where you want to go with your bait. It is not unheard of to use a 1/4 ounce jig head sometimes for crappie, but most of the time something less will do the job. When the bite is very light, you may need to resort to a light jig head such a 1/64 ounce jig. Using a light jig helps prevent the crappie from feeling the weight of the jig in their mouth, and gives you an opportunity to set the hook. The most popular weight for a jig is likely a 1/16 ounce jig, going to 1/8 when having to fish deeper waters (over 15 ft deep), and perhaps 1/32 for shallower waters (under 6 ft deep).
Jig size is very important also. In the Spring, the baitfish crappie are often feeding on are smaller than they are in the Fall, so the general rule of thumb is to use smaller baits in the Spring, and larger baits in the Fall.
Color is also very important when fishing for crappie. Here are some guidelines, but it’s important to try a variety of them to see what the best ones are on the specific body of water you are fishing. If it’s new waters, try to find out what colors the local fishermen are using. You can also check in bait shops to see whats on their shelves. You may want try jigs which look as they are selling well based on their inventory levels.
Use natural colors in clear water like silver and gray, and bright flashy colors in murky waters to help the fish find the bait. You may even select a spinner bladed jig for the extra vibration they provide.
And on bright sunny days use browns, greens or black colored jigs, and on dark overcast days, try white, yellow or chartreuse. Now realize that every fisherman has their own opinion on colors, and every lake has it’s own favorites. Some even say to use bright colors on bright days and dark colors on dark days. So the lesson here is, see what others are using, and fish with what works best for you.
Hook and Bobber
The most time proven technique of crappie fishing of all is bobber fishing. Using light line (2-8 lb test line), with a hook and bobber from shore or boat. Generally speaking, a minnow on a hook is tied 2-6 ft below a bobber/float. Find the right depth and location, and you can catch crappie. .
Casting a Jig
You can cast a jig from shore or from a boat. Cast the jig and let the jig go all the way to the bottom. You should count while it sinks and take note of how long it took to get to the bottom. You’ll know it hit the bottom when you see your line go slack.
On your next cast you can start the retrieve early by subtracting from your count and reeling. This will keep your jig off the bottom and out of possible snags. You locate fish at different levels in the water column by changing up the count. Take note of the count when you do catch a fish and you can be very successful.
If the water is deep enough, you can drop your jig straight down off the side of the boat to catch crappie. Using a similar technique to casting to determine depth and locate fish. A fish finder can be a very valuable tool as you can see what depth the fish are located at below your boat. With some locators, you can even see your jig on the display. Once you drop your jig to the correct depth you can try different things to entice the bite. You can simply leave it steady, or you can twitch it to give it some action. Sometimes only a slight drop of the jig, or movement left and right, will be the factor to success.
Long Line Trolling
Long line trolling is where you pull jigs (or even crank baits) behind your boat at anywhere from .8 MPH to 2.5 MPH. You use anywhere from a few rods to 16 rods, depending the size of your boat and the number of fishermen you have on board (depending on what local laws allow) The rods are held in rod holders as you troll across the lake. This technique can be awfully complicated as there are many variables. You have to consider the weight of your jig, diameter of your line, the speed of your boat, and the length of line you have out in order to target fish at specific depths. Although this technique can be used year round, it’s best in the summertime when targeting crappie related to a lakes thermocline.
Dock shooting is where you sling or shoot a jig under actual docks. Docks provide crappie, shade and structure, so it’s a great place to look for them, especially in the warmer months. Think about it this way, they look at it like a big Lilly Pad. A place they can hang out in the shade on a hot summer day, and wait for bait fish to swim by.
Dock shooting is not easy, it takes a lot of patience and practice. But the basic premise is, you want to skip the bait on top the water (just like you would skip a rock on the water) and get it as far under the dock as possible. Often fishermen will use high visibility line so that they can “see the strike” on the fall. When you get the first bite, take note of how long it took to drop before it was bit. You can repeat using the same count, and hopefully catch another one. If you don’t catch one on the drop, just start reeling in real slow and you may catch one on the retrieve. This can be a very frustrating way to catch fish, and also very rewarding as well.
Crappie feed on a variety of foods including minnows, worms, small crayfish, grass shrimp and insects. Therefore they can be caught using many different types of bait. They can be caught on live bait, jigs, spinners, and even crank baits. The most prevalent way to fish for crappie today is using a jig.
There are many different types of jigs to select from.
You can catch crappie all year long, but they are certainly easier to catch during the Spring and the Fall.
Springtime brings them near the banks to spawn. The males make beds or nests in the shallows, and the females come in to lay their eggs in those beds. Depending upon many factors like water temperature and water clarity they can spawn in depths from one foot to fourteen feet of water. But they will still be concentrated near shoreline making them easier to find and catch.
As the cold weather sets in and the water cools down, it starts a feeding frenzy. Crappie have to fatten up to make it through the winter months and will gorge themselves. This makes them more active and easier to catch. Look for shad on your sonar and you will find crappie nearby. Look for structure like stumps, brush, and fallen trees where crappie wait in ambush for their prey. You can also look for artificial structure which some fishermen put into the water like stake beds (simply sticks stuck vertically into the lake bottom). A good side imaging fish finder can be very valuable during this time of the year to locate structure, and nearby fish. Once located you can drop a jig into the structure and catch many crappie. Either use a weedless jig, or a jig with a light/thin wire hook. A light wire hook will bend and pull out in the event that you snag the structure, but it is strong enough to pull up a crappie.
The summer months might be considered the hardest time to catch crappie. They are generally less active than during the Spring and Fall. But don’t let that dissuade you from fishing for them, after all, just like you and I, they still have to eat to survive. On many lakes you can find them are under docks, submerged logs or under the shade of trees. Crappie are predatory fish and will wait in the shadows for baitfish to swim by. They also relate to structure to keep the sun out of their large eyes and to stay cooler, just like you and I.
Winter crappie fishing depends largely on your location. In the North ice fishing is popular for crappie, while in the South where you still have open waters you can fish using techniques similar to fishing in the Fall.
The world record white crappie was 2.35 kg (5 lb 3 oz), caught at Enid Dam, Mississippi, on July 31, 1957 by Fred Bright
The world record black crappie was 2.47 kg (5 lb 7 oz), caught in Tennessee, on May 15, 2018 by Lionel Ferguson