Also known as specks, calico bass, papermouths, an speckled perch, Crappie are generally considered the most desirable panfish, which is sort of like being the tallest midget. This is likely due to their striking body color patterning and the fact that they taste good. They can be ridiculously easy to catch when you find them during some parts of the year, particularly in the spring, and then sometimes very tough to find and catch during other parts of the year such as the winter.
Crappie have very soft, thin mouths so you can’t pull on them too hard or you will pull the hook out. Despite being about the same size, their mouths are much larger than Bluegill. There are two species, the White Crappie and the Black Crappie. However, color is not the definitive way to tell which is which. They are generally found in the same places and often cross breed, causing hybrids. In general, the Black ones are darker and the White ones have more vertical patterns but they can be tough to tell apart.
Ultra light spinning gear with 2-6lb test line is the way to go for Crappie unless they are in heavy cover. They don't pull particularly hard, but they can wrap you up in cover if you let them. They generally have a very soft bite, so a light and sensitive rod can be very helpful. You need a sensitive rod to help detect the bites, and a light rod can help with not tearing the hook out of their soft mouths. If the rod is too stiff or your drag is too tight, you can easily tear the hook out. Click here for tackle recommendations.
Crappie will readily bite bait or lures. Whatever you use, make sure you use a light rod and light drag to avoid tearing the hook out of their mouth. Their bite is often very light so you have to really be paying attention. They tend to suck things in more than peck at them like Bluegill. Look for them around structure, especially shallower structure like sunken trees in the spring when they spawn. They generally are found deeper the rest of the year. My biggest ones have generally been caught incidentally when I was fishing for Largemouth Bass. If you specifically want to target them, an electronic fish finder will come in really handy, especially during times of the year when they are not up shallow.
Crappie will often bite small 2”-3” plastic grubs fished slowly through the school once you find them. Experiment with colors but I usually like chartreuse or white. Also experiment with depth to find where they are, then keep swimming the grub through that depth.
I have also done well with the Berkley Power Nymph in Smoke Orange Color. Many of the fish shown above and below were caught on that. Again, I fish it very slowly through the school. I don't even jig or twitch it, just slowly reel through.
Crappie also bite small skirted mini tube jigs. You can fish them with or without a slip bobber. The bobber can help suspend the jig at the right depth once you find them. Electronics can be very helpful in finding what depth they are at, but you can experiment with different depths by adjusting the slip bobber until you find them. I don’t like to give them a ton of action; just suspend them in front of the fish once you figure out the depth they are at and occasionally twitch the jig.
Trolling can be an effective technique for catching Crappie, especially when they are in open water chasing shad. A small crankbait like the Bomber Fat Free Shad (Fingerline size) can we dynamite. One very specialized technique for trolling for Crappie is called Spider Rigging. This involves slow trolling with 4-10 rods arrayed all over the boat. I have never tried this technique, but you can learn about it here.
Anything that looks like a small minnow and can be fished relatively slowly should catch some Crappie.
Minnows (small shad, fatheads, even goldfish) are by far the most popular bait for Crappie. These are generally fished under a bobber, often with a small split shot weight or jig head to get them down to where the fish are. Crappie like to feed on things above them, so try to set your minnow just above where they are holding.
They will also bite a worm. They are less apt to peck the worm off your hook like Bluegill do, so I would go with a whole small or medium size worm.
Where to get the big Crappie
Large Crappie are found in so many lakes and rivers throughout the country it’s hard to pinpoint one or two trophy locations. In general, because of the longer growing season, they get bigger in the Southern half of the US. My largest ones have mostly come out of Lake Barrett, near San Diego, California and here in Texas.
Other Crappie Resources
The above barely scratches the surface on how to catch Crappie. The resources below will provide a wealth of information:
This guy will put you on the crappie: www.wibigfish.com
In Fishermen has produced a great book entitled Crappie Wisdom that has everything you need to know to catch these.