Crappie Fishing Tips 101: How To Catch More Fish

Crappie fishing is a favorite type of fishing because you can do it year around. Like all fishing adventures, it can be enjoyable and rewarding but challenging. Crappie are fish that can be caught from shore, boat, or float tube.

They are excellent eating fish. If prepared correctly, they have a beautiful white meat and texture. We prefer to bread and fry them with lemon and herbs.

Crappie can be found in many locations and types of water. We have spent many years fishing and have successfully caught crappie in lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds. The best days growing up were spent at local farm ponds with friends and family.

How to Identify Crappie

Sam with crappie at the fish cleaning station

Black and white crappies are the two crappie species. The same techniques are used for both. One is not better than the other. It must be classified as one or the other if you catch a crappie big enough for the record books.

The easiest way to distinguish the two is to count the dorsal fin spines. Black crappies usually have seven or eight. Whites typically have six.

White crappie has fewer spots than black, and dark spots on the sides are generally arranged in vertical bars.

Blacks have irregular spotting. Black crappie prefer cool, clear lakes and slow-moving rivers.

Whites flourish in warmer, siltier waters but are fussier about their environment.

Some fishing waters have many of one or the other, but the experienced angler doesn't care. T

hey're after crappie, and it's simple.

There are more aliases for crappie than there are criminal names. They are called specks, papermouths, white perch, and calicos. Sac a lait, bachelor perch, chinquapin, lamplight, speckled perch, tinmouth, and strawberry bass are other names.

Crappie Fishing Gear

Crappie is unique from other panfish. Even though you can catch them with standard panfish gear, you will need specialized equipment to be successful in targeting and catching crappie.

Crappies get the nickname papermouth because of their delicate mouth. Hard hook sets can rip out the hook.

We like to use a variety of light action poles ranging from 4 feet to 12 feet depending on the area, time of year, and technique.

Small light action spinning reels can prove useful when rigged with 4 to 6lb test lines in various colors. This depends on the color of the water and presentation.

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We keep several sizes and colors of jig heads on hand, along with plenty of Aberdeen hooks for live bait.

The Aberdeen hooks will allow the hooks to bend if you get hung up in the brush instead of breaking off and retying. The old saying is that if you're not getting hung up, you're not crappie fishing.

For a real challenge, you can even catch crappie in lakes and ponds with fly fishing gear. Our favorite fly for catching crappie is a San Juan worm.

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Crappie Fishing With Live Bait

Minnows in a minnow bucket

We fish for crappie year-round in many different situations. Live bait is always a go-to when nothing else seems to interest them.

Minnows are the most popular live bait. They are usually abundantly available, but we have found that we prefer crappie shiners when we can get them.

Crappie shiners are more active and are much easier to keep alive. However, when fishing gets slow, try switching back to smaller minnows and a stealthy presentation. This tends to get fish to feed.

Live bait is the best way to introduce crappie fishing for beginners.

Crappie Fishing Lures

The crappie is an incredibly popular panfish and one of the most fun to catch. Crappie are easier to catch in the spring when they are spawning. They are schooling fish, so there will undoubtedly be more if you find one fish. So what is the right way to catch them? Lures come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, the most popular being Jigs, crankbaits, and spinners. We have created an explanation of each below.

Jig Fishing

Crappie Fishing Jigs

Jigs are a popular top artificial lure for crappie fishing. Jigs range from soft-bodied to hair or feathered baits. Crappie jigs are available in every color imaginable, including transparent and rainbow-hued.

There are several ways to fish jigs, dependent on what the fish are doing. It's ideal to stock a selection of jig colors because crappie tend to be moody. Some days, they may prefer one color while ignoring the same color the next trip. Your choice should always include solid black, solid white, lime green, and yellow jigs.

Fishing under a cork, cast alone, trolled, or vertically jigged can result in a large catch. Vertical jigging works when the fish are lingering in deep water. Also, vertical jigging is an ideal method for ice fishing.


Crankbaits are an excellent artificial lure in crappie fishing because they imitate familiar prey. You will need small crankbaits because crappie have smaller mouths.

Crankbaits usually work best when we are long line trolling for crappie. A crankbait in a small two or 3-inch minnow in various colors running 3 to 5 feet deep will help you to locate crappie when they are scattered out and suspended. One thing to remember is that crappies' eyes are high on their head, and they always feed up. Very rarely will they pay attention to a bait deeper than the depth they are schooling.

Spinner Baits

Crappie Fishing spinners

Spinners such as a rooster tail can be very productive in early spring when the fish are up shallow, feeding during pre-spawn. Crappies are drawn to flash and light reflections. 

If you are an avid crappie angler, you know the importance of having the correct tackle box for the type of fishing you want to do. Crappie anglers use various types of tackle, so they can easily switch up their tackle box depending on what they are doing. Spinners will allow you to quickly cover a lot of water and locate the fish.

Crappie Fishing Tips And Techniques 

Bobber and Minnow

Crappie fishing with a bobber and minnow

A well-known way to catch most fish, crappie included, is using a floater with a jig or a live minnow. A floater is an easy way to adjust the depth of the bait you are fishing. It is an easy way to teach anyone new to fishing how to detect a bite. Being able to feel the bite is essential when you are learning. It indicates when to set the hook. This is also an excellent opportunity to share your love of the outdoors and teach kids to fish. It's an easy method that can be mastered by anyone and is very successful, especially in the spring.  


Trolling is a fun way to catch crappie when the water is cold or hot in the summer heat. This process is also known as long line trolling. It consists of using a variety of lures and colors until you find the color the fish prefer that day. Then pull them behind the boat from 50 to 100 feet back at slow speeds. Then change the speed depending on the depth you want the lure to travel. When crappie are scattered, trolling may be the best way to catch them all day.

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Spider Rigging

Spider rigging is another popular method of crappie fishing when the fish are holding tight to deep cover. We often use several long 10 or 12 ft rods, stretched out like a spiderweb on the front of the boat with rod holders using a jig or minnow. Spreading out the poles make the boat look like a spider, which is the reason for the name. Be careful to fish at the correct depth to reach the top of the cover the fish are hiding in. It is essential to do this without getting the boat over the top of the fish and scaring them.

Shooting Docks

Shooting docks is a popular method among guides and professional fishermen. It's very productive but also has a big learning curve. This method consists of holding your jig in one hand and the rod in the other, pulling back on the jig to load the rod's tip like a slingshot. Then release the jig and the line at the right time to propel the jig way back under the dock. This makes reaching those places you can't get to using a standard cast approach.

All About the Lighting

Baitfish Coming To The Light While Crappie Fishing

Another technique that we enjoy is fishing under a floating or submerged light during the summer months. We use both green and white lights for this and haven't noticed any difference in how the fish react. Using the light attracts plankton, and plankton attracts shad and small bait fish. Where the shad are, there will be fish around. This is a very relaxing and great way to spend a summer evening and a great way to get kids involved.

Shoreline fishing 

Fishing from the bank can be a successful adventure when fishing for crappie, even more so in spring when they are spawning. They will move closer to the bank for a few weeks. You can catch your limit on the bank, dock, or bridge if timed right. Fishing from the shore permits families to fish together. Boats can have limited space, but shoreline fishing can be a group event.

Where to Catch Crappie

Just like in real estate, to be successful in catching any type of fish, it's all about location, location, location. Your first job is to find structure. This includes sunken trees, sharp inclines, and brush piles are your typical targets. But the crappie-holding habitat may vary significantly from lake to lake.

The structure is significant for fish to thrive. This allows fish to escape prey and establish themselves. This is why people submerge fish attractors, like dead Christmas trees and other artificial habitats in lakes. But, ensure the practice is legal where you fish and seek permission from the right agency or property owner.

If you create your own fish attractors or stumble across where others have placed them, be sure to drop a pin at the location on your GPS or by less technical means so that you can find it again and again.

Crappie Fishing on a dock at sunset

Docks are great places, especially during the day when fish are shallow. As we said earlier, they are susceptible to sunlight with their eyes on top of their head. This makes a dock a great place to find fish during the day, as they will bunch up under the dock to stay out of the bright light. Most fish often move into shallower water around dawn and dusk to feed.

The fish move to deeper water when the water begins to cool or get very warm. When they get ready to spawn, they move to the shallows. The fish will be the most active in the spring when the water temperatures hit the 62 to 70-degree range. If you hit it right, it's possible to sit anchored in one spot and catch your limit without moving the boat.

Crappie usually tend to school together by size. When you find a honey hole and catch a few fish, they are generally around the same size. If you want bigger fish, you will need to move. We have sat for hours on a structure and caught tons of fish just half an inch below the size limit. Bridge pilings are always a great place to look for crappie. We often fish bridge pilings. When fishing a new lake, that is a good starting point.

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When is the Best Crappie Fishing?

Water conditions combined with the time of year will dictate when and where to catch crappie.

The pre-spawn period beginning late winter into spring is the beginning of the best crappie fishing times of the year. I

It is very common to see people fishing in the middle of the night. It's easier to catch them when they are near the bottom, where the current is flowing.

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Fisherman crappie fishing on a lake at sunset

Floating lights are ideal for this type of fishing. It is incredible watching the shad come up and circle the light. Sometimes the circle will encase the entire boat. Just remember, if you can find bait fish or structure, crappie will be near.

Modern Electronics For Crappie Fishing

As with everything else in life, electronics have come a long way in fishing. We are currently using a depth finder that will allow us to see what is under the boat and look under docks 50 to 100 feet to each side.

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Trolling motors have come a long way. Also, utilizing GPS makes it easy to push a button and be anchored in a spot without dropping an anchor.

Today's technology is exciting and intimidating. Depending on your budget and how dedicated you intend to be, it is possible to watch a fish bite your bait on a monitor.

Crappie Fishing Regulations

Check the fishing regulations before you go. Some states have different licenses for saltwater and freshwater fishing. Having a license in one state doesn't mean you can legally fish in another.

Each state issues its own licenses, and most offer 3-7 day passes for out-of-state anglers. The laws determining fishing techniques and bag limits vary from state to state. I

t's a good idea to check tackle shops near the lake. Tackle shops are great for stocking up on gear and getting advice on where to go next. 

Many lakes post regulations online so that you can check these regulations before fishing. Remember, it is your responsibility to know the regulations for the spot you are fishing. Saying I didn't know will not be an acceptable excuse for breaking the law.

Final Thoughts

Child holding a crappie

Crappie is an excellent eating fish, but as with everything else we hunt or fish, always obey the law and only take what you need and will use. Being a responsible steward of our resources will allow us to continue enjoying outdoor adventures for many years to come.

Crappie fishing can be rewarding if you do a little research beforehand and take the time to enjoy yourself while out in nature. We enjoy fishing no matter the body of water.

One of our favorite spots is in Alabama on lake Weiss where we have had great success, met new friends, and learned new techniques.

Not every trip you take will be a grand slam. That's why it's called fishing, not catching, but we can always have a great time.

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Jimmy Martin

Jimmy is an outdoor writer and frequent contributor to Fisherman's Authority. Jimmy fishes 12 months a year and is an expert in bass fishing, panfish, catfishing and more. He loves to fish from his boat, but he also does a lot of fishing from the banks of rivers and the shoreline of lakes and ponds. Jimmy is proud to share his methods with others, so that they can enjoy the outdoors with their friends and family. He has a passion for introducing kids to the outdoors and the sport of fishing.

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