Crappie 101: A Basic Fish That Even Vets Can Enjoy

Crappie 101

Large-mouth bass, bluegill, blue catfish, alligator gar, and crappie are my top five favorite fish to target in fresh water. Today, I want to go over what I know about crappie, and how I prefer to fish for them.

As it is with most sunfish species, crappie aren’t hard to catch, and they don’t necessarily require any special equipment. They put up a solid fight when they’re on the line, and they can get large enough to warrant whipping out a waterproof camera to take pictures of. In general, they’re easy enough for beginners to learn a thing or two about fishing with, and they’re challenging enough to excite even the most seasoned fishermen.

What Are Crappie?

Black & White Crappie
White & Black Crappie (from top) by Chattanooga Fishing

Crappie are a type of sunfish like bluegill, green sunfish, long-ear sunfish, and rock bass. However, they tend to grow quite a bit larger than those species. In fact, the world record for crappie is a single fish that weighed a little over 5 pounds. That doesn’t sound like much, but it was twice as large as most dinner plates, and it was an absolutely massive sunfish.

Crappie come in two different varieties, and it’s easy to tell them apart. Black crappie and white crappie are the two varieties, and they’re easily discernible because their colors match their names.

When Do I Fish For Crappie?

Crappie aren’t as easy to catch as other sunfish species. With bluegill and other species, you can basically just chuck a line out and reel something in at anytime.

That’s not the case with crappie. They’re only really active during certain times of the year, and they have certain times of day that they’ll refuse to bite. Don’t let that discourage you from trying to catch them, though. I personally think they’re some of the most fun fish to target, and they’re a good fish for fishermen of every skill level.

I find that crappie tend to be the easiest to catch during the spring and fall. They seem to slow down quite a bit during the hottest months, and special tactics are required to catch them when they suspend in the deepest parts of the water to stay cool.

Because they tend to suspend in the deeper parts of the water during the hotter periods of the day, I suggest fishing for them during the early morning and late evening. During those times, they tend to hang out closer to the surface, and they can usually be caught closer to shore. That makes them a lot easier to catch for bank fishermen.

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How Many Crappie Can I Catch?

Some species of fish are heavily regulated, and you can only catch a specific number of them, or you may not even be able to keep any that you catch. Crappie aren’t those types of fish.

Crappie reproduce quickly, and they grow quickly, too. They usually have several spawning periods throughout the warmer months, and the babies are usually adults by time the fishing season ends.

There aren’t really any major restrictions placed on crappie fishing. The only restrictions I suggest worrying about are the ones posted at individual fishing areas. Different lakes and ponds have different rules, but crappie don’t tend to be regulated very heavily. In fact, I haven’t found any bodies of water that actually regulate crappie during my time as a fishermen. It’s still good to check public postings, though.

I also highly recommend practicing responsible fishing habits when fishing for crappie. They may be plentiful, but that can easily change if fishermen get greedy, or if they damage ponds and lakes with pollution.

How Do I Catch Them?

Crappie can be caught with several different methods, but I personally prefer to utilize ultra-light equipment and small jigs or soft plastics. I’m going to go over bank and boat fishing in the next two sections, and I’ll explain my preferred fishing methods for both of those types of fishing.

It’s important to realize that fishing from the bank requires more attention to the weather and time of day than what boat fishing requires. Boats can obviously reach the deeper areas of a body of water, and that opens up a lot more opportunities to catch impressive crappie.

From The Bank

Fishing for crappie from the bank isn’t preferable. Crappie tend to move out to deeper water to suspend whenever the water heats up, and those areas can be very hard to reach from the bank.

However, if you’re fishing an area with docks and a lot of weeds, bank fishing can produce some really great results during the right time of day.

If a dock is available, I like to rig up a small crappie jig on ultra-light equipment. Crappie jigs are little lead balls with hooks installed, and they have buck fur or synthetic strings tied to the hook to provide a little action to the lure.

Then, I’ll simply drop the jig in. There’s no need to cast with this method. It’s best to just bounce the jig at varying depths and varying patterns. Crappie are suspicious of lures, and they’re pretty finicky. So, it’s usually a matter of patience.

I have also been successful with small inline spinners and soft plastics made for trout fishing. It’s not as guaranteed as bouncing a jig, but I’ve had many days when the more aggressive crappie kept biting those lures.

I don’t recommend using live bait for them for one reason; They eat the same food as bluegill. Bluegill are notorious bait thieves, and they live in the same areas as crappie. Every time I’ve tried to catch crappie with live baits, I’ve ended up with large hauls of the much less picky bluegill. They just bite faster.

The method for using live bait is the same as what you’d use for bluegill. The only difference is that you’ll want to move your bobber around periodically until you find the right depth.

On The Boat

Having access to at least a small boat makes fishing for crappie a lot easier and consistent. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Boats makes it a lot easier to fish for crappie because they allow you to get over the parts of the water where they like to suspend when it’s hot outside.

When fishing for crappie from a boat, it’s best to use the same jig setup I suggested for bank fishing. I don’t see any reason to cast all over the place when I can just park a boat over a good spot, drop a jig over the side of the boat, and bounce it around at different depths.

Using live bait is a little easier when using a boat, too. Bait thieves such as bluegill tend to hang out closer to the banks, and they’re less likely to eat all of your worms before a crappie even bothers to go for them. They can still be a slight annoyance, but it’s not nearly as bad as when you’re fishing from the banks.

When using live bait, I find that worms and specially formulated crappie baits are best. It’s not necessary to use little worms or chunks of worms with crappie like you would bluegill, either. Crappie can open their mouths quite a bit for bigger foods. I’ve had several crappie grab onto my smaller bass baits with their massive mouths.

The Bottom Line

Crappie bridge the gap between bluegill and large-mouth bass. They put up a hard fight when the right equipment is used, and they’re not the easiest to find. However, They don’t require a lot of practice to catch consistently.

It all really comes down to patience and using the right techniques. I find it best to just use basic crappie jigs and small plastics, and it’s definitely easier for boat owners to catch crappie than it is for bank fishermen.

They’re also not heavily regulated, and some areas don’t regulate them at all. So, it’s very reasonable to assume that you can bring a whole fish fry’s worth of crappie home in a single trip. I do suggest checking your local fishing laws, and always read the limit boards at every fishing hole you go to, though.

Other than that, they’re a pretty basic fish, and they don’t actually require anything fancy to catch. Some stuff helps a little bit, but any old fishing gear will work with a little bit of patience.

Nikolas

My love for fishing started when I was a little boy. My local park had a children's fishing event where I caught my first bluegill. Ever since then, I've pushed myself to learn more about fishing, and I've targeted a large variety of fresh and saltwater game fish, across the majority of the United States, for the last twenty years. While my writing career keeps me very busy, I still find time to throw a line in at least three times a week.

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