Crappie are among the most popular game fish in all of North America. There are two species of crappie (black and white), and both can be found in Canada and the United States. They’re panfish, and they’re known by many other names: Papermouths, specks, and even sacalait (among many others).
Why are crappies so popular? Let’s count the reasons: They’re abundant, they’re found in many different bodies of water (they’re freshwater fish), they’re delicious, they can be fished year-round, and they present fun challenges for beginners and experts alike…the list goes on.
Interested in fishing for crappie? You’re in the right place. You can use a ton of different baits and rigs, fish all throughout the year at almost any time of day, fish them for sport, fish them for food, and fish them with elaborate or simple setups.
We’re going to take you through everything you need to know: What baits to use when, different rigs to try, the times of the season (and of the day) when crappie are most abundant, the hooks you should use, the size of minnows you should try, and more. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know more about crappie than some anglers do - without even having to set foot on a boat! (We hope you do set foot on a boat, though. Fishing is fun!)
Without further ado: Here’s the FAQ on how to fish for crappie:
One of the joys of crappie fishing is the variety of different baits you can use. When they’re young, crappie feed on crustaceans and insects. Larger crappies, on the other hand, are predators that feed on fish smaller than them. They even eat the young of their predators! Any lures that imitate small fish can be used to catch large crappie.
There’s (almost) no substitute for the real thing, so many anglers opt to use minnows as live bait. Jigging is another popular way to catch crappie. Opt for a jig that weighs between 1/32 ounces and 1/8th of an ounce. Technique is essential here, as you’ll be fishing in and around structure. You may get a lot of practice unsnagging your line - but the crappie are worth it!
Fancier lures can help you catch crappie, too. Spinnerbait lures, which create flash and vibration, are great for attracting large, predatory crappie.
In the wintertime, crappie become lethargic, so using less active lures can be a good idea. Opt for marabou jigs, minnow stingers, and other lures that provide a bit of movement without being overstimulating.
There are all kinds of other baits you can use for crappie fishing - some anglers even use hard plastic lures to find crappie, then switch to soft lures to catch them. In general, however, soft, natural feeling lures that provide movement are best for attracting crappie. With so many different options, you can fish for crappie with just about any bait you have available.
Want to try a variety of different rigs? You’re in luck - there are plenty of different rigging styles you can use to catch crappie, and they’re each useful in different scenarios.
The most basic (and one of the most useful) rigs for crappie fishing is the float rig. This simple setup, featuring a float, a jig (usually ⅛ ounce), and a minnow, is perfect for fishing in a moving current. You can easily adjust this rig to fish in different depths, and it’s fairly easy to cast accurately. Float rigs are perfect for fishing near structure, which crappie love to hide and hunt around.
Fishing in the colder months? Crappie tend to dwell a bit deeper - and they love structure even more than in the summer months. We recommend trying a floating bottom walker rig. Bottom walkers have become more readily available, so give this rig a chance!
Feel like getting even more complex? Double-jig bait rigs and three-way swivel rigs mean more bait and more hooks - which gives you more chances of catching crappie. Want to learn more about building these rigs? We recommend reading Field and Stream’s article on the best crappie bait rigs. It covers all the rigs we’ve discussed so far - and more!
There’s one special rig that article doesn’t cover, however, and it’s one we absolutely must discuss: Spider rigging. This setup is used when slow trolling, and it basically involves setting up multiple poles and rods along a boat, angled out so they look like the legs of a spider. Spider rigging is perhaps the single most efficient way of fishing for crappie. The problem? It’s illegal in some areas (like Minnesota), so check your local by-laws.
No matter what season you find yourself in, it’s crappie season; even crappy seasons are crappie seasons (which, to the optimistic angler, makes them not-so crappy)!
Love ice fishing? You can fish for crappie. Want to slowly troll along a lake in the hottest months of the summer? You can fish for crappie. Spring, fall, anytime at all - you get the idea.
Of course, not all seasons are created equally (at least when it comes to crappie fishing), and there are a few seasons that we’d consider “best” if you want to increase your chances of catching crappie:
Let’s start with the spawning season. This season generally lasts from February to May, but it depends on where you’re fishing - crappie start spawning when water temperatures reach about 56-60°F. During this season, crappie move to shallower waters and congregate together, making them both easier to see and more abundant.
Fall is another great time for crappie fishing. While they can be a bit harder to find (they’re usually hanging out around 10-15 feet below the water), they’re hungry - winter is coming, after all. Crappie are aggressive in the fall, so you’ll get a lot of bites, which can make for exciting fishing.
Feeling adventurous? We recommend crappie fishing juuust before the temperature hits that 56-60°F mark. By doing so, you’ll catch them as spawning season beings - they’ll begin to congregate together and begin feeding heavily to support the grueling task of spawning. Crappie tend to be at their biggest around this time of year, so it can be a great choice if you’re looking for trophies!
The dog days of summer are, arguably, the worst time to fish for crappie (along with the dead of winter). When it’s hot, crappie tend to hang out in deeper waters (15 feet and below) and spend most of their time in cover. Of course, summertime is the favorite fishing season of many an angler, so don’t let the challenge of catching crappie in deep water stop you. We recommend using a fish finder with imaging technology and a powerful sonar to catch those hiding crappie.
There are all kinds of other factors to consider - if it just rained in the fall, for example, you can expect crappie to be even feistier. Water clarity, temperature, and more will all affect crappie behavior!
The best depth for crappie fishing varies depending on a number of factors, from the conditions of the water to the time of season. Let’s break down the depths you can find crappie at seasonally:
During the spawning season, you can practically reach down and grab crappie with your hands - though they do try to conceal themselves by using structure as cover.
The conditions of the water are also relevant. When the temperature is above 50°F, and it’s not spawning season, you may still find crappie at ~1 to 5-foot depth if the water is murky and there’s lots of vegetation. In clear waters, however, they’ll hover around the 15-foot depth.
As a rule of thumb, the best times to catch crappie are dawn and dusk. You’ll want to start fishing at dawn until about two hours after sunrise, then fish two hours before sunset until just after sunset.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that crappie, like most fish, rest during the hottest hours of the day. You’ll find you won’t get a lot of action if you’re fishing in the middle of the afternoon - from crappie or much of anything else.
The second reason is that crappie excel at low-light hunting; they tend to be better at seeing in low-light conditions than their prey. This means they’re particularly active when the sun is just rising or setting.
While the schedule described above is common for most of the year, things change when it’s cold outside. During the winter and even some of the spawning season, crappie will be most active in the afternoon, when it’s warmest outside.
For those of you who want a bit of an adventure, fishing for crappie at night can be very rewarding. You can use a light to attract crappie; they’re great low-light hunters but pretty terrible at hunting in the darkness.
Crappie are known by another name: Papermouths. They didn’t get that name by chance. Choosing the right hook is essential when fishing for crappie, lest they tear themselves free.
Size-wise, most anglers will opt for #2, #4, or #6 hooks. Remember, hook sizes are inverted: The smaller the number, the bigger the hook. Opt for #6 if you’re going to fish for small crappie and a #2 if there are some larger specimens lurking in the waters near you. You might even opt for a #1 if you’re using a particularly juicy minnow as bait.
In terms of style, many anglers opt for Aberdeen hooks. Circle hooks are another good option, especially if you’ve had problems with gut hooking.
Crappie like to nibble on almost anything smaller than themselves. Fathead minnows seem to be a delicacy to crappies. We’ve had luck using minnows that are around 1.5 to 2 inches long - some anglers have had success with even bigger minnows, though. As with all things fishing, it depends on the behavior and preferences of the fish in the waters you’re angling in.
Here’s a fun fact for your next game of Trivial Pursuit: Fishing Edition: Panfish get their name from the fact that they are edible and fit nicely in a pan.
Crappie are panfish.
They are edible. They are delicious - as long as you know how to prepare them. They’re also nutritious, containing a whole lot of protein and healthy fats (including some Omega 3 fats - though not as many as you’ll find in some other fish).
There are a few things to know before eating crappie. This probably goes without saying, but don’t eat crappie fished from a source that you suspect was contaminated. You’ll also want to carve any excess red flesh off of your crappie, as it has an especially strong fishy flavor.
Crappie meat is flaky, white, and delicate - it’s easy to overcook. We recommend following a recipe. There are hundreds - you can batter-fry crappie, cook it in a stew, or saute it in butter sauce. The possibilities for eating crappie are as diverse as the options for catching them.