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Everything You Need to Know About Crappie: The Complete Angler’s Guide

Crappie are an abundant fish that reside in freshwater, mainly in North America. They typically live in still bodies of water like lakes or slow rivers.

person holding a crappie fish

There are black crappie and white crappie that have slight differences but, for the most part, have the same spawning and feeding habits. 

They have specific habits concerning moving toward the shoreline and hunting, which are essential for anglers to know.

These small fish with rigid fins have a tasty flavor that many people love, and they aren’t too difficult to find with the right advice. 

man fising in an ohio lake

Fishing for crappie can be a lucrative excursion with the proper jigs and fishing spots, as they have predictable movements. For all the information on crappie and how to fish for them, read this guide. 


The Different Types of Crappie

This section will discuss the characteristics of the different varieties of crappie. There are only two types, but they do differ. 

White Crappie

White crappie are more common than black crappie, and they’re much smaller, usually weighing less than a pound.

white crappie

And no surprise, they are typically a white or silver color with light markings that run the length of their body.

They are narrow and elongated rather than round and plump like the black crappie. 


Spawn

White crappies tend to spawn between May and June when the water gets warmer. The minimum spawning temperature is around 56 degrees Fahrenheit, making the springtime optimal spawning season. 

As they enter spawning season, male crappies develop a dark coloration on their throats, which disappears when spawning season ends.

The male white crappies build the nests to make a safe place for the eggs to lay. 

They dive into shallow water, typically one to six feet down, and make bowl-shaped impressions into the brush, rocks, and logs to protect their future offspring.

Once they build a decent nest, they stand by to protect it until the eggs hatch. 

The average female white crappie will lay anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 eggs in these nests. They may lay in a single nest or distribute their eggs around various nests.

The males then fertilize them with their sperm, so they practice external fertilization. And then, they hang around until the frys, or baby fish, swim away. They do this to ensure the success of their genes. 


Habitat

Crappie are freshwater fish commonly found in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. They don’t like fast-moving waters, so they’re more abundant in still lakes and the slower part of rivers. 

a north carolina fishing lake

They also don’t mind some muddy water with little vegetation, so it doesn’t matter how nice the water is.

They spend most of the daytime several feet underwater but tend to swim toward the surface in the early morning and late evening. 


Diet

White crappie has an interesting hunting strategy. They stay in one spot and scan the water for prey, and then swim around to catch them. But their hunting method is rather casual, lacking the ambush element. 

person holding crappie fish with a glove on

Before they’re a year old, they eat small invertebrates like zooplankton. Once they mature, they survive off minnows, young American shad, crayfish, and hellgrammites.

But they tend to be adaptable, eating whatever small fish or insects may be in their environment. 


Natural Predators

Because they are freshwater fish, they don’t have too many natural predators to look out for.

fresh caught crappie on a cutting board

They are mainly preyed on by larger fish like largemouth bass and channel catfish. The fertilized eggs and small fry crappie are much more at risk than adults to these same predators. 


Black Crappie

Black crappies have dark markings and stripes that run along the length of their body, hence their name.

Black Crappie Fishing

They tend to be more rounded and larger than the white crappie, weighing up to two pounds. 

But their mouths are significantly smaller, so they tend to go after smaller prey than the white crappie. They also live in certain places that white crappie do not, such as Florida. 


Spawn

The black crappie has similar spawning habits to the white crappie. They start spawning in late spring and early summer when the water temperatures are between 58 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

The males use their bodies and anal fins to sweep depressions into the ground where females lay eggs. 

Female black crappie lays an average of 40,000 eggs, much more than white crappie. Then, the males fertilize and guard the eggs until they hatch and swim away.

The eggs typically hatch within two or three days, and black crappie live for eight years. 


Habitat

Black crappie lives in similar habitats to white crappie but is pickier. They don’t like muddy water, fast currents, or empty water.

Black Lake 

So they settle in crystal clear water with lots of aquatic vegetation. But they can be found in reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. 


Diet

The diet of the black crappie differs from the white crappie significantly. They eat fewer fish and instead enjoy insects, insect larvae, crustaceans, mysid shrimp, and amphipods. But they will eat minnows or young shad on occasion. 

But like the white crappie, they adapt to eat whatever is available in their environment. They are most active in the super early morning, between midnight and 2 am. 


Natural Predators

Piscivorous fish, such as the channel catfish or bass, will sometimes hunt Black crappie like they do white crappie.

