If you’re looking for some simple fun, it’s time to grab that ultralight rod and head out for some crappie slabs! I work at a Coyote Bait & Tackle in San Jose, CA, and when the crappie are thick, we get absolutely swamped. After making mental notes of what works for hundreds of customers, I’ve gained much knowledge about these little critters. Oh and by the way, crappie fishing is year-round. Ready for some crappie fishing tips? Me too.
Crappie Limits and Regulations
For my fellow Californians the amount of crappie you can keep in California is 25, with a daily possession limit of 50. Type of crappie species doesn’t matter. Regardless, always double-check regulations for your location even within California, as regulations may change for a specific lake or region.
While places like Missouri have a daily limit is 30 with a possession limit of 60. No size limit. Ohio has a 30 daily limit, but a minimum size at some lakes, rivers, and streams and not others.
There is no size limit for crappie, but I would recommend keeping fish that are about the size of your open hand. Anything smaller than that will not contain enough meat, plus it’s more beneficial to let the smaller crappie grow for a few more years anyways. Crappie average a quarter or half a pound in weight but can get as big as 5 pounds.
How To Find Schooling Crappie
Crappie are schooling fish, when you locate one you usually locate a whole bunch. The schools will hang out in different areas of the lake depending on the season and weather temperature, but there are always things you can look out for to make the search a little easier.
Spring & Summer
In the warmer months, crappie schools usually be found suspended in deeper water around prominent structure, anywhere from 15-20+ feet of water. Anything from a steep drop-off, hump, or large submerged tree will attract crappie and provide cover to either spawn or ambush bait. They’ll also surface to feed around dawn and dust.
Fall & Winter
The colder months are prime for crappie fishing, as they feed heavily on shad, minnows, and other small baitfish. The schools of crappie will still be located around the same structure – brush piles, standing timber, drop-offs, and points. The fish will hold to these types of cover in all depths of water, and you can usually find the larger slabs suspended in deeper areas of the lake chasing thick bait. Unlike during warmer months, you can find crappie in depths as shallow as 3-6 feet.
If you have a fish finder (sonar) targeting crappie will be easy but if you don’t you’ll want a topographical map on hand. This will tell you the lake depth in specific areas and help narrow down which areas to fish first depending on the time of year and water temperature.
Crappie Fishing Tips, Tricks & Techniques
Live Bait Fishing
Let’s go over the rig real quick. Slide your bobber stop onto the main line, then your bobber. Tie on your size 10 Owner Mosquito Hook and then pinch your split shot about 12-18” above your hook. This split shot keeps your minnow from swimming up too far to the surface, making it less effective. Depending on where you are, the depth you’re fishing will vary. If you need to be out more than 3-5 feet, use a bobber stop string knot and slide it up to the desired length. The string knot style can actually go through your guides without damaging them, allowing you to actually reel the stopper into your spool and cast with barely any resistance.
When minnow fishing it’s best to not hook the fish through both lips. This restricts their breathing and shortens their lives. Instead, simply open their mouth and go through the top lip and out between their nostrils. This allows them to open their mouth and take in water through their gills more freely. Reel in and check on them every 5-10 minutes to make sure they’re still swimming in a lively fashion.
Jig & Lure Fishing
Jigs can actually be fished under a bobber! If you plan on using this method, simply use the same setup for live bait fishing but instead tie your mini jig at the end (no split shot necessary here). Cast out and slowly twitch your bobber back to you, pausing in between. This causes the jig to dance a little for a more enticing presentation. You can also hook a live minnow to the end of the jig, making it almost irresistible.
If you plan on working a jig by itself simply tie it onto your main line. For this I recommend a 4-6lb fluorocarbon main line, preferably 4lb. Cast out your jig with your ultralight rod and let it hit bottom on slack line. After contacting bottom, twitch your rod in a rhythmic fashion while reeling in slack at the same time. This causes your jig to hop up and down, giving it a very erratic action. Play with different depths and try to remember what depth you’re catching fish at as you may have found the entire school!
You can also fish an array of other lures for crappie. Small crankbaits, Kastmasters, and trout worms work for them also. Use a crankbait to dive through a school of suspended fish, and a Kastmaster or trout worm to target crappie in more shallow waters.
The Proper Ultralight Setup For Crappie Fishing
Crappie are known for their thin membrane mouth structure and have been nicknamed “Papermouths” by crappie enthusiasts over the years. For this reason, an ultralight setup is crucial to landing more fish without tearing the hook out of their mouth or face. Here’s what I found to be the most effective.
Shakespeare Wild Series Trout Combo 702 – The perfect, inexpensive ultralight combo. Crappie don’t necessarily put a hurt on your rod and reel so a cheaper setup is still effective while saving you some money!
- Daiwa Presso Ultralight 702 – A beautiful ultralight that still doesn’t break the bank. Perfect for fishing live bait and casting small jigs for crappie.
- Fenwick Elite Tech River Runner 7’2”-7-6” – You’ll pay a bit more for this one but won’t regret it one bit. It’s a high-quality ultralight rod that you can use for all panfish and trout applications.
- Shimano Sedona 500FD – A mid-ranged, true workhorse of a reel.
- Pfleuger President 6720 – A solid, remarkably smooth reel for the price.
- Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 1000 – If you have the dough, definitely grab this one. One of the lightest reels on the market and features Shimano’s “X-Ship” technology for smoothness and extra cranking power. My personal favorite.
Even with an ultralight crappie setup be sure to keep your line tight. Having slack in your line can cause you to rip through their lip when you set hook (lift up). The same goes for retrieving. Reel in at a steady pace.
Crappie Terminal Tackle
The tackle for crappie can vary depending on the type of fishing you’d like to do. Baits, jigs and lures are what primarily determines your success when crappie fishing. You can fish for crappie using live bait suspended under a bobber, or cast and retrieve a variety of jigs. Here are the various types of gear you’ll need for both methods.
Live Bait Fishing
- 2-4lb Fluorocarbon (I use Seaguar InvisX)
- Sliding Bobber – Any size, just choose one on the smaller end.
- Thill Splash Brite (For night fishing, lights up immediately when contacting water)
- Bobber Stops 4-6lb
- Size 10 Owner Mosquito Hook
- Live small minnows, wax worms, redworms, etc. (Small minnows work best!)
- Canyon Plastics 1” Mini Jig
- Red/White (My personal daytime favorite)
- Black/Chartreuse (Deadly night color)
- Canyon Plastics T-Series Lead Head 1/16oz.
- Strike King Mr. Crappie Lightning Shad 2”
- Gary Yamamoto Yamaminnow 2”
- Berkley PowerBait Crappie Nibbles (To tip your jigs for scent)
Small live minnows and Canyon plastics mini jigs are my personal favorite when it comes to the best crappie bait. When you are using live minnows, make sure to use a sliding bobber, small slip shot, and #6 hook with an ultra light weight setup. Most importantly make sure to properly hook your minnow. If you plan to continuously cast it or use it for trolling then you will want to hook it through both lips or the body but this will kill the minnow. If you are simply letting it sit, hook it through only one lip and do not hook it through it’s tale.
The red/white Canyon plastics 1″ mini jig is cheap, effective, and despite it’s looks, the most effective because minnows die easily. Line up these bad boys when jigging for crappie and you’ll hit limits in no time the second you find that money hole.