Crappie Fishing Tips: Guide To Catching Crappie With Bait & Lures

When you’re out for a day’s fishing trip, there’s nothing worse than going home without anything to show for it (and an empty cooler!), especially if you’ve spent several hours out there waiting to reel in a catch.

Crappie are popular fish to catch because of their wide ranging habitat all across North America and particularly their existence in all 48 contiguous states. They are also well known for their tasty white meat, which makes them all the more important to catch!

So how can you catch more crappie? We know sometimes you can have good days and bad days when you’re on the water but what if you had the expert tips that would allow you to have even more good days?

In order to help you reel in more crappie we have put together a guide that will give you some helpful tips on how to make your fishing trip more successful. Discover when the crappie are most active and the waters where you might find them, as well as what equipment might give you a better chance of catching them.

Types Of Crappie (Black vs. White)

Black

Black Crappie

Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), sometimes called calico bass or speckled bass, are game fish that are native to North America. They have a silver-gray, or even olive green, body with dark speckling and mottling over its body, with the dark spots appearing in rows over its dorsal, anal and caudal fins.

The black crappie will have around 7 to 8 spines on its dorsal fin. Both the black and the white species can weigh over 5 pounds, with the average weight being between half a pound and a pound and the average length being between 5 and 12 inches.

Black crappie favor clear water where there is lot of vegetation, as well as mud or sand on the bottom.

White

White Crappie
'White Crappie' by Wisconsin Department of Natural ResourcesFollow on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

White crappie (Pomoxis annularis) are similar to black crappie in their size and appearance but, instead of having an all over spotted pattern they have dark mottling appearing in a vertical striped effect on their sides, giving them a whiter overall coloring. The spots also appear on their dorsal, anal and caudal fins.

Another difference between the white and black species is the number of spines on the dorsal fins. White crappie have less dorsal spines, usually 5 or 6.

While the black species prefer clearer water, the white ones are not quite so particular, although you can often find them inhabiting the same areas. Both black and white crappie will form schools to travel in, which could make it easier to catch more than one once you’ve found their location.

Fishing For Crappie Through The Seasons

Spring

During the spring and early summer is when the fish will spawn, which is usually between the months of March and July. However, in the warmer southern states spawning has been known to happen as early as February.

It is during this spawning season that the crappie enter the shallower areas of water, usually between 1 and 5 ft deep. The males will leave the deeper water first, entering the shallows to dig out a nest close to vegetation.

Shortly after the males leave, the females will follow in order to choose a mate and lay their eggs, which can be anywhere up to 180,000, with the average being around 40,000.

Once the males have fertilized the eggs they will then remain at their nests, guarding the eggs from any potential predators.

It is during this time that the males will be more easy to catch; once you’ve located their nests, of course.

Summer

Summer Spring Fishing Crappie

When the height of summer hits, this is often when the crappie will head back out to the deeper water, away from their shallow nesting sites. It is during these warmer months that the best time for crappie fishing will be during twilight hours or during the night when they will come closer to the surface in order to feed.

Summer can be a particularly difficult time to catch this species and will often require patience, possibly trolling and the use of electronic devices, such as fish finders, to find the underwater structures where there might be some hiding out and keeping cool.

Fall

Finding the species in the fall can be difficult, as the water temperatures are generally the same at all depths, making it trickier to know where the fish will be. How productive your fishing trip in the fall will depend on the bait you use.

In the fall the fish are preparing for winter and a lack of food sources, so they will generally be looking for minnows and this can be a good time to lure them in using minnows as bait.

You may have more luck fishing at night during the fall, when the crappie come nearer to the shallows during their regular feeding time.

Winter

Winter can be a great time for crappie fishing, as they do not appear to go into a state of semi-hibernation.

This means they can be very active during the colder winter months, which makes them an ideal catch if you’re heading out ice fishing.

Ice Crappie Fishing

You will need to remember that in the winter, the species will be in deeper water, and you might often find them at a depth of around 15 to 20 ft. Because they are schooling fish you will usually find them in groups and in winter they will often be found near underwater structures, such as boat docks, trees or brush.

Areas of water with a southern exposure will be the warmest and this is likely where the most fish will be hiding out.

It’s possible to go ice fishing for crappie but you will probably find you’ll need some kind of sonar equipment if you have any hopes of catching anything. Combine your sonar with your knowledge of possible locations for them, such as near weeds or drop-off points, in order to find a suitable place to start drilling your holes.

Best (And Worst) Times Of The Day To Catch Crappie

Evening And Early Morning

How many fish you’ll catch will usually depend on the time of day and whether they’re active. In the case of crappie, the best time to catch them is during their feeding time, which is most frequently between the hours of midnight and 2 am.

Additionally, during dawn and dusk can be good times to catch them, with many of them also feeding during these twilight hours. It is when they are feeding that they will come into the shallower areas looking for minnows and insects, so casting your bait at this time could make it more likely that they will bite.

During The Day

Bright Sun - Crappie Day Fishing

During the daylight hours, they tend to remain in the deeper areas of water, which could make them more difficult to catch, depending on the time of year.

However, during the spawning season, the males guard their nests in the shallows, defensively attacking anything that might threaten the eggs, so this can be a good time to catch one without too much trouble.

If you’re fishing in the winter months, the afternoon can be a good time to fish because that is when the water temperatures will be at their warmest and when the fish will swim closer to the surface to find food.

Where Can I Find Crappie?

Geography

Crappie, both black and white, are native to North America, in the eastern half of the USA and in Canada. However, they have since been introduced all across the USA and can now be found in all the contiguous states.

They are a freshwater species that can be found in still water, such as in lakes, ponds and calm sections of slow moving rivers. Their preferred underwater environment would have clear water with muddy or sandy bottoms, ideal for digging out nests, and plenty of vegetation for seeking shelter and providing oxygen.

Lakes And Reservoirs

Lakes, ponds and reservoirs are ideal places to fish for them, providing the conditions are right. If you’re fishing in a lake you’ve never fished in before, or even if you have, it’s always a good idea to start out with a map of the topography of the lake. This, along with considering what time of year it is, will provide you with a better idea of where the fish might be.

Underwater structures, such as boat docks or tree stumps and even brush piles, can be good places to find them. Remember to keep in mind that in the summer and winter months the fish will be in the deeper sections of the lake. Sometimes where there are creeks entering the lake, you might find that this may be a good place to start fishing.

During the spawning season the fish will be in the shallower areas near the shoreline, as long as there is a lot of vegetation nearby to provide them with cover.

Rivers

Rivers can be great places to catch this species, as long as you know where to look for them. As crappie favor areas with underwater structures and lots of cover, this can be useful information to keep in mind when you go to cast your line.

Areas with eddies or sections of still water can be a good place to catch them, as they will often lie in wait for prey to pass by. Fishing from a deep rocky bank could prove lucrative, especially in the early spring, as this is when the baitfish will be feeding on the algae on the rocks and the crappie will be beginning to nest in the shallower coves near these river banks.

You should also look for areas with wood debris or a fallen tree that’s creating a natural dam, as the fish could be hiding out in the calm water, especially when the water levels in the river are high.

Best Crappie Fishing Lakes (And Rivers)

Grenada Lake, Mississippi

Located between Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, Grenada Lake is a popular spot for crappie fishing, particularly for trophy crappie. There are lots of areas of this reservoir to find this species, with a range of underwater structures, including a dam.

The lake is a 35,000 acre body of water that is home to regular game fishing tournaments, and is considered one of the best crappie fishing lakes in the USA.

There is a regularly updated fishing report, which is useful to find out where other anglers have been having success with catching crappie. Keep in mind that the fish you catch must be at least 12 inches and the limit per person is 15 crappie.

Grenada Lake Crappie

Weiss Lake, Alabama

Situated in northeast Alabama, on the Georgia border, Weiss Lake is considered the ‘crappie capital of the world’, known for producing large slab sized crappie of around 2 to 3 pounds in weight.

Measuring over 30,000 acres, the lake consists of lots of channels and feeds into the Coosa river. There are lots of underwater structures, which makes it an ideal habitat for crappie, but can be a little dangerous if you’re out on a boat, so electronic sonar equipment could be a good idea.

The lake is also home to various fishing tournaments.

Lake Talquin, Florida

Located just west of Tallahassee, Florida, Lake Talquin is a 10,000 acre lake that has plenty of vegetation and prime conditions for black crappie. Lake Talquin State Park has a dock, as well as a 650 foot boardwalk that gives you access to fishing.

There is also a boat launch near the State Park, where you can launch your canoe or kayak to get better access to more prime crappie fishing spots.

Alabama River, Alabama

Situated a few miles north of Montgomery, Alabama, the Alabama River has been home to fishing tournaments, including the Crappie Masters. This slow moving river features large creeks and a variety of shallows and deep ledges, which make ideal habitats for crappie in all seasons.

During spring and summer you can catch plenty of crappie during the spawn.

Grenada Lake Crappie

What About Rods, Reels, Lines & Bait?

In order to catch as much crappie as possible you’ll need to make sure you have the right equipment for the job. First and foremost, one of the key things to consider is the type of rod and reel you will need.

Rods

When choosing a rod for crappie fishing you should select one that is either ultralight or lightweight, so you can feel the fish taking the bait. Most of the time you’ll find that the best rods for catching them are either cane poles or spinning rods.

Cane poles are basic tools, traditionally made out of bamboo, and feature a simple cane rod with a line holder. They can be good for catching them because of their better precision when it comes to jigging, which can be effective in the shallows.

Spinning Reel Rod and Lake

If you’re choosing a spinning rod, make sure that it has a slow action, which is the speed at which the rod goes back to being straight after being flexed. Because crappie are more delicate in the mouth area, a faster action rod could result in the hook ripping through their lips and you losing the fish, so the movement must be slow.

Graphite rods tend to be a good choice for both their weight and sensitivity for crappie fishing.

Best Rods For Crappie

Shakespeare Wonderpole Fishing Rod

This rod is designed for crappie fishing, so can be a great choice. The Wonderpole is a lightweight telescopic spinning rod that has light power, which is ideal for catching crappie.

It has tubular fiberglass construction, with a comfortable non-slip handle and benefits from being able to collapse for better portability. It can collapse to 4 ft and be extended to 16 ft, as well as coming in 5 different pieces.

South Bend Crappie Stalker Pole

This fishing rod from South Bend is built for catching crappie. It is a 12 foot telescopic pole with a creatively designed red pattern and can collapse down to just 48 inches, making it easier to transport and store.

It features 4 sections, a comfortable leatherette grip and reinforced joint sections. It also has a built in line winder so you can use it without a reel.

Reels

There are a few reels out there that can be used for this type of fishing, but you will need to look out for the ones that will be smooth as well as being designed for lighter weight fish.

You will probably find that a spinning reel will be your best choice of reel for crappie fishing.

Best Reels For Crappie

Sixgill Fishing Spinning Reel

This reel can be a good choice for catching crappie, as its durable graphite, stainless steel and aluminum construction makes it a good, lightweight option that could work well on lighter rods. The graphite body and rotor are also corrosion resistant.

It comes in a range of models, including 500, 1000, 2000 and 3000. In the 500 model there are 6 ball bearings, with a 16 pound smooth drag system and a line capacity of 4 pounds at 120 yards, 6 pounds at 100 yards or 8 pounds at 60 yards.

Sougayilang Fishing Reel

This is a very lightweight spinning reel that is constructed with an aluminum spool and a CNC machine cut metal handle that is collapsible for easier transportation and storage. The reel is also interchangeable so you can use it with either your right or left hand.

It is a powerful reel with 13 ball bearings, smooth drag and high sensitivity, which is ideal for catching crappie and other smaller fish. It can also be used in saltwater as well as fresh water. This reel comes in a range of models, from 1000 up to 6000.

Rod And Reel Combos

It’s possible to buy a rod and reel combo for crappie fishing. This can be a good idea because the rods and reels were designed for each other, with the weight and power balance in mind so that they work effectively.

Keep in mind the weight of the fish you’re catching and make sure the combo is suitable for that weight. A heavy duty rod and reel that are designed for ocean fishing may not be your best bet when it comes to lighter weight crappie.

Best Rod And Reel Combos

Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Combo

Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Combo

This fishing rod and reel combo can be a great choice for crappie fishing as it comes in an ultra light and a lightweight model, as well as medium and heavy (for other types of fishing). It features lightweight, durable EVA soft-grip padding on the handles for added comfort and better grip.

The rod is a two piece pole crafted with graphite and fiberglass composite and it has Ugly Stik’s Clear Tip design that lets you feel the faintest bite, which can come in handy when you’re fishing for crappie. The reel is designed to be compatible with different types of line without any slippage, including braided lines, which adds to its versatility.

Sougayilang Fishing Rod And Reel Combo Kit

This rod and spinning reel combo kit could be a good choice if you’re looking to have everything you’ll need to get fishing right away, as it comes with line and bait, including 2 minnow lures, which could work well for luring in the crappie. It’s also possible to buy just the rod and reel, if you don’t want the full kit.

The rod is a telescopic pole is constructed with carbon fiber, which is lightweight and durable, as well as having high sensitivity. It also features a comfortable EVA easy-grip handle.

A benefit of this rod is that it can be collapsed for better transportation. The reel features an aluminum spool and 14 ball bearings and could be a good choice for beginners.

Lines Used For Crappie Fishing

Choosing a line can be an important step in how successful your crappie fishing trip will be, as you will need one that will be sensitive enough to feel the slightest bite but strong enough, but with a little stretch, to allow you to gently reel in your catch.

Monofilament Lines

Monofilament fishing lines are relatively inexpensive and can be a good option if you’re looking for value and versatility. However, they will tend to have more stretch in them than other types of line, which may not be an ideal feature for crappie, as this also makes them less sensitive.

On the plus side, the stretch will allow you to reel in fish more gently, without ripping the hook through their mouths, but with crappie you may be less likely to feel them take the bait.

A disadvantage of mono lines is that they have a memory, so when the line is wound up around your reel it can conform to this shape. This means that when you cast out your line, it may end up being all coiled and no longer straight. These lines are also more sensitive to UV light, which can affect their quality.

Stren Original Service Spool

This monofilament line comes in a range of sizes and weights and benefits from having a UV guard to protect it from sun damage. It boasts having a low memory to limit any coiling, as well as being abrasion resistant, with a balance of strength and sensitivity.

Fluorocarbon Lines

Fluorocarbon fishing lines can be a good choice when fishing for this type of fish, as they are less visible in the water, which makes them ideal for fishing in clear water.

Although these lines tend to be more expensive than mono lines, they have certain advantages that may boost your success levels when catching crappie. These lines have less stretch than the mono lines, as well as less memory, meaning you won’t have such a curly line when you cast and they are a little more sensitive to a fish taking the bait.

Fluorocarbon lines also benefit from being a little more durable and will sink quickly, which means they could be a good choice if you’re fishing for crappie in the ice.

Seaguar Blue Label Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

This fluorocarbon line comes in a variety of sizes, including a 4 pound one. It is extra durable, built with abrasion and impact resistance. It is fast sinking, which could prove useful when fishing for crappie in deeper waters in the winter.

Braided Lines

Braided fishing lines are tough and durable and highly sensitive, which could make them a great choice for fishing for crappie, as you may be more likely to feel the bite than with other types of line.

However, braided lines have a lot more tension than the other lines, which could go against you if you have a crappie at the end of your hook, as it could risk the hook tearing through its mouth if there’s too much resistance to allow you to gradually reel it in.

Another disadvantage to using braided lines for crappie is that they tend to be more visible in the water. And when a crappie’s habitat is usually clear water, this may not be the best option if you’re trying to discreetly enter their homes.

Spiderwire Ultracast Invisi-Braid Superline

This Invisi-Braid line benefits from being clear and almost invisible underwater, which could help when catching crappie in clear water. It’s sensitive to the smallest bites, as well as being both durable and strong.

Bait, Lure & Jigs Explained

Live Bait

If you’re fishing for crappie with live bait, minnows are one of the best baits you can use, as this is what the crappie prey on in the wild. Crappie also eat worms and insects, so you can also use these as live bait.

Using a bobber with live bait can be a good idea, as it will allow you to set the depth for the bait.

Be sure not to release any live bait into a lake or river unless you got it from there in the first place, as this can harm other species that are native to that particular body of water.

Lures

Artificial bait, such as spinners and tubes, as well as crankbait. These can mimic the movement and appearance of the crappie’s prey and have the benefit of being reused, unlike live bait.

Jigs

Using a small jig has been known to be one of the most effective ways of catching crappie, with anglers favoring a ⅛ ounce jig. Floating jigs can be effective when used in conjunction with live bait, particularly when fishing for crappie in the shallow waters in the spawning season.

Best Lures And Jigs

Strike King Mr. Crappie Jig Head

This is a soft plastic jig head that is designed to lure in crappie. This set comes with a total of 8 jig heads. You can choose from a selection of different colors, including an unpainted one in a silvery tone.

Bobby Garland Baby Shad Crappie Baits

This is a pack of 18 artificial shad baits that could work well for catching crappie. Each of the artificial baits are made with soft plastic and measure two inches in length. They also come in a range of colors.

PowerBait Power Minnow Bait

Designed to look like a live minnow, this artificial bait measures 2 inches long and can fool the crappie into thinking it’s the real deal. It even has 3D eyes for a more realistic appearance and an added scent and flavor to lure in more fish.

Aorace 10 Pcs Crankbait Fishing Bait

This could be a good option if you’re looking for value with 10 different colored crankbaits in each pack. Each one has a shimmering coating to replicate real prey, as well as 3D eyes, to help lure in more crappie.

Berkley PowerBait Crappie Nibbles Fishing Lure

This jar of little nibbles could help you lure in more crappie. Designed to be used with other types of artificial bait and jigs, these high visibility nibbles can be attached to your hook and they then dissolve in the water, leaving behind a scent that will attract the crappie’s curiosity.

Bobby Garland Slab Slay’r Crappie Baits

Bobby Garland Slab Slayr Crappie Baits

This pack of 12 baits is designed to lure in lots of crappie. Each of the artificial baits measures 2 inches long and is a spear shape, with a thinner tail that moves in the water to look like a fish swimming along. You can also choose from a range of bright, shimmering colors.

Strike King Mini-King Spinnerbait

This spinnerbait is crafted for ultralight rods, so it could be an ideal choice for crappie fishing. It is small and features a single Colorado Diamond Blade, a Diamond Dust Head and a Diamond Dust Silicone Skirt, designed to be attractive to hungry crappie.

Do I Need Any Other Equipment?

Topographical Maps

As we already mentioned, using a topographical map will give you a better understanding of the underwater landscape of where you’re planning to fish. This means you’ll have a better idea of where the crappie will be depending on what time of year it is.

Bait shops should be able to offer you a map of your local lake or you may be able to find one online.

Fish Finders

Fish finders can be a great accessory to help you locate the crappie and can be a real help if you’re ice fishing and can’t actually see the water. Fish finders vary in their abilities but you should be able to get a good overall idea of what’s under the water.

> Read more on what we have to say on fish finders

It should be able to show you the underwater landscape, including depths and submerged structures, with many able to pinpoint where the crappie are hiding.

Fishing Kayaks

Because crappie will usually be found in the shallows in the spring and early summer, having a kayak may prove to be a pretty handy vessel for fishing. Kayaks are more likely to be able to enter areas of the water that might be inaccessible to other boats.

The shallow areas with lots of vegetation shouldn’t be too much of a problem for a kayak and even in the times of year where the crappie are in deeper areas, you may still have the upperhand over other vessels, since a yak is usually less disruptive than a motorized boat, so the crappie may be less likely to be scared off.

How To Catch Crappie: Tips, Tactics And Techniques

Now that it’s time to head out there to fish, you’ll need to know how to actually catch this species. Depending on what time of year it is, the tricks to catching them may be a little different. But you will probably find that the bait will remain the same no matter what the time of year.

Use A Bobber

Using a bobber (float) can help you to get better results on your crappie fishing trip. This is because it will allow you to set the depth of your bait, meaning you have more control over the bait and will know that it’s not going to sink to a lower level than the fish.

A bobber can be helpful at all times of year, whether you’re fishing in deeper water at the edge of a drop off point or in the shallower areas during the spring and summer. Once you’ve found out the depth at which the crappie are hiding out, you’ll then be able to set your bait to that depth and potentially have more luck on the end of your line.

Catching During The Pre-Spawn

So, it’s early spring and the crappie are moving from the depths of their winter habitats to edge closer to the shallows. A good depth for trying to locate them during this time could be between 8 and 10 ft, as long as there is plenty of vegetation or structures for cover.

You may also find that it’s possible to catch crappie if you make your own crappie bed, for example by creating an area of underwater structures, such as with tree stumps, brush and logs. This type of cover could lure the fish into a false sense of security.

Remember that crappie usually swim in schools, so if you find one, you are likely to have found a few. So keep that in mind and you could be reeling in a number of crappie if you keep on casting.

Catching During Spawning Season

During this time the crappie should be at a depth of around 2 to 3 ft, which can be an ideal time to catch them. Vertical jigging can be a successful way to catch crappie, even in deeper waters.

Using a jig with a bobber can be a successful method for fishing them in the shallows, with your jig around a foot beneath the float, or a little more, depending on the depth of the water, and so that the jig will be closer to the surface than the crappie.

Using a loop knot with your jig can be a good fishing knot for catching crappie, as this may replicate a more natural movement for the jig when used vertically.

At Other Times Of The Year

During the rest of the year, when the fish are inhabiting the deeper sections of water, it can be more difficult to catch them but it’s not impossible if you have the right techniques.

One of the most important things to remember is to be patient and don’t be too quick with your bait or when you’re reeling in the crappie, especially during the colder winter months, as the fish may be less likely to chase down prey if they are trying to preserve energy.

Night fishing can prove to be a good time and one trick that could help is to shine a light into the water, as this should not only attract the crappie but it should also attract more bugs for bait.

Using a fish finder when the fish are in deeper water may help you here and you will also be able to locate any drop off points and underwater structures where they may be hiding out.

Another trick that could help at night is to have some live minnow bait in a mason jar, or other clear glass container (with holes in the lid) and lower it into the water, followed by your minnow lure. The crappie should be attracted to the school of minnows in the jar, giving you a better chance at having one take your bait.

Another Tip - Two Rods!

One technique that could see you reeling in plenty of crappie is by using two rods to fool the fish by taking advantage of the fish’s natural survival instincts

You would use your main bait, minnow or jig, with a bobber, as the lure for the crappie and use your second rod with a larger artificial bait. Cast the second line beyond the first one and reel it in fast, so that it looks like a rival fish coming to take your bait. The crappie should then battle to try to take it first!

Check With Your Local Fishing Area

Before you start luring in the crappie, you should always double check what the catch limits are for that particular body of water. Many lakes and rivers will have limits on how many crappie you can take home, as well as potentially the size of the crappie that you’re allowed to catch.

Some areas may also have restrictions on the times of year that crappie are allowed to be fished, which could affect your day out, so it’s always better to plan in advance and get advice from your local authorities or bait shop. 

Additionally, keep in mind that it may be necessary to obtain a fishing licence prior to fishing in a particular body of water.


You might find that some places will also have limits on the type of equipment that you’re allowed to use, such as the number or rods you’re allowed to take, or the type of vessel you’re allowed to use on the water. Trolling for crappie is often prohibited on many lakes and rivers, which is why it’s not listed as a method of catching crappie in our tips.

Conclusion

After reading this article, you should have learned about the best ways to fish for crappie. Hopefully you have also learned a little bit about the fish’s natural habitats and behaviors. This will hopefully give you the knowledge to be able to go out there and locate schools of crappie and fish for them at any time of year.

While the spring and summer seasons can prove to be the easiest times of year to catch them, you’ll have seen that it is possible all year round. Just as long as you keep in mind the depths of the crappie’s habitat at the particular time of year that you’re fishing, then you should be able to make a successful catch.

Another thing to keep in mind is the underwater environment of this species and that they are likely to prefer structures and areas of cover, so knowing this will be vital in locating them in a new lake or river.

We hope our article has been as entertaining as it has been informative. If you want to share any crappie fishing tips or information with us or if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment. And don’t forget you can share this with your fellow fishing folk.

Crappie Fishing Tips- How-To Guide

Well, that was pretty in-depth! We hope our article has been as entertaining as it has been informative. If you want to share any crappie fishing tips or information with us or if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment. And don’t forget you can share this with your fellow fishing folk.

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