How to Catch Crappie: Essential Tips for Slab Success

How to Catch Crappie Feature Image

Crappie fishing is part art and part science, combined with a whole lot of luck. These hefty sunfish are elusive, sneaky, and smart.

The secret to crappie fishing is to catch the first one. After you have that figured out, you’ll be pulling them in one after another.

In this article we break down some simple methods to catch crappie reliably.

But first a bit about this tasty fish.

Essential Crappie Facts

Black crappie fisherman holding it by the mouth half in the water
Black crappie fisherman holding it by the mouth half in the water

Crappie are mid sized panfish that live in schools. They are also called speckled perch, white perch, papermouths, or strawberry bass. These fish grow to about 12 inches long and usually weigh right at one pound. There are some, however, that get much larger. These slab crappie, as most anglers refer to them, can be up to 20 inches long and might weigh as much as five pounds. The current world record crappie was 21 inches long and weighed 5.76 pounds. It was caught in a farm pond in Tennessee (read more about it here).

Crappie anglers will tell you that catching crappie requires certain crappie fishing equipment. I disagree with that for the most part. When the crappie are biting you can catch them just as easily on a cane pole with a worm and a bobber as you will on those expensive crappie fishing set ups (see here for some cheap crappie combos).

Finding Good Crappie Spots

Black crappie several of them with jigs and float
Black crappie caught with jigs and float

Crappie live in schools, and they love to hide in a brush pile or debris field. Weed beds that offer deep cover are good places to find crappie. Many anglers will start working the debris piles in the shallow flats before moving into deeper water.

Fishing for crappie can be a challenge for an inexperienced angler because you are going to get hung up on limbs or rocks. There is no avoiding it, so just be prepared for it to happen. Have plenty of live bait or multiple colors of small plastic jigs and plenty of patience. Bring extra fishing rods so you can keep fishing when you break the line, because you probably will.

Many anglers will rely on electronics to find schooling fish and then slow troll using a spider rig with live bait or soft plastics. That’s just one method of catching crappie. In some states spider rigging is illegal, so make sure you know your local fishing regulations before you try this technique.

Those of use without fancy fishing boats or kayaks can still find fish if we practice some basic fishing techniques. Crappie like to hide. Look for sunken trees, a submerged log, and natural or artificial brush piles. Look for overhanging tree limbs and piles of limbs and debris. Many lakes and reservoirs stocked with crappie will have man-made fish structures or old Christmas trees submerged offshore to attract crappie, bluegill, and other small panfish such as perch, white bass and tilapia.

Be aware of water temperatures, also. On cooler days, when the water is below seventy degrees, you will likely find white crappie and black crappie in shallow water. When the water temperature heats up, like in the dog days of summer, the fish are going to find deep structure and may not be as likely to bite. Your best bet when most of the water column holds warm water, is to try night fishing for crappie. Even though the water temperature is warm, crappie will travel into shallower water to find feeding fish.

Choose your method

Crappie rod combo
There are many ways to catch crappie and lots of different rigs

How to Catch Crappie on Lures

Jig fishing with soft bodied artificial baits is the most common method used for catching crappie. The best lures to use when crappie fishing are small jigs. These can be maribou jigs or soft plastic body artificial lures ranging in color from light to dark, depending on the water conditions.

See also: Our expert guide to the best crappie lures

You will attach your small jig to a pre-molded jig head with an attached hook. You will want to use something lightweight, like 1/32 or 1/16 oz. If you plan to fish deep, you can step up to a 1/8 oz if you line drifts too much.

Jig color can make a difference. Crappie feed on small fish that they find through sight, vibration, and scent. Your jig needs to be clearly visible to that big crappie, even if the water is dark or murky.

When crappie fishing in clear water, choose a light colored jig like white or light pink. When the water is dark, like when you are fishing deep, use a dark colored jig. Red, orange, and black and red seem to work well in these conditions. In stained or muddy water, chartreuse yellow jigs seem to attract more fish.

See here for some tips on casting the light lures required for successful crappie fishing.

See also: Fishing Lure Color Selection Chart

Jig fishing for crappie is easy to do. Use an improved clinch knot to attach your jig head directly to your line. Slide the soft plastic over the hook, leaving the point exposed. Let the line drop straight down so the bait is suspended within the debris pile.

See also: Make your Own Soft Plastic Lures And Save Money

Gently lift the end of your pole up and down slightly to move the bait. If you don’t catch a crappie within a few minutes, try fishing at different depths or changing the color of your jig. Some anglers like to apply an attractant scent to the bait. I prefer not to add unnecessary chemicals to the water.

How to Catch Crappie on Fly

In the spring, when the spawn is taking place and the water temperatures are warming, I prefer catching crappie on a fly fishing set up. The best rod to use is a 4 weight or 5 weight, 8 foot fly rod. Spool the rod with weight forward floating line and attach a 3-4 foot tippet.

During the spring feed, nymph patterns are the fly to use and you can double rig your line by tying a second fly about a foot above the first. The best size flies to use are number 8 or smaller. Fly color will depend on water clarity and the native insects of the area where you are fishing.

Remember that crappie tend to move inshore earlier than other freshwater species, so the water will still be cool. Gently lift the rod tip to get the bait moving or use a slow and steady retrieve.

How to Catch Crappie Bobber Fishing

pencil bobber close up
Bobber fishing is a really productive method to catch crappie

Bobber Fishing for crappie is fun for the whole family. Kids love to watch the bobber dance as the crappie grab the bait. You can use a classic bobber, but I prefer the Eagle Claw Balsa wood snap on bobbers. The shape and color makes them easy to see and it is easy to adjust the depth if you find that the crappie are in deeper water.

To bobber fish for crappie, ultralight spinning outfits work great. The slightest pull on the bait makes the bobber dip and the rod tip wiggle. Rig your pole with a light line and tie on a size 4 Aberdeen hook (see here for more on hook sizes for crappie) and pinch a split shot just above the knot.

Bait your hook with a piece of nightcrawler or some live bait, like a minnow or cricket. Drop the line so the baited hook floats just over the debris pile. Both white crappie and black crappie will bite using this method, and there is nothing more fun for young anglers than catching crappie using a fixed bobber with a minnow beneath.

Some anglers prefer to use a castable fish finder to determine the depth of the fish, then rig the line with a slip bobber. These bobbers allow you to reel your line up tight, then cast to a desired location. A tiny attachment on the line stops the bobber when the hook reaches a certain depth. These bobbers work better than a fixed bobber set to a deep level because they eliminate line tangles and make it easier to adjust your fishing depth while the bait is in the water.

Use the Right Gear For Crappie Fishing

Crappie rod combo 1
Ultralight spinning gear is the best choice for crappie fishing

Crappie fishing is just like fishing for small bass or sunfish. An inexpensive light rod with medium action, some light line on a spinning reel, and some basic gold hooks are all you really need.

See also: Fishing Line Diameter Chart

Rod and Reel

If you go into a sporting goods store and look at all the rods you will notice some are labelled to indicate that they work best for certain fish species. Don’t believe the hype. A 7 foot light to medium action rod is not going to catch more crappie or bass than the one next to it labelled for panfish.

In certain circumstances, like spider rigging, you will want to multiple long poles, but for drop line fishing from the bank or tossing a worm and bobber from the bank, any ultralight or light pole will work. I have caught crappie on a cane pole with a line tied on, my fly rod, and on my grandson’s 2 foot long child’s fishing setup.

Line choice

While the rod you use won’t make a difference, your reel (ultralight spinning reels are ideal) and line choice are important. For crappie fishing, you want to spool your reel with lightweight monofilament that is supple and tangle resistant. Try a 4 pound clear mono line like Berkley Trilene. If you prefer hi-vis braided line, the one sold under the brand name Mr. Crappie is good.

Catching Crappie On Ultralight Tackle

Ultralight set ups are ideal for crappie fishing. Crappie are often close to shore or structure – like a dock for example – and don’t require long casting distances.

They love small lures such as jigs and soft plastics.

Ultralight tackle is good for ensuring you don’t rip the hook out of their mouths when you strike and during the fight.

Best times to Catch Crappie

Crappie fishing is possible all year long, but the most productive time will be in the late spring, after the spawn. Fish early in the morning or just before sunset as they are the best times.

Catching fish in the middle of the day can be tricky, especially if the daytime temperatures rise and heat the water surface. That’s when fish will move deeper into the water column and find sunken debris to hide in.

Crappie Fishing Through the Seasons

Spring crappie fishing is undoubtedly the most productive. The fish are hungry from the winter slow period, and they are coming to shore for the spawn. Just at any technique will catch spring crappie. This is the optimal time to throw wet flies a foot or two from shore.

Summer crappie fishing can be challenging, but it is possible to catch big crappie during the summer months. When the water temperatures approach 80 degrees, the fish will move away from the shore and into deeper water. Your best chance to catch a crappie will be to fish along drop offs and troll along submerged main lake humps.

Fall crappie fishing is hit or miss as the fish don’t remain in one spot. Instead, they travel in search of schools of baitfish. This is when spider rigging can be a productive technique to use. The spider rig is a fan shaped device with 8 to 10 rod holders.

Most anglers will use a longer rod ranging from 8 to 12 feet in length. The rods are set up with spinning reels holding light line. Each rod holds a live minnow attached to a size 6 hook. Because bait fish travel in clusters, crappie will follow the spider rigged lines thinking it is a school of bait fish. Because more lines are in the water you will catch more crappie at one time using this method.

Winter crappie fishing can be surprisingly productive if you take your time and study the landscape. Look for fish along dropoffs at the edges of slopping banks. Try using a slip bobber to easily fish different depths until you find the fish. In cold water you might do better with a maribou jig or live minnow than a soft plastic jig which can get stiff and seem unnatural to the fish.

Another method of catching crappie is with the umbrella rig – a way of fishing multiple baits at the same time. The umbrella rig can send the fish into a feeding frenzy.

In extremely cold regions ice fishing for crappie is possible. Use an auger to drill a good sized hole in the ice, then drop line a weighted hook and minnow or a dark colored maribou jig.

Crappie fishing is definitely going to be more productive in the spring or fall, but I hope this article provided some guidance and insight into how to catch crappie all year long.

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Teresa Taylor is a keen kayak fisher and lover of all types of fishing. She writes about a range of fish species for Tackle Village and reviews lures and gear.
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