There are many reasons why crappie fishing is one of the most popular sports fishing activities in the US. Crappie are fun and exciting to catch, which makes them perfect for beginners and experienced anglers alike. They are also among the most delicious, most protein-packed panfish you will ever taste. Their white flaky meat makes a mean fillet, which will taste even better when you eat your own catch. One of the best times to catch crappie is during spring when they are abundant and close to the water surface. Here is everything you need to know on how to catch spring crappie.
AN OVERVIEW OF CRAPPIE
Before we get to how to catch them, here is a quick overview of crappie with some basic information about them:
There are two subspecies of crappie: white and black crappie. Crappie is the general name that is used in reference to both the white crappie and black crappie. It can be difficult for a complete beginner to distinguish between these two variations, but if you know what to look out for you can easily tell them apart.
White crappie have a lighter hue with vertical black stripes, whereas black crappie are noticeably darker with a black spotted body. A clearer distinction is the differing number of dorsal spines the two species have, with the black crappie usually having seven or eight, white the white crappie only having six. Both species have laterally compressed bodies and large mouths, with a long upper jaw.
Sometimes, you may catch the rarer grey crappie. These came about due to the interbreeding of black and white crappie, and they usually possess qualities from both parents.
White crappie can reach lengths of around 20 inches at maturity, whereas black crappie can grow to around 19 inches when mature. A fully-grown crappie can weigh about 5 pounds, but the average weight is between ½ – 1 pound.
You will find crappie exclusively in freshwater. Both species can be found in ponds, lakes, creeks, streams, sloughs, and rivers. Black crappie are trickier to catch as they prefer deeper, clearer waters, white white crappie tends to favor shallower and relatively turbid waters.
Crappie are a little less active during the day, preferring to feed in the early hours of the morning or at dusk. They feed on insects, zooplankton, small sunfish, crustaceans, fish, insect larvae, and minnows. Interestingly, unlike most fish species, the crappie does not go into hibernation during the winter, maintaining their activity under the ice and regularly feeding. This means you can also enjoy fishing for them in winter.
Crappie fish are often referred to by other names such as the speckled bass, strawberry bass, calico bass, sac-a-lait, and papermouth.
Crappie are also social fish, opting to live in schools under the protection of submerged structures such as trees, flooded weeds, and brush piles. During the spawning season, crappie move to shallower waters and can be found in as little as 1 to 6 feet. This is where they build their nests. They do this during the spring when the water is warm but not too hot.
Which brings us to the next point.
CRAPPIE CATCHING SEASONS
You can fish for crappie all year round. However, each of the seasons has its own special requirements. This is why it is important to understand crappie behavior, which will help you figure out how to fish for them throughout the year. Let’s briefly look at fishing in summer, fall and winter before finally focusing on catching spring crappie.
After spawning during the spring, the crappie will move a little deeper when summer sets in, to about 15-20 feet. Over the entire summer period, the crappie are usually very hungry, having used up their energy reserves during the spawning season. They will, therefore, be constantly hunting for food, so you can expect to find them in areas where they can easily find minnows such as brushes, or submerged tree stumps. Minnows are by far their favorite food.
Another option during the summer is night fishing when the temperatures are relatively cooler and the minnows are more active. Fishing at night will not limit you to 15-20 feet. You can fish at varying depths since the minnows are closer to the surface.
Here are some really good summer fishing tips
In the fall, crappie tend to move to deeper waters. However, on warmer days, you can still find them in their typical brush piles habitats in shallow waters. Although their activity is not as high as when compared to the warmer seasons, you can still get an impressive catch especially when you go looking for them around their feeding areas.
Learn how to catch fall crappie
The colder winter season means that the crappie become even less active. However, this shouldn’t deter the true angler! In fact, you have an even better chance of catching your limit because the crappie often congregate in larger and more compact schools during the winter to help each other beat the cold. So when you find one crappie at a certain depth, you are more than likely to find many others at the same depth.
Winter is also a great time to catch larger slabs. This is because most fishermen will usually have given up fishing during winter, allowing crappie to reach their maximum size.
As you fish, you will notice that the fish are more sluggish, consequently taking them more time to bite. It will, therefore, serve you well to be patient during your winter fishing expeditions. You should also focus on trying to find them where the water is at its deepest. A good place to start is at the center of the lake since this is where the water is usually deepest, making it the perfect habitat for crappie over winter.
Another great trick is to fish for crappie over winter very early in the morning. This is when the water is coldest, so you can locate the fish pretty predictably. You will find crappie in shallower waters in the late afternoon or early in the evening since the upper layers of the water have been warmed up by the sun. During these times over winter, it becomes much harder to pinpoint a school because every fish is looking for the perfect warm spot.
Here are some cool winter crappie fishing techniques
In spring, crappie are in great abundance. This means that they are relatively easy to catch. So, if you want to almost guarantee success when it comes to catching crappie, spring is the perfect time to head out. Also, if you are completely new to catching crappie, this is the best season to try out your luck.
Their abundance during spring can be attributed to their spawning activity. Crappie usually spawn pretty close to the surface where the temperatures range from 57-65 degrees. As they spawn, they become very aggressive and easily agitated, so they will instantly attack any baits or lures you set before them. This makes them very easy to catch.
Where to find crappie in Spring:
Generally, you can find the fish in areas of shallow waters such as creeks and banks, or pretty close to the water surface in lakes. Start looking at places where the water is warmest and shallowest, working your way back from there.
You will also easily find a lot of crappie in nearly any area with structure. This is where they build their nests at depths of about 6 to 7 feet. Another reason why areas of structure are great for crappie fishing is that underwater brushes, trees, docks or piers are home to minnows, which are the crappie’s favorite food.
During spring, you can also target crappie in areas where streams meet the lake. These are called drop-off points, and they are the entry routes that female crappie use when moving into the lake to lay eggs. It is quite common to find huge schools of crappie converging at these drop off points, making them ideal spots for catching crappie.
Another little-known opportune time for catching crappie in spring is during the annual springtime floods. Increased water levels at these times brings with it a huge number of crappies to a small area, instantly increasing the crappie population of the lake.
TECHNIQUES AND EQUIPMENT USED TO CATCH CRAPPIE
Different anglers swear by different crappie fishing techniques. However, there are a variety of common ones that almost everyone uses, as well as a few out-of-the-box tricks that have proven successful when it comes to fishing for crappie. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
1. Vertical jigging
Vertical jigging is one of the most widely employed methods of crappie fishing, and for good reason. It allows the angler a great level of flexibility that is hard to get from other techniques. Here is how to do it:
1. To kick things off, let the jig fall to an appropriate depth.
2. Start reeling it in as slowly as you can so as to allow the crappie to take a bite.
3. Remember that “appropriate depth” here means you need to consider the season you are fishing in and decide based on that. If the fish are at greater depths, let the jig fall to the bottom and start reeling up from there. For spring fishing, start at around 15-20 feet.
4. As you carefully reel, move the tip of your rod in an upward motion, then pause and lower it to allow the jig to sink to a deeper level. Keep repeating this motion, making sure your movement is as fluid as possible. This will make the jig move naturally under the water, looking like a potential tasty meal and luring the crappie to it.
5. Equipment often employed in this technique are jigging poles, which are basically long rods that lack reels. When using these long rods, repeatedly pull the jig up in slow motions and let it fall instead of reeling it in. Use a combination of wide and shallow sweeps with your jigging pole (from 12”-36”), vary your speeds and experiment at different depths, until you achieve a comfortable position.
Here is a cool video. He is a bit more aggressive than I usually am in raising and dropping the tip of the rod. But it gives a good idea of the technique.
A variation of vertical jigging is called stump bumping. It entails dropping your rig to the water bottom in an area where there are many submerged stumps or trees. Set up your rig with two jigs or minnows, and once the rig is at the water bottom, reel it in slowly using a jigging motion. For even more success, bump against the submerged stump to trick the crappie into taking the bait.
2. Spider rigging/trolling
This is for folks that own a boat and is another effective technique for catching crappie. It involves using around 6-8 poles spread out in a fanned out manner at the back or front of the boat. Use this method to target schools of crappie, employing a variety of lures such as jigs, spinners, and minnows. If you like, you can place a variety of these lures in intervals on the poles, ensuring to set them up at varying depths.
Although spider trolling is very efficient, it is not the easiest technique to execute since it requires you to keep a watchful eye over all the different poles in case the crappie take the set bait, or to keep the lines from crossing. You also need to utilize the appropriate equipment which will enable you to properly mount the rods.
An important reminder is to inquire whether spider trolling is legal in your area because some states prohibit the use of multiple poles.
3. Drag lining
Drag lining is especially effective when you are fishing in deep waters. The equipment employed in this technique includes a 1-ounce sinker which is attached to the end of the main line, as well as a few leaders evenly spaced at 18 inches apart.
As suggested by its name, drag lining involves dragging the one-ounce sinker along the water bottom, consequently creating disturbances which will prompt the crappie to investigate.
An important reminder is to be mindful of the vibrations that result from the dragging action. If you feel any kind of resistance, immediately raise your line to avoid snagging. There are two tricks that you can use to solve this problem:
– Use thinner Aberdeen hooks which are easily retrievable.
– Use a heavier main line that will allow you to better avoid snags.
4. Bobber fishing
Bobber fishing is a popular technique for many reasons. Here are a few of them:
– Bobber fishing is laid back fishing. It is lazy, relaxing, simple and slow.
– Bobbers are quite effective since they allow you to fish at the depth of your choice
– You can cast out further when using bobbers due to the added weight.
– With a bobber, you can easily tell from the water surface if a fish has taken the bait
– The fact that they give visual cues allows you to use bobbers with tiny jigs and lures
Bobbers come in two main variations: fixed bobbers and slip bobbers. Fixed bobbers are best suited for fishing in shallow waters, white slip bobbers are most effective in deeper waters.
The most common design of bobbers is the pencil and round styles. In order to achieve the subtle approach required when fishing crappie, use the pencil style poppers due to their gentle impact when they hit the water.
Another option is to use transparent bobbers which can be filled with water to increase weight. This comes in handy especially when the weather is windy and you intend to use a small jig and maintain subtlety at the same time.
5. Casting and retrieving
Casting and retrieving is a very versatile technique. It is actually applicable to all fish species. It involves using a wide range of lures such as crank baits and jigs. Casting and retrieving is especially practical when fishing in open waters because it allows you to cover large areas.
When casting and retrieving, every angler is different. Everyone has their own technique, and you need to determine what yours is. To find what works for you, a great way to start is by casting then reeling steadily, experimenting with slow reeling with regular pauses.
This is a simple technique that entails using bread crumbs, grounded minnows, cornmeal, or even dry dog food to attract crappie. To trigger a crappie feeding frenzy, you can even take things a step further by using crushed eggshells (which apparently look like fish scales), which will attract crappie that are further out due to the shimmering effect they create as they fall through the water.
However, before using this technique, make sure to confirm that it is legal in your state. Not every jurisdiction allows chumming their waters.
Also I know that a lot of anglers at the barge that I fish at get extremely ticked off when someone chums the waters with anything other than egg shells. The contention is that the chumming attracts catfish, buffalo and Carp. It is well-known that Crappie do not hang out where catfish and other large game fish are present. Chumming is truly a personal preference, just don’t piss off the anglers next to you without meaning to.
BAITS AND LURES
The best baits and lures to use when fishing crappie include:
1. Live minnows
These are by far the best baits to use since they are a favorite with crappie. For increased effectiveness, make sure the minnow is alive and lively. You can do this by hooking the minnow across the nose, by the tail, or just below its dorsal fin before casting it out.
While using live bait, ensure that it is neither too small nor too big to allow the fish to bite it. For greater control, consider using a bobber when fishing with live minnows.
2. Small jigs
These also work pretty well with crappie, and some anglers swear by them. The size of the jig can range from 1/32 to 1/16 ounce. They come in a variety of shapes, weights, and sizes, so you have a wide variety to pick from.
A few final pro tips for you:
1. If you are having a hard time locating crappie, use a fish finder to locate them. A school of crappie will light up like a Christmas tree!
2. If you manage to catch one crappie at one spot, do not move away just yet! Keep fishing at the exact same spot at the same depth because since crappie are a schooling fish, finding one usually means there are likely more around the same place.
3. If you are fishing at night, bring along a crappie light to attract insects and small fish which you can use to bait the crappie.
4. Finally, if you are thinking of taking up crappie fishing as a sport, remember to acquire a fishing permit to avoid being fined for fishing illegally. Note that in some states, children and veterans are allowed to fish without a permit.
I hope this information serves as the perfect launching point for you on your spring crappie fishing journey.