There are two varieties of crappies; white and black. Both varieties are flat and have silvery colored bodies, but their markings can change depending on the time of year and water conditions.
Black crappie are speckled on the sides and have about 7 dorsal spines. Black crappie prefer cooler northern lakes with sand or gravel bottoms and tend to be found near vegetation. They also prefer quiet waters and tend to school more than white crappie. Black crappie are found in most eastern states and through stocking programs are now found in many western states as well.
White crappie have irregular vertical bands and about 5 dorsal spines. They are generally found in warmer water than black crappie and thrive with either soft or hard lake bottoms. White crappie can also tolerate muddier water conditions. The white crappie was originally found from South Dakota east and as far south as Texas, with stocking programs they are now found in many western states as well.
Crappie Habits & Habitat
Crappie are minnow and plankton eaters, so they may roam the whole body of water in which they live in search of food. At night or on overcast days they may feed in the shallows, but can just as easily be suspended in 30 feet of water feeding on plankton.
In lakes crappie are one of the first species to become active after ice-off, generally water temps will be in the mid-forties. In search of warmer water and food, crappies will move into shallow water and seek out dark bottoms that hold the sun’s heat. If shallow water is not available crappies will school around weed lines.
Crappies spawn one time per year when water temps approach the mid-sixties. They prefer gravel bottoms, but will settle for mud, sand or rocks. They seek cover for their nests, which can be in the form of weeds, logs, boulders or submerged brush. Cover is more important than bottom conditions, so when in doubt always look for cover first.
The male arrives first to build the nest, and during nest building is more aggressive than any other time of year. Once the eggs are laid they hatch in about five days . Crappie nests are more difficult to find than other types of sunfish, they do not sweep the bottom as clean as other sunfish do. Nests are usually located in 2 to 10 feet of water, but this can change daily depending on weather or not the lake is affected by run off from melting snow.
After the spawn crappies move to deeper water, usually near the entrance to the bays or channels they used for spawning. Here they suspend in the depths and feed on minnows and plankton. As water temperatures rise fish move to even deeper water and much research is needed to locate the fish.
Morning and evening hours may bring feeding fish in to the shallows in search of small crawdads, minnows and nymphs. Look near weeds, brush and drop offs for fish. Crappie will also hang out near docks, boats and other man made structures.
Remember that crappie are both very mobile and a schooling fish. If you start catching fish in an area keep fishing, there are bound to be more in the same area. When fishing slows move to a new area, generally the fish have moved close by with it’s prey. You my have to move several times to locate them again but when you do fishing will immediately pick up again.
As fall approaches and water temperatures begin to fall, crappie will return to the shallows. Highly concentrated schools can be found along weedlines and other structure in search of prey. Crappie will feed aggressively this time of year getting ready for winter, this can be a great time to fish. As winter nears crappie will again return to deeper water and return to the main body of the lake.
Tackle & Gear for Crappie
Because crappie are highly mobile, a boat is your best bet to get you where the fish are. Use light rods and reels as most crappie will be one pound or under. When fishing is heavy cover use a bobber with bait or jigs suspended below. Aggressive crappie can also be caught on crank baits and spoons. When fishing deep water jigs are by far the most popular lure for taking crappie. There are literally thousands of styles and colors available.
Regardless of season or location, you must establish a fishing pattern to be successful. What cover are crappie using, at what depth are they located, are they active early or late, on minnows or jigs? Before heading out, a visit to the local tackle shop is recommended, you can save both time and money by getting timely information and fishing conditions.