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Crappie: The Complete Fishing Guide
Crappie have become one of North America’s most popular sport fishing in recent years. They have not yet reached the fanatical levels of bass fishing, and probably never will. That said, thousands of anglers each year find themselves fishing local, regional, and national tournaments in hopes of winning prize money and glory.
In late 2020, the annual Mr. Crappie Invitational Classic welcome 100 of the top teams in the country to Branson, Missouri, for the opportunity to compete for $200,000 cash prize — the largest payout ever for a crappie tournament.
The crappie guide service industry has also exploded over the past decade. As game-changing electronics (like the Garmin Panoptix Livescope Transducer System) make catching massive slabs more accessible than ever, there is every reason to believe that the crappie fishing industry will absolutely explode in the years to come.
For the majority of anglers, however, crappie fishing marks a cherished pastime that can be passed down across the generations.
Below, we will take a look at everything you need to know about catching this popular freshwater fish!
What is a Crappie: Black and White, and How to Tell the Difference
One of the most popular species of panfish in the world, crappie are comprised of two species — white and black. Both species fall under the genus Pomoxis.
Upon hearing that there are two species, many anglers simply assume that lighter-complected crappie would be white, whereas those with darker markings would be black.
The details, however, are more complicated.
Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) are native to the eastern United States and Canada.
The current world record black crappie was caught by Lionel “Jam” Ferguson in Tennessee. It weighs 5 pounds, 7.68 ounces. This is slightly larger than the world record white crappie (more on that later).
Throughout the United States, black crappie tend to weigh less than one pound and range between five and ten inches in length.
Black crappie can often be identified by the dark, splotchy markings on their bodies. These are often scattered and follow no apparent, uniformed design.
Black crappie also tend to have shorter, more rounded bodies and 7-8 dorsal spines.
If you are looking at the photo above and thinking that this is a white crappie because it has a lighter coloration, you’re half right.
It is a white crappie. The coloration, however, has nothing to do with the name.
The white crappie (Pomoxis annularis), which is sometimes called a silver perch of gold ring, differs from its black cousins in two distinct ways:
First, instead of dark, random splotches, the white crappie has several vertical stripes that run down the side of its body. Depending on the age, sex, size, and location of this fish, the lines will vary in clarity and boldness. It is also worth keeping in mind that these lines, while considered “vertical,” are unlikely to be perfectly straight.
Second, unlike their cousins (which have 7-8 dorsal spines), white crappie will only have 5-6 dorsal spines.
The world record white crappie has stood since 1957. The Mississippi mammoth weighed an impressive 5 pounds, 3 ounces.
What is Considered a Large Black Crappie (Length and Weight)?
Well, this depends on who you ask, where they are fishing, and how frequently they fish.
There are plenty of anglers who would be thrilled to catch a one pound, 13-inch crappie. That said, it is not uncommon for high-level tournament anglers to produce a 7-fish limit that averages above two pounds.
In Ohio, a 13-inch crappie is considered a Fish Ohio — a distinction given to fish that are considered to meet impressive length minimums for the state. Meanwhile, in states like Oklahoma, it is not uncommon for a 3 pound crappie to be caught several times per week.
As a loose rule, however, crappie (of either species) between 13-16 inches would be considered impressive. 17-18 inches would classify as massive. 18 inches and above would venture into “fish of a lifetime” territory.
Converted to weight, most anglers who fish casually for crappie would be lucky to catch even one crappie over 2 pounds. Numerous crappie guides and tournament anglers have failed to break the 3 pound mark. Beyond that, pretty much any crappie you catch will be noteworthy.
If you happen to land a crappie that weighs 4 pounds or more, be prepared to have the entire fishing community buzzing. Arkansas angler Sean Thornton drove crappie anglers across the country wild with his 4 pound, 1 ounce crappie caught in April 2020.
Where Can You Catch Crappie?
Like most panfish, crappie can be found in most stocked ponds and lakes. They are also present in many rivers.
Versatile and able to adapt to various climates, they can be found in the follow states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
Crappie can also be found in parts of Canada.
When it comes to crappie fishing, however, not all areas are created equal. Much of the top fishing in the country comes from the southeast and south-central United States.
Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Alabama are considered some of the hottest states in the country right now. If you are looking to land an elusive 3+ pound crappie, these would be great places to start.
How to Catch Crappie: Fishing Techniques for All Seasons
In many ways, catching crappie can be pretty easy. Even fairly inexperienced anglers using a simple hook/bobber/minnow rig can pull a dozen or more fish on a good day.
That said, if you are looking to catch a limit of sizeable fish, you will need to know where to find them, what to use, and even when to fish.
Below, we will take a look at the rods, reels, fishing line, hooks, baits and lures that are most popular when fishing for crappie.
Fishing Line: Fluorocarbon, Monofilament, or Braid?
Many beginning anglers, and even those who are set in their tried-and-true techniques, swear by monofilament line. They hardly ever waver from the conventional standard because it has worked for them for years or even decades.
Since mono often tends to be high visibility, and crappie are easily spooked, lower-vis lines have become popular over the years.
As our editors can attest, switching to fluorocarbon was an absolute game changer!
Depending on the presentation and the structure you are fishing, many anglers will use braid line with a fluorocarbon leader (often connected using a barrel swivel).
Many other will use between four and six pound test. Assuming you choose to use fluorocarbon, some of the most popular choices are:
- P-Line Fluorocarbon Fishing Line (4 lb)
- Bass Pro Shops Excel Fluorocarbon Fishing Line (4 lb)
- Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon Fishing Line (6 lb)
- Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon Fishing Line (4 lb)
Crappie Fishing Techniques for Each Season
Many anglers are hesitant to fish during colder months because of a belief that the bite decreases considerably.
While this may be true to an extent, you can certainly still catch crappie during winter.
It might just be a little more challenging.
That said, crappie are a school fish and, if you are able to locate timber or brush piles, you can still pull some fish. They will likely be deeper than other points of the year — potentially between ten and forty feet.
Offering a slower presentation will likely be beneficial as crappie (like most species) may be less inclined to chase their meal during colder months.
Crappie anglers often have differing school of thought upon which season is “best.”
Among many, however, Spring is certainly popular. If you fishing larger or popular lakes, you may run into substantial fishing pressure. That said, most smaller lakes can make for excellent alternatives as the cold thaws.
During the pre-spawn period, crappie will begin to move closer to the surface, but you may still find them around structure at depths beyond ten feet. Spawning crappie, however, will be closer to the surface.
If you are using live bait (preferably minnows), you will want to adjust your depth accordingly. If you are using jigs, choose colors that match the spawn.
While you will also want to be mindful of water clarity, most crappie anglers regularly use black, browns, blue, green (and green pumpkin), pink, and white jigs.
If fishing pressure become a problem in Spring, it can be a pandemic in Summer.
School is out, so you can expect lots of boats on the water. Moreover, recreational boating and water sports can make the bite challenging.
That said, you will want to start moving back to deeper waters. Summer crappie will still bite — especially if you are using minnows — but the seasons tends not to be as popular as Spring and Fall.
Continue looking for cover at and around ten feet.
Many crappie anglers — our editors included — absolutely love Fall crappie fishing.
As the seasons fluctuate, especially in states where you will experience four distinct seasons, crappie will migrate back to shallower areas. It is not at all uncommon to catch some slabs in even four or five feet of water.
As Fall starts to fade in Winter, however, the crappie fill slowly move to deeper water. This is often a gradual transition, however. If you are fishing steady cover, like weed beds, you may be able to fish the same cover for several months with considerable success.
Best Tackle and Baits to Use for Crappie Fishing
Similarly to how you might want to approach fishing for bluegill (or other sunfish), you will want to use lighter tackle when fishing for crappie.
If you are using live bait, we recommend taking a look at the best rods and reels for panfishing.
That said, if you plan on jigging, you may want to consider picking up a longer rods. While they may not be ideal for all situations, many crappie rods are between nine and fourteen feet in length.
Some popular models include:
- Bass Pro Shops Crappie Maxx Signature Series Crappie Rod (12 foot)
- B’n’M BrushCutter Camo Crappie Rod (12 foot)
- Jenko Fishing Hypersense Lucky 13 Crappie Rod (13 foot)
- B’n’M Poles The Stick Crappie Rod (13 foot)
What Do Crappie Eat?
When trying to catch crappie, you basically have two options: use live bait, or throw artificial baits that mimic the types of food crappie like to eat.
Worms tend to be the most popular baits when fishing for many species, especially smaller ones.
That said, minnow are the go-to when fishing for crappie.
While crappie will eat crustaceans, zooplankton, and insects, minnow are effective throughout the year.
They will also eat the spawn of natural predators.
When choosing an artificial baits for crappie, you will want to find options that match the natural offerings of your particular body of water.
Jigs, in an endless array of colors, are incredibly popular, as are many small crankbaits.
Some popular crappie fishing baits include: