Now that spring is here in full force for much of the country, and temperatures are rising, so does the water temperatures. That means many people are back on the hunt for limiting out on their crappie creel limit, especially during the spring. For those who do not already know, crappie consists of two species, the black crappie and the white crappie, though they look relatively similar with some small differences to help distinguish them.
The two species are in the same family as bluegill and other sunfish (Centrarchidae) and are native to North American waters. Both fish were native to the Midwest and Southern region of the United States, but have been introduced to various waterways and reservoirs across the United States in the name of recreational fishing. Crappie are extremely sought after by recreational anglers due to their aggressive strong fight and great table fare. The fillets of crappie are white and described as having a mild, slight sweet taste to them that takes on the flavor of the seasoning used to cook it.
There is a reason why so many people target crappie in the spring or exclusively fish for them throughout the year. I myself have been slowly learning how crappie work and what has worked for me in various different waterways and hope to share what I have learned from research online as well as on my own through word of mouth in person or from my own trial and error. I hope to describe the behavior patterns of crappie, the habitats you can find them in, types of bait, fishing strategies for crappie, and lastly, a few personal stories from me and my time bank fishing for crappie.
1. Physiology And Behavior of Crappie
Like my other how-to fishing posts, you may notice that I tend to highlight the physiology and behavior of the species I am teaching how to target. There is reasoning to why I do this as I personally believe that in order to be successful at finding and catching the fish, you must first understand its habits and patterns in order to increase your chances of getting a few bites. Crappie fishing is difficult at times and almost too easy on the best of days, there are a few variables that play into these outcomes. Some of these variables include, water temperature, time of year, time of day, if it is spawning season, competition, predation, etc.
Water temperature is important for a lot of freshwater fish as warmer waters mean that their metabolism is increasing and spawning season is near. Crappie begin to start spawning when surface water temperature is between 62-50 degrees F, though male fish can be caught near the shore when water temperatures are between 55-60 degrees F. Since the fish exert so much energy into reproduction they need to make up for the energy lost and they do so by aggressive feeding. It is during the spawn that male and female fish get closer to the bank to nest in brush, pebble gravel, and sandy shores. This allows for bank fishermen to get close enough to try and fish/target for the species as they now have a chance to catch some crappie. Although crappie are aggressive feeders at times, they obviously aren’t at the top of the food chain in the water. The fish are constantly threatened by other fish eating species and reside in large schools typically to avoid predation. This is why you constantly hear stories of guys finding pockets of crappie and catching their limit in relativity no time.
Lastly, crappie, like many other fish are more metabolically active during dawn and dusk and are more prompt to move towards food and commit.
2. Preferred Habitat
Crappie generally like to reside in relatively deep water around brush piles and submerged logs/stumps where they can hang out and find food and shelter. Sometimes if there are sparse amounts of food and shelters you may find yourself looking at buoys in the water as they can also hang out around them and they seem to act as if the buoys are fallen logs. As I mentioned above, during the spawn the fish tend to move closer to shore and create nests in both algal growth and also brush and other woody material so don’t feel that you need a boat to have access to the fun sportfish. They often inhabit similar habitat to that of blue gill and walleye, so if you find one species, you may stumble into the other.
3. Types of Bait
Crappie are mostly predatory, but at a young age feed on a higher variety of prey. Black crappie are noted to eat larvae and certain crustacean typically before they reach about six-seven inches, then they are typically recorded only eating small fishes. This is why you will commonly see people using live minnows on jig heads or small hooks as bait for crappie. I have accidentally caught some small crappie using little pieces of night crawler on a size 6 Aberdeen Eagle Claw hook and a bobber. Some people also use 1/16th jigheads with some type of artificial minnow of a various color and texture. These artificial minnows come in a variety of sizes, shapes, scents, and colors. Many of the colors are bright and are used based on variables such as time of year, location, water visibility, and time of day. Sometimes, you have to play around with the size and color of the bait you are using as they can sometimes be tricky, but once you find out the trick, you will typically catch more than a few if you are in a good spot. Sometimes people even use special rigs with three or more jigs tied to it and a slip bobber to help aid in reaching a specific depth and putting the bait right in front of the fishes face
4. Fishing Strategy
Most of the fishing strategies are pretty simple in regards to how and where you are fishing. When the water heats up and the fish moves in you can typically fish submerged tree stumps from the bank and get lucky with a basic spinning reel and light weight pole/line. If you are fishing some steep banks, you can use a nine or ten foot pole and tie a short jig on there and just bob the lure up in down in the water column while moving around the bank to cover as much land and water that you can to increase your odds of finding a nice little pocket of fish. Beyond these methods it does help if you can increase your distance away from shore via a boat you can have greater chances fishing before and after the spawn.
5. My Experience Crappie Fishing
Crappie fishing is definitely one of my favorite types of fishing. It is a fun, aggressive fish. They seem relatively easy to catch and similar enough in size to other common game fish such as blue gill and some small bass species like striper and young large/smallmouth individuals. You can do your research and ensure that you come knowing all of the correct rigs, or you can come out with a few jigheads, some live or plastic minnows, a slip bobber and stop, now you’re in business. I will admit that I am no pro a catching crappie, but I have caught a few here and there and researched enough via the internet and locals to know that there is more than one way to keep a fish on the end of your line. It just takes some patience, observation, and grit. Like many other fish and species, you may find it useful to keep a little fishing log noting things such as water temperature, weather, fishing pressure, bait etc. as it can help you in the next time to differentiate between good and bad spots, as well as baits that may be useful to use under certain circumstances.
One of my best crappie fishing spots is near a rocky shore line with submerged logs. I was using simple rig with a small bobber about two feet from my jighead and on the jig head I attached live minnows. I fished with two other friends and we launched our baits out near the submerged logs and flooded trees. Even on a slow day, we managed to still get a few crappie on our lines. One issue we ran into was bluegill stealing our bait. This is unavoidable as they seem to live in the same habitats.
If you are interested in a fun pastime that produces, clean white, tasty fillets then you should try out crappie fishing. There are usually many different opportunities to fish for the two species if you look on your state department of natural resource or parks and wildlife websites which list where you can fish for them locally. It is important to understand how an organism operates when attempting to catch it or interact with it; the same goes for understanding its habitat preference and feeding preference. Lastly, don’t be afraid to try out new means and methods to catch crappie if you know they are in a specific area or if you just want to try out some new waters and see what you can catch. There are plenty of resources online via YouTube, blogs and articles entailing so much great detail for novice anglers.