However, black crappie are larger and less likely to become a meal. But their eggs are vulnerable, so the males protect them fiercely. 


How To Identify a Crappie Fish

Crappie fish are recognizable by the spots or stripes that run along their body, which may be light or dark depending on the species. 

They have a prominent dorsal fin with rigid spines that run along the top of their body. People can count the number of spines to tell whether it’s black or white crappie.

White crappie will have no more than six spikes on top of their body, while black crappies have either seven or eight. 

Both species will have a slight sheen to their scales and be relatively small, never more than two pounds. 


Crappie Fishing in Different Seasons

Crappie have interesting spawning habits and patterns, so methods of catching them differ from season to season, and even depending on the time of day. Below are what to expect when fishing for crappie in different seasons. 

Winter

Fishing for crappie in winter is probably the most challenging time. They dive deep down into the water and don’t visit the shores or shallow water often.

They also feed less in winter, so they aren’t on the prowl for prey, therefore may ignore or not even see lures. 

Fishermen advise people to use a lighter line in the winter, along with live bait, like minnows and worms.

But the key is to be patient and stay in the same spot for a while. They live about 25 feet underwater during the winter, so fishing from a boat can make it a more successful outing. 


Ice Fishing

People also go ice fishing for crappie in the winter months. Ice fishing can often be more successful than fishing on open water in the winter.

ice-hole and fishing tackle frozen fishing line

It’s best to know where the vegetation is in the lake, as they typically congregate here. Drop jiggers to the bottom and then reel them in about a foot to catch crappie while ice fishing. 


Fall

Fall is the second-best time to fish for crappie, especially in the Northeast of America. The best bait to use is jigs and minnows or a combination of the two.

Crappie don’t mind some warmer water, but they don’t move around as much in the summer.

So as the water cools in the fall, they tend to swim around more and hunt, making them easier to catch. 

In the fall, they hunt more aggressively than any other season, so they’re more tempted by whatever bait is in front of them.

But they still stay several feet underwater, so fishing from a boat or dock is the best idea. 


Summer

While crappie spawn in temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, they love the warmer temperatures of up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

So people can easily catch crappie from the shore as they meander around post-spawning season in the shallow waters.

Males that just finished protecting their nest will stay in the area for a bit longer, making them easy to catch.

Fishermen state that the best lure to use for crappie in the summertime is slip-bobber rigs that bounce in the water and gain the fish’s attention from a distance. 


Spring

Spring is the best time to fish for both black and white crappie because they move closer to shore for spawning. 

They also cluster together more during spawning season, making it easy to catch them in concentrated groups.

They also feed more during spawning season to keep up their energy to lay eggs and defend the nests. 

When fishing for crappie in the spring, the best method is to cast lines from the shore using live bait like worms. 


Best Time to Fish for Crappie

Fishing for crappie also changes depending on the time of day. Some hours are better than others, so it helps to be aware of this when starting a fishing trip. 

Bright and Early

Crappie love to feed in low light, so this is the best time to go fishing for them. 

The lowlight of the evening can be an excellent time, but almost nothing is better than bright and early in the morning as the sun starts to come up.

This time is when the water is warm, and they aggressively hunt before they return to the deep as the sun comes out. 

They also feed early in the morning during the spawning season, when they take short breaks from guarding their nests to eat. Because these feeding breaks are so short, they hunt very aggressively. 


Afternoon Delight

In the colder months, the best time to fish for crappie is in the afternoon, when the water is warmer.

They spend more time hunting during this time because they can comfortably move through the warm water and casually look for prey. 

When winter comes, the days shorten, so they don’t have the low light they prefer to fish in.

Instead, they come out when the water is warmest and when the prey comes out to swim around. But during this time, they stay in deeper parts, so fishing from a boat is the best strategy. 


Commercial Fishing for Crappie

Crappie are still fished commercially, but by contract only and within environmentally-conscious restrictions. 

In the 1800s and the early 1900s, more than three million pounds of crappie were sold in the US every year.

But government bodies have slowed down the commercial fishing of crappie to spare the population, but they aren’t currently at risk. 

Because of their inconsistent breeding habits in controlled environments, they can be very difficult to breed for commercial purposes. So finding them in the wild is the only option. 


Final Thoughts

Crappie are easily some of the tastiest fish in the sea so it’s no surprise they are as popular to target among anglers as they are. 

When you’re going after these incredible panfish, you’re going to need the right fishing gear, so check out what we recommend right here!

Rocco Smith

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