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Crappies (pronounced krop’-i) are the king of the panfish. Both black crappies and white crappies can grow quite large (state records: black crappie – 4 pounds 1 ounce; white crappie – 4 pounds 8 ounces), but most crappies average a pound or even less. A two-pounder is bragging size. Crappies provide fun and relaxed fishing on light tackle and are excellent eating.
Black crappies are the most widespread of the two types and do the best in clearer water. Adult crappies are fish eaters, so they need an abundant supply of forage, like shad, to do well. Surprising to some, crappies also need a good deal of fishing pressure, otherwise they overpopulate their lake and all are stunted. So enjoy catching and eating crappies, it’s good for the fish and good for the angler.
Best Crappie Fishing Tips
The key to successful crappie fishing is finding them. These are school fish that cluster in different parts of a lake depending on a season, water temperature, reproductive cycles, underwater contours, