Each angler fishes for different reasons: some are looking for that next big trophy, others a tasty dinner and some just want to relax while they enjoy the great outdoors. Much of the time these varied goals take each down a different trail, but there is a way for all to meet – crappie. Regardless of what you want out of your day on the water this one species can give it to you.
Crappie are probably one of the most abundant game fish in North America, found throughout the United States and Canada and can be found in a wide range of habitat including lakes, ponds and even slow moving streams. Despite being classified as a panfish the term “pan” is relative and some crappie can reach mind boggling sizes suitable for any mancave wall. Plus, the sweet flakey white meat in one of the best tasting and easiest to prepare fish meals you will encounter. Plus, unlike some fishing adventures which seem more like work than fun, catching crappies is neither difficult nor something only the pros can excel at. In other words, a near perfect target no matter what you end game is.
Of course, the key to any successful fishing trip is catching fish. Although crappie can be found in abundance that does not mean they will be waving a sign saying “Fish Here” or jumping into your bucket as soon as you set it down. You do need a little bit of knowledge to find and land you prey, so let me give you a little help.
Before you can catch any fish you need to find it, or at least identify a likely location where you can find it. As I said earlier, crappie can be found almost anywhere and chances are you have nearby pong, lake or stream which they call home. If it contains other panfish chances are it also holds crappie. Now you need to narrow your search to the most likely neighborhoods or spots on your local water. Depending on the season crappie will move from shallows (spring spawn) to deeper water (summer heat), but they will almost always stay near dense cover as it provides protection from predators. Find structure and you are more likely to find crappie. The good news is those crappies are a schooling fish, so find one and you will find many.
For many species gear can make all the difference between a heavy stringer and getting skunked. Try to catch a Lake Erie steelhead with your regular trout rod or heavy bass line and you will spend the day watching other pull in a limit, everyone but yourself that is. Crappie are not a particular and while some gear may work better than others it is unlikely crappie will be lost because gear is too light or scared away if it is a little too heavy. Although I prefer to use a short, light weight rod & reel outfitted with 4-6 lb test I believe that the terminal tackle (bait or lure) is far more important than the rod&reel you use it on. The exception to this would be when fishing the spring spawn from shore, this is when I would recommend a slightly longer rod so you can reach the fish hanging just off shore with a more direct up/down presentation.
Crappie will eat almost anything. Worms, insects and smaller fish are all on the menu but like you favorite restaurant not every special in on the menu every day. The key to catching crappie is having a well-stocked tackle box with a little bit if everything available then determining what the crappie prefer that day. Thankfully, crappie lures are generally small and inexpensive so it will not take too much space or money to achieve this important step in catching crappies.
Here are some of examples of what your crappie box should have in abundance:
Jigs – this is by far the go to lure for crappie. I prefer marabou style jigs due to the extra flash and movement they provide, but a plain jig works when tipped with the proper bait. Ensure you have a wide range of colors to match local conditions.
Plastic grubs – grubs are almost always on the menu, but not always available or easy to maintain. This is where the plastic grub comes in – it mimics the real thing without the searching or caring for and can often be even better when you consider the ability to change colors, size etc.
Spinners – because they imitate wounded or fleeing minnows spinners are an excellent choice for targeting almost any gamefish species which eats minnows including crappie. Small gold or silver willow blades or Colorado spinners are an excellent choice for drawing big fish out of cover. Simply fish parallel to, or across the face of, heavy cover and wait for a curious or hungry trophy to strike.
Hooks – when using live bait you will need strong but small hooks capable of securing your offering while still capable of being taken by the crappie who eats it. Having a good supply of #1 or size 1/0 hooks on hand will allow you to dunk a worm, float a grasshopper or even free swim a minnow at will.
Split shot – getting crappie to take live bait often requires getting the bait to the table, or deep inside thick cover. The best way to do this is adding a couple split shot to your line and letting it carry everything deeper faster than it would go on its own. Again, your tackle box should include lots of split shot.
Bobber or float – getting your bait to the correct depth is only part of the battle, now you need to keep it there. For this there is nothing as successful as a simple bobber added above you bait at the correct spacing to keep you bait at a constant depth.
Once you have found likely cover make some exploring casts, casts to likely but unproven locations. If you get a bite keep fishing that area, if not try another likely spot. This is an excellent opportunity to use your spinners, casting across likely cover and retrieving fast is a nice way to explore a lot of area in a short amount of time. If you find a few fish then you can switch to either lures or live bait which allows you to get deeper into the cover, or at least closer than spinners will allow.
Good luck, good fishing!