Crappie are creatures of habit. They search for food in the same places at the same time each day, more of less. This article will help you understand when you should go crappie fishing and what techniques work best based on water temperature, daylight hours, and season.
Daytime fishing for crappie
There are many reasons crappie anglers might prefer to fish during daylight hours. Not only is it light out, but seasonal air temperatures can be very pleasant.
Generally speaking, crappie fishing will be most productive in the early morning hours when the fish are most active. This is particularly true during the hot summer months when schools of bait fish are closer to the surface early in the day.
Afternoon crappie fishing should not be ignored, but the crappie tend to move into deeper water when the outside air causes water temperatures to rise, as it does in the summer months. In early winter months, afternoon might be the preferred time to fish because the midday sun has helped raise water temperatures in shallow water enough that you can locate fish closer to shore.
Night fishing for crappie
Night fishing for crappie is not as popular as morning fishing, but crappie love to eat after dark during the hot summer days. When the water warms, crappie are going to move deeper into the water column during the day to find temperate water conditions. After dark, however, when air temperatures decrease and lower water temps, crappie will feed aggressively in shallow areas around structure. Fishing under the full moon or with a light will attract bugs, minnows, and other species that draw crappie into the area.
Any seasoned angler will tell you the best time to start fishing is just before dawn. Crappie fishing seems to follow that pattern, and the early morning hours are usually the most productive. From late spring until fall, crappie will feed on live bait right at daybreak. This is partially because crappie have exceptional eyesight and perception that allows them to see prey in low light conditions.
In the hottest part of the summer, the predawn hours will be the time for the coolest water temperature. During these warmer months, crappie will hand out in brush piles and under shallow cover in the morning hours before moving to deep water around midday.
Another great time to catch crappie is at sunset. As the sun goes down, especially in the early fall,most fish will rise to the surface in search of bugs to eat. If you see this fish activity, throw a topwater artificial bait or a topwater fly in the same area where the fish are actively feeding.
True night time
Some anglers prefer true night time fishing, especially in the summer months when the daylight hours are so uncomfortable. The best crappie bait to use when night fishing is a live minnow. Submerge a light in the water to draw in shad and other fish. Summer crappie can be picky about eating, but they are opportunistic. Shad attracted to a light will draw these discriminating nighttime diners to your live bait. Of course, you might still need to fish for crappie in deeper water if water temperatures in the lake remain too warm.
The best time of year for crappie fishing is early spring when crappie begin their spawning season. The male crappie will form a nest in the mud of the lake bottom in shallow water. During spawning season, you have two advantages. Number one, the crappie are hungry after minimal feeding all winter so they will bit on live bait or lures. Number two, crappie are territorial. They will eat worms, bugs, and other fish that get too close to the nest during spawning season.
Winter fishing for crappie is a challenge. Once you get out on the lake, look for other boats. That can be a clue about where to catch crappie. Your fish finder will be your best friend in the winter months, because crappie will be in deeper water. Winter slabs will be in the bottom third of the water column and conserving their energy. While it is possible to catch crappie in the winter, be prepared to find the trophy crappie in the deep water of the lake.
Another great way to fish for crappie in the winter is ice fishing. Again, your fish finder will be helpful to determine how far down the water column the fish are hanging out. Expect crappie to be quite deep. The best crappie baits to use in winter are jigs or nightcrawlers. Crappie eat worms year round.
Fall crappie fishing is usually successful in the early morning hours or near dusk. Like in the early spring, crappie spawn when the water temperature is between 68 and 72 degrees. Crappie fishing in the fall can be very successful if you can find crappie in the shallow waters near creek mouths and under cover.
Final thoughts on best times of day to fish for crappie
Depending on where you live, crappie fishing can be a year round sport. In the spring and fall, crappie will move into shallow waters to build nests. Crappie spawn when water temps are close to 70 degrees. This usually happens seasonally, except in parts of the country where the water temp remains fairly constant. Even in the spring and fall, crappie fishing is most successful near dawn or dusk. Crappie fish are territorial and during spawning crappie bite anything that gets too close to the nest.
In the summer, when warmer water forces the fish to move into deep water, night fishing with a light will help you find crappie. On a large lake, look for other anglers catching crappie. That will be a good indicator of where the fish are.
Winter crappie fishing depends a lot on water temperature. It is possible to catch crappie, but you will have to fish in deeper water and they may be slow to bite. More fish will be in the warm water near the bottom, and you can catch fish if you are patient.