Fly fishing for crappies will teach you all about the habits of fish. Crappie are a panfish located in most freshwater rivers, lakes and ponds. Some anglers will target these in the spring to prepare for the rest of the fly fishing season and others love going after these with a fly. No matter your goal, fly fishing for crappie is an absolute blast and you can guarantee yourself action as soon as your fly hits the water.
Fly Rod weight choice
You can’t go wrong with a 4-weight when you fly fish for crappie. It’s easy to cast in all conditions, and it still has enough power to fight fish or make a cast on a windy day. There’s no need to be extra particular about crappie equipment. Panfish fishing can be done with almost anything you have. Most trout fishing gear is usable for panfish.
For length, somewhere between 8 and 9-feet is ideal. You can make short or long casts depending on what you need.
Line and Leader Selection
Use floating fly line for crappie. Crappie fly fishing is most productive in the spring because they’re in the shallows in the midst of their spawn. As a result, you’re not going to need to get very deep.
Since you’ll be primarily fishing below the surface for crappie, you’ll be using heavier flies. As a result, you’ll want to use a 3x or 4x leader. A tapered leader is a great choice if you aren’t wanting to use tippet as well as a leader. A 7 or 8-foot, 3x tapered leader will be long enough to get to the fish and strong enough to fight any fish you find.
If you don’t want to use a tapered leader, use a 5 or 6-foot non tapered leader with a couple feet of 3x or 4x tippet.
Best Flies for Crappie
The fun begins when you get to choose your crappie flies! The most important thing to remember with your fly selection is that the “buggier” your fly looks, the better. Crappies aren’t very picky, so as long as it looks like a good meal, they’ll eat.
Fish size 8 flies and higher! Also, plan to fish subsurface flies more than dry flies.
An olive or black Woolly Bugger will be too appealing for crappie to reject. These flies are great representations of everything from baitfish to small leeches. Depending on how you fish it, you can get it to represent anything you need. Fish it low and slow, and you’ll land plenty of fish.
Leech patterns are well-known favorites of crappie. Since crappie will feed off the bottom during the spawn, a leech pattern bounced along the bottom is like candy to these fish. You may have to attach a split shot to your line if the fly doesn’t have a beadhead! You can purchase them with beadheads, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.
If you’re a die hard nymph angler and can’t seem to prevent yourself from fishing with them, then Prince Nymphs (click here to buy one) will work because they represent aquatic insects that crappie eat. These are buggy-looking patterns, but at size 10, they’re a little meatier than you would find in a smaller Pheasant Tail. You’re going to have to fish the Prince Nymph a bit like a small streamer. A slow retrieve should be enough action to entice the fish.
Jig patterns are great to use for early season fish. Crappies are used to eating jigs from spin anglers, but jig flies work equally as well. You can fish these patterns similar to how you would fish a normal jig on a spinning rod. Cast it near structure or the weed line and bounce it up and down. You’ll pull in dozens of fish this way.
Fly Fishing Techniques for Crappie
Don’t think too hard when you’re fly fishing for crappie. Trust your instincts and you’ll land fish.
Fish the Early Spring!
Springtime crappie fishing is the most productive time of year. When the fish are shallow, you can not only see them, but you can access them with a fly rod. When the ice leaves and weather warms, you can expect to see crappies shallow. They spawn first since they prefer colder water than bass and bluegill!
Believe it or not, you can jig for crappie. Since the water is still going to be cold, you don’t have to create a massive amount of movement on your fly. Drop your fly where you want and let it fall a few feet. As it falls, you can pause it and start jigging up and down. If you don’t have a strike right away, drop your fly another foot and do the same. Keep repeating the process until you find where the fish are wanting to feed.
Look for Weed Beds, Docks and Fallen Trees
Fishing shoreline weed beds, docks and fallen trees should be at the top of your list. If you can get your fly up and close to these areas, the crappie will be stacked and more than eager to feast on your flies. As the water warms in the spring, crappie move shallow and try to locate something that’s going to protect them in the midst of their spawn. Structure within 10 feet or less of water is ideal.
Think of Trolling
If you’re stripping your flies, it helps to imagine you’re trolling. If you’re fishing along a weedbed, a slow and steady retrieval will entice the fish to eat. It doesn’t have to be a jerky or obnoxious retrieval, but a smooth retrieve with the occasional jerk will be more than enough to get the fish to take your fly.
Since you’re using wet flies, you may think that you need to create quite a bit of movement on your flies! This isn’t always the case. Get your flies to the proper location, give them a bit of movement and let the fish do the rest. They’re going to take your fly if it looks natural and isn’t overly active!
Types of Water to Target
Open Water Is Good!
You can fish for crappie in more open water. Often, you’ll find them suspended over a drop off or near a channel. You can fish your streamers near or around these schools and likely catch several. Once you find a school of crappie, you should be able to land several out of it with the same fly.
If you’re able to spend time fishing submerged trees in open water, that’s a perfect place.
Mouths of Creeks
Mouths of creeks are other great places to find fish. These mouths have warm waters and plenty of cover. Trees, rocks and a variety of other things are often found near these mouths.
Plus, the freshly oxygenated water is great for bait. Combine all of these things and you have a great chance at finding a big school of crappie. If you fish a little further into the mouth of a creek, you’d be surprised at the size of crappie you can find! A little persistence is likely going to lead to some of those 12 to 15” fish that you want.
Spawning Season Crappie
Crappies are going to congregate around bait. Zooplankton, flathead minnows, shad, crayfish, shrimp and even frogs are all on the menu for crappie. If you know of areas where you can find bait, you can find Crappie. Again, they’re going to want to stay near some sort of structure, but the bait likely does as well. Match whatever the crappies are eating, and you’ll be in business!
Drop-offs are a great place to locate pre-spawn crappie. If you’re able, go ahead and troll some of these ledges and see what you can find. If possible, find one of these near a timber patch, concrete or a weedbed. A drop-off and strong cover are a wonderful combination to start finding pre-spawn crappie. They’re comfortable moving towards warm water while still having a place to hide.
As you get away from the shallows, water temperature falls, so keep that in mind.
Strikes Won’t be Massive
If you’re fishing pre-spawn temperatures, the fish won’t ferociously attack the bait. If you’re jigging, you’ll especially notice that the strikes can be small. Pay close attention to that rod tip and indicator.
Fly fishing for crappie is a great opportunity to hone in your angling skills. Your casting, hook sets and retrieves will all improve when you spend time targeting them. As soon as the spring hits, be sure to get out on the water in pursuit of crappie.