Crappie beside brown fishing rod

Crappie Fishing 101: Complete Guide on How to Catch Crappie 2021

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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It’s never too late to learn how to catch Crappie!

Crappie behavior changes all the time, keeping it super interesting and fun to fish for them!

You can use a wide range of tactics when fishing crappie. If you want to learn the best of them, You’ve come to the right place!

So without further ado… Let’s go crappie fishing!

Crappies are also excellent fish to eat and when cooked fresh are delicious!

There are easy-to-reach lakes or rivers with healthy stocks of crappies all over North America…

You’ll never be too far from some fishing entertainment. 

Fishing crappie is easy and the equipment you need is inexpensive…

A basic spinning or fly set up with a few baits and you’re ready to fish!

Once the water reaches around 57 degrees you are into the spawning season. 

There are two main types of Crappies that you may encounter, the black crappie and the white crappie…

Each one looks a bit different and has their own preferences over water quality.

Other Types of Crappie

There are also a few hybrids and golden crappies but because they are very rare, we will not go into them.

Black & White Crappie 

Black crappies tend to inhabit lakes and rivers with clear and cool waters and grow slower than white crappies.

White crappies are happy to live in warm, murky waters and will frequent open water.

Black crappies will prefer to lurk around heavy vegetation and shaded areas

A crappie’s color changes based on a couple of factors; the time of year and the waters they live in.

It is quite hard to determine the difference between a black and white crappie…

A crappie’s color changes based on a couple of factors; the time of year and the waters they live in…

Male crappies during spawning season will turn very black.

Crappies that live in clear waters will be a lot more colored than crappies living in murky waters, which can lose their markings altogether.

This may be due to camouflage; changing their appearance so they can ambush prey more easily

How to Tell the Difference 

Black crappies are compact and have a punchy forehead, giving them a snubby look and their nickname, ‘snubbies’ or ‘stubbies’.

They have speckled markings but these are not always so obvious.

The best way to know if you have caught a black crappie is by counting the spines in the dorsal fin…

The best way to know if you have caught a black crappie is by counting the spines in the dorsal fin.

They will have 7 to 8 spines but, also be careful when counting them as they are quite sharp. 

White crappies have a more elongated body, larger mouths, and tend to have vertical bars running down their bodies.

Again, the best way to check you have caught a white crappie is to carefully count the spines in the dorsal fin, there should be 5 to 6. 

The video below might help you visualize the difference between crappies better.

How to tell the difference between white and black crappies

Diet 

In terms of diet, white crappies tend to feed more on bait-fish like shad and minnows.

Black crappies will tend to feed more on insects, worms, and crawfish.

Crappies grow to about 2 pounds on average. 

DID YOU KNOW?

The world record holder for the biggest crappie weighed in at 5 pounds and 7 ounces and was caught in Tennessee. You can find out more about this amazing catch here.

Licenses and Where to Fish?

Everyone needs a license to fish. A lot of places do allow children to fish without a license.

You can buy them online or from retail outlets and can find out where to buy a US state license here.

Check the time of year and the different angling zones when buying your license.

The rules vary by season and location.

Before catching crappies, make sure to look at the crappie regulations in particular…

Before catching crappies…

Make sure to look at the crappie regulations in particular as they will list the rules for a lot of species.

A quick search online and you’ll find a variety of options of where to catch crappies.

Once you decide on a lake or river that suits you, check the rules.

They should let you know what methods are allowed to use, what license you need and if you are allowed to take a fish home.

If you know how to fish for cod, you’ll know that local rules and regulations are still one of the first things to look into.

Fishing accessories with artificial baits and fishing rods
Fishing accessories with artificial baits and fishing rods

Fishing Tackle

There are a few different choices when it comes to your tackle and it all depends on how you want to fish

Do you want to use a fly rod or spinning rod?

Spinning is a little easier in my opinion as it is much simpler to cast.

Fly fishing is a patience and practice game but once you have got the swing of it, it can be very fulfilling. 

RECOMMENDATION

When one is spin fishing, the choice between using braided or monofilament line is an important decision in my eyes.

I would choose a braided line. It casts further, lasts longer and it doesn’t stretch like a monofilament line.

You will have a better connection to the fish and feel it more, which will make it more fun to use. 

If you choose braid you will have to learn a good knot to connect your braid to your fluorocarbon leader.

The best is the FG knot and you can find directions on how to tie it here

Spin Fishing

Rod

  • Around 7ft long, rated at 6-8lbs and with light power and fast action. The rod should be lightweight to increase accuracy in casting. 

Reel

Line

  • Good quality monofilament or braid line rated 4-6lbs; remember to get enough to fill your reel.

Bait Set-up

  • Size 6-8 hooks
  • Size 6-8 swivels
  • Size 6-8 snap swivels
  • Bobbers – a color you can see easily
  • Sliding sinkers – variety pack
  • Splitshot – variety pack
  • 4-6lb fluorocarbon

Bait

  • Live or artificial worms
  • Minnows
  • Shad

Casting Lures

  • Small crankbaits
  • Small jigs – ⅛ and 1/16 ounce 

Man Fly Fishing by a Lake
Man Fly Fishing at a Lake

Fly Fishing

Rod

  • A 5wt fly rod will work for both rivers and lakes

Backing

  • 20lb trout backing or braid, 200 yards

Reel

  • A 5wt reel to match your rod

Fly Line

  • A 5wt fly line to match your rod & reel

Leader

  • A spool of 4lb and 6lb fluorocarbon

Flies

  • Streamers in a variety of colors and sizes 1-4

Gear and Clothing

  • Line cutters or nippers
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waders and boots
  • Polarised glasses so you can see through the glare on the water
Man on a green boat fishing on lake
Man on a Green Kayak Fishing in a Lake

Where do Crappies Like to Sit?

‘Crappies are an ambush predator and will usually look to hide in some kind of cover and pop out to swallow up some unsuspecting prey. ‘

There are a few factors to consider here. But the main thing is to find where they are feeding…

Crappies are an ambush predator and will usually look to hide in some kind of deep cover or other structure and pop out to swallow up some unsuspecting prey.

This can be a shaded area, underwater structures, reed beds, rocky edges, rock piles, and fallen trees.

White crappies are known to sit in open water so be sure to remember this when fishing for them. 

NOTE

Depth always plays an important factor and crappies will move depending on the time of day and water temperatures.

They are schooling fish and a bunch of crappie will hang out together.

When you find a crappie don’t change your spot. Fish the same place and you’ll keep getting bites until they work out something is up. 

When to Fish for Crappies?

Seasons and Temperature

Crappies do not go through a hibernation period and are active all year round…

Crappies do not go through a hibernation period and are active all year round.

This has made crappie a very popular fish to target when ice fishing.

This does not mean you can fish for crappie all year round on any water though…

Be sure to check the state and fishery regulations for where you choose to fish crappie.

NOTE

The best time of year for fishing crappie is during the pre-spawning period.

During this time, they will sit quite deep next to their nests and feed very hard, eating anything and everything to build up some reserves.

Spawning occurs when the water is warm enough and this is when you can find large amounts of them in shallow water.

Spawning will depend on the climate where you are crappie fishing; it has to be warm enough to heat up the water.

To get an idea on when to head to the spawning grounds, have a look here to see when your pre-spawn, spawning, and post spawn periods may be. 

During the summer months, crappie will go deeper into the lake or river and during spring and fall, sit a bit shallower.

Bear this in mind when choosing your technique and tactics.

TIP

When crappie fishing in winter, be sure to slow down, fish deep and use smaller baits.

The crappies will be in deeper water to try and stay in the warmer parts and have less energy due to the cold water temperature.

Time of day 

The best time to fish between spring and fall is at dawn and dusk.

Crappie will generally stay in deeper water during the day and move into the shallows during dawn and dusk.

In winter, crappie will sit deep and then come closer to the surface once the water has warmed up, usually in the afternoon. 

People fishing by the lake in summer
People crappie fishing by the lake in summer

The Weather

Crappies really don’t like rain. In fact, they will feed a lot just before the rain comes and this is the best time to catch them.

TIP

If you find yourself crappie fishing in the rain, try places where the water is protected like under bridges or overhangs.

I know there seems like there is a lot to think about but, as soon as you are on the water it’ll all start making sense…

The more time you spend out there the more it will become second nature.

Now you know where to find them. Here are some techniques to help you catch them

NOTE

Patience is key. Don’t give up! Crappies will feed more at different times of the day. The only way to be sure you’re there for that magical moment is to stick with it.

How to Catch Crappie in Lakes 

Fishing in lakes always requires a different approach to catching fish in rivers…

There are some particular techniques for crappie anglers to use when finding fish in a lake and you’ll find some useful information about them here.

Techniques On How To Catch Crappie

Techniques

Trolling 

This involves using a boat and a trolling motor to pull your baits around the lake while waiting for a crappie to bite.

Attach your chosen bait, a crankbait is a good option.

Let the line out about 30 feet behind the boat and drive around areas where you think the crappie will be.

Remember to fish around structures and to change your depths.

TIP

You can change your depth by either changing the crankbait to one that swims deeper or by slowing down a little. This is an excellent tactic when the crappies are spread out in open water. 

Spider Rigging 

The spider rig technique sounds daunting but it’s not so bad, you just have to get your setup right.

Spider rigging is designed to catch crappie when they are spread out in open water and at varying depths. It is the most effective method to find fish over winter. 

Spider rigging is designed to catch crappie when they are spread out in open water and at varying depths…

It involves having 4 or more rods sat in rod holders spread out off the front of the boat.

Bait each rod with a live bait like a minnow or use a jig with plastic on it.

Set each rod at different depths. Then drive or drift the boat very slowly over open water. This is to ensure no baits get in a tangle and that they sit at their given depth.

Using bigger bait might help attract larger crappie.

RECOMMENDATION

Use an electric motor or a drogue to control your speed. A drogue is a sea anchor, it looks like a windsock and drags behind the boat slowing it down. 

Fly or Spinning

When fly or spin fishing, you are giving the baits their movement rather than the boat.

Cast your chosen lure towards a good area.

If you’re crappie fishing near a visible structure, cast past it and pull your bait back across it.

Keep changing your retrieve, depths, and color of baits while doing this until you get some action.

When a crappie takes a bite, lift the rod to set the hook and keep the line tight. You can learn more about that here.

Stop the fish running into the structure by changing the angle of the rod to guide it away. 

Vertical Jigging 

This jig fishing method involves finding a good piece of submerged structure first…

Once you have found the spot, tie on a jig with some plastic to your spinning rod and drop the jig directly down over the structure and leave it there.

TIP

Jerk the rod very slowly to help make the bait look alive and wait for a bite. If nothing comes, try changing the color and size of your baits. 

Bobbers 

This is a great method to use when fish are higher up in the water column or if you have to keep your bait above structure.

Bait your hook with either live bait like a live worm or minnow and add a little bit of split shot 1ft above it.

Attach the slip bobber 3ft above the bait, cast it out and wait. Once you see the bobber moving, lift the rod to set the hook.

Keep moving the slip bobber to fish at different depths. 

Man fly fishing on river
Man Catching Crappie at a River

How to Catch Crappie in Rivers

Rivers are a little different as the water is moving and that current will also affect how your bait moves too.

Techniques

Fly Fishing

When fishing crappie with a fly rod you will need to use a sink tip. This will get your fly down deeper.

Cast past the chosen structure where you think the crappie are hiding and retrieve your fly back across it.

Spinning

Cast your bait, either a jig or crankbait past or over where you think the crappie are.

Slowly wind it in keeping the line high out of the water and making sure the bait is moving.

Bait Fishing

Bait your hook and adjust your bobber and weight so your bait will be near the structure you want to fish.

Cast upstream and allow the bait to come down with the current past your chosen spot. Keep winding, so there is no slack for a good hook up. 

Tips

  • Fish around any and all structures where crappie could be hiding. 
  • Always vary your depths while crappie fishing. This is exceptionally important and is done differently depending on the technique you are using. There is no real way to tell how deep the fish are, so keep trying varying depths until you find them.
  • When using cast and retrieve methods vary your retrieve to mimic what the crappie are feeding on. 
  • Change up the baits you use until you find what they are eating by experimenting with color and size.

Wrapping Up

‘Fishing is all about having fun, whether you catch a fish or not, remember that.’

Fishing is all about having fun, whether you catch a fish or not, remember that…

The more you go the better you will get and the more rewarding each crappie fishing trip will become. You’ll never know when you’ll chance upon a big crappie.

Crappies are awesome to target, and there isn’t a better way to connect with nature, family, and friends than picking up your rods and going looking for one.

If you’re looking for an alternative to spinning reel that you can use for small fish species like a crappie or other panfish, I’d recommend that you check out our Best Underspin Reel Review. They are lightweight and perfect for freshwater fishing.

Feel free to share this guide with your loved ones! It might help with their next fishing trip and don’t forget to check out my other articles for catching other species like the Best Catfish Reel, it could be useful if you’re planning to catch a monster catfish.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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