Fishing

A Beginner’s Guide to Crappie Fishing

Black crappie mounted on driftwood

Crappies are an ultimate crowd-pleasing fish. They are a naturally schooling panfish, meaning they tend to hang together in large groups.

Getting onto one of these feeding schools of ‘slabs’ means nonstop action that is tons of fun for children and adults alike. Finding these schools, on the other hand, can be a little tricky. Crappies, therefore, offer fast fun and challenges to please just about any fisherman or fisherwoman.

Their mild meat also makes them a tasty choice for your fish fry (please harvest responsibly!). If you are new to crappie fishing, here are a few tips to get you started.

Tackle

Black silver and orange fishing pole
Image by Gander Outdoors

You definitely don’t want to use your bass rod here. Crappies have very delicate mouths so you need a rod that won’t tear their lips off. Choose an ultralight spinning rod that’s between 5-6 feet long (like this one here).

This way, you will feel the delicate nibble of the crappie and won’t rip its jaws off when you set the hook. Ultralights also make an 8-ounce fish feel like a formidable opponent. Don’t believe me? Wait until you accidentally catch a 3-pound bass on one…

You’ll also want an ultralight caliber reel that’s rated for 2-6 pound test line. My personal preference for crappies is 4-pound test clear monofilament. Crappies tend to take their time to investigate your lure/bait up close so a clear line is key. If you go much heavier than a 6-pound test, a curious crappie will be able to spot your line.

Use a Fish Finder

gray Lowrance fish finder with GPS
Image by Gander Outdoors

The best way to locate large schools of crappie is to use a fish finder. Not only will you be able to see a large congregation of fish, but you will also know the depth they have chosen as a comfort level.

Each crappie population will interact with its environment in a unique way. Throughout the year, pay attention to where and when you find crappie schooling on your particular body of water. This will paint a picture of the patterns of the specific crappie you are targeting.

Where to Find Them

Wooden dock on a lake with blue sky
Photo by Atte Grönlund on Unsplash

Spring

In the springtime, crappies tend to prefer shallow water with cover, such as weeds or timber. This is where they will eventually spawn. In clear bodies of water, you might even be able to see their circular spawning beds in the shallows.

I have found the spring crappie bite to be pretty active for most of the day so be prepared for some great action!

Summer

In the summer heat, crappies often move to deeper water. During the day, they tend to stay fairly deep and I find they are sluggish and typically uninterested. During the early morning and evening hours, especially near sunset, it’s a completely different ballgame.

As the shallower water cools and baitfish move in to feed on plankton and insects, so do the crappie. Your best bets are to find drop-offs or submerged structure and look for schools during these times of the day. Once you’ve caught your fourth crappie in five minutes, It’s pretty clear you’ve found one.

Fall

Fall time can be fairly challenging for a crappie angler. The rapidly cooling water can disrupt these fish’s natural schooling tendency, making them more mobile and scattered. As is always the case, key in on submerged structure. The constantly cycling water temperatures, however, make finding the right depth difficult and this requires some field detective work on your part.

Crappie may also seek out fresh inlets of streams or rivers into the body of water you are fishing. As the water reaches more consistent temperatures later in fall, don’t neglect deeper water which is now oxygen-rich and the crappie will be acclimated to the colder temperature.

Winter

Wintertime brings school back to session and the slabs will congregate in even tighter groups. Whether you are ice fishing or your water is simply just cold, the winter bite can be a hot one.

Bias your fishing efforts to deep structure, drop-offs, or ledges. If ice fishing, use a portable sonar unit (like this Vexilar) to measure depth and locate fish. Compared to other times of the year, fishing in the middle of the day when it is warmest can be quite successful.

Bait/Lures

blue and white crappie tube
Image by Gander Outdoors

The all-around, year-round best bait for crappies is a live crappie minnow on a hook or jig. Rig up a slip bobber so you can quickly change your depth to find out where the fish are sitting. In deeper water, anglers may prefer to jig the minnow off of the side of the boat, slowly bringing it up from the bottom to find the right depth.

My favorite all-around lure is a crappie tube on a jig head. Like virtually all panfish, crappies’ eyes are oriented upwards. This makes falling baits particularly irresistible. I like to cast my tube out into the school I’ve located and just let it slowly fall. Watch your line for an abrupt stop.

This is likely indicating that a hungry crappie has inhaled your tube on the fall. If you don’t get a bite on the initial fall, raise your rod tip up and reel a few feet of line in before you let it fall again. Repeat this process until you’ve reeled your tube all the way in. Crappie can be picky about the color of your tube so make sure you have a large selection available.

When crappie are active in late spring and summer, faster moving lures can be great options. A small crankbait like a 1 1/2″ Rapala Shad Rap or a spinning lure like a 1/8 ounce Mepps in-line spinnerbait or a Beetle Spin mimic the small baitfish targeted by crappies.

When you are pulling these lures through the school, remember that crappies aren’t extremely aggressive predators like bass or pike. Because they are finicky and like to examine the lure, a slower presentation is often a better one for big slabs.


What are your favorite crappie fishing lures or strategies? Let us know in the comments below!

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