Some people call them crappies, specks, strawberry bass, sac-a-laits, or papermouths – we simply call them fish that are incredibly fun to catch! However, they are quite elusive and hard to locate and successful crappie fishing will require you to know their habits, obtain the right lures and exercise patience while out there.
Crappies pose a good challenge on the fishing line but once pulled out of the water, they make a finger-liking dish.
There are many amazing methods and techniques to hook these delicious pan fish and we shall discuss all of them in this guide including where and when to find them. But just before that, a brief on crappie.
Crappie is a freshwater fish commonly found in North America, though originally from Canada and Eastern US. These fish species thrive in water bodies with plenty of rocks and weeds.
Crappies reproduce quickly and if not controlled, they can easily overwhelm a small water body. May and June are their most fertile months. During this period, the male crappie makes some sort of a nest at the bottom of the lake or river where the female comes and lays the eggs. A crappie can lay up to 60,000 eggs in one go and it will only take 2 to 5 days for the eggs to hatch.
There are two typical species of crappie; the black crappie and the white crappie.
Black crappie: Also known as promoxis nigro-maculatus, these are darker and have 7 to 8 dorsal lines and some pronounced spotting on the sides. They reside in larger, more acidic water bodies although sometimes they cohabitate with the white crappie.
It is rare to see an inter-breed of a black crappie and a white crappie though it does occur. In totally rare cases, the black crappie inter-breeds with flier sunfish too.
White Crappie: These also go by the name promoxis annularis, and just as the name suggests, they are lighter than their counterparts are and have only 6 dorsal spines. They also have 8 dark colored bands on the sides.
A white crappie commonly resides in quiet backwaters, slow moving rivers, and rarely in larger water bodies.
The average weight of crappies is a quarter or half a pound with a length of 8 to 12 inches. However, it is not uncommon to see a crappie 5 pounds heavy and 20 inches long.
Baiting crappie is not quite difficult because they can feed almost on anything. But mostly, they will be enticed by minnows, insects, and smaller fish species.
One benefit of crappie fishing over other popular angling like bass or catfish fishing is that crappies can make an all year diet. Okay, some seasons like fall and spring are more favorable but crappies will always be available. If you know how to ice fish and want to have some fish on your dinner table, crappies can be an easy target.
Where Can You Find Crappie?
Crappies are considered an easy catch but this doesn’t mean that just casting your rod into the water will give you success. You will need to have a basic understanding of their habitats, what they do and when they do it.
The best places to look will be underwater structures like fallen sunken tree branches, rock piles, and dock pilings. You will find them hovering around, under, or above these areas.
The reason why crappies prefer these places is that first, they are the best spots to hide from prey fish and birds and second, they are a good source of food. Smaller fish that run to the underwater structures for safety purposes end up being bait for crappie.
Another area where crappies spend considerable time is the deeper waters. They will go as deep as 10 to 15 feet, which makes them a little harder to find.
Your best bet for locating crappies is angling in large water bodies like ponds and those shallow lakes that have mud and sand at the bottom. Crappies are more abundant in lakes as here, there is a wide range of vegetation to provide coverage and food.
It would help to find out more about your fishing spot beforehand to know if there are any structures or underwater vegetation. Any sunken islands, submerged objects, holes or reeds provide the necessary coverage crappie wants. Think about this next time you go fishing and you will know where to look for this fish species.
Understanding Crappie Habits
To hack crappie angling, you will need to study their behavior. Here are few things to look out for:
Pre-spawn: Conditions for pre-spawning occur when the temperature of the water gets to 60˚. In the northern hemisphere, this usually happens in May or June, but as early as February in the south.
Having been deep underwater in winter, the crappies move to the shallow waters, usually 2-3 feet. Male crappies move first and build a nest in these areas. The females then follow and choose a male for breeding.
If you are wondering how to catch crappie and when to do it, then this is one of the best times to cast your rod, as the fish are busy trying to multiply their population. Just a handful of jigs and minnows will get the job done perfectly.
Spawn: After the females have found a mate, they go inside the nest. This is where they lay eggs and where the eggs get fertilized.
The female crappies then move to deeper waters and males are left to guard the nest until they are hatched. During this period, male crappies attack anything that gets close to the nest so they will bite the lures without thinking twice.
Post spawn: Once the eggs are hatched, both the male and female crappies move deeper into the water to recover. During this time, they will only take those lures that are close to them, meaning, it is the toughest time to be doing crappie fishing.
And when the water warms up, they move to more favorable areas where they can get baitfish. Typically, during the day, they go deep into the water (almost 30 feet) to get away from the summer heat but at night, they ascend up to about 4 feet.
Crappies are harder to find immediately after spawning but if you do locate them, they will actively feast on the bait.
Winter: When cold weather sets in and the temperature of the water drops, crappies move underwater, 15 to 20 feet deep, and suspend around the available structures. They will remain here until the next pre-spawn period.
But they still need to feed so you will undoubtedly have an amazing crappie fishing expedition. In fact, this is a great time to hunt for crappies as there are fewer anglers and the fish move around less. However, you will need to bring the lures as close to the fish as possible.
Crappie Fishing Gear
Fishing crappie doesn’t require sophisticated gear but light equipment will ensure a successful catch. Do not underestimate the old-fashioned fishing poles, as these have proven quite effective in crappie angling.
Some anglers prefer using kids fishing poles because they are more lightweight while others get inexpensive cane poles. If you prefer rods and reels, that’s okay too. Just don’t let anyone deceive you that you should have some specific gear for hunting crappie.
Baits And Lures For Crappie
Live baits are always the real deal when catching fish, and crappies are no different. They love feeding on small fish so small minnows will be the perfect bait for the job. Think about Missouri minnows and mosquito fish; buy these from your local bait shop or catch your own at the shore.
Crickets will also make good bait. You can catch these easily with your hands or a small bait net.
Although live baits will get the job done, sometimes they can be very inconvenient especially when the angler doesn’t know how to keep them alive and health. This is where artificial lures come to play. Those that mimic crappie’s natural diet will be an attractive and highly effective alternative to live baits.
Lures can be stashed in a tackle box and tossed in the air without worrying much about their mortality. In addition, running to a bait store for lures is much easier than catching live baits.
Some of the most effective lures for crappie include:
- Soft plastics
- Small jigs
- Spinner baits
- Flies that resemble crickets, small bugs, or minnows
If you are fishing in clear water, make sure to keep the lures as natural colored as possible and try to bring something that resembles what crappies like feeding on. On bright days when there is enough light in the water, pick any color you want. If you have any bright colors, the better.
For water that is not so clear, get brighter lures that crappies can spot from a distance. You see this electric pink, yellow, chartreuse and the like? These could be your best bet for successful crappie angling.
Tips To Effective Crappie Fishing
- Crappies are less active and slower to bite during winter so for you to reel in any fish, you will need to be very patient. It will take you more time to catch something than when fishing during spring or fall.
- If it’s windy, don’t fish from the riverbanks or where the wind breaks. Sure, riverbanks and lakeshores could be more comfortable but for successful fishing, you will need to try deeper waters.
- Fish in clear waters. Crappies find food by sight and may not see anything if the water is not clear. If you want the fish to see the bait, make sure your fishing spot has clear water. If not, get bright lures.
- Talk to other anglers in the area to find out what works for them. Maybe the crappies in the spot you are going to fish are attracted to a specific jig color or type? Maybe they have a certain hiding spot? Or maybe they are enticed by a certain type of lure that you are not aware of? Is it better to fish crappie during the day or night?
Before going on your fishing trip, have this information handy to increase your chances of not going back home with an empty fish cooler. If something worked for other anglers, there is a high chance that it will work for you as well.
- Crappies go to look for food early in the morning and at dusk, so these could be some of the best times to go looking for them. However, if you will be fishing at night make sure to have enough information about your fishing spot in advance so that no underwater obstacles will affect your adventure. And if you are fishing from a kayak boat, boat or fishing kayak have proper safety equipment on board.
- Do not move too fast while fishing. Crappies are social fish and love spending time together. Where you hook one, you are likely to hook five more!
- Know your limits. Different states have different fishing rules and it would be wise to find out how your crappie angling will be affected by these before you go. Know how many crappies the authorities allow you to catch in a day. If the fish needs to be of a certain weight for you to take home, bring your fish scale too so you can stay on the good side of the law.
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Crappie fishing is an exciting activity that can be performed all year round. Even in low fishing seasons, there are always plenty of crappies to fish. Just know where to find them and your dinner table will never run out of them.
Crappies are extremely tasty and easy to catch. If you have taken enough time to study their behavior, acquired the right gear, and shopped for the right baits and lures, you will have an amazing fishing adventure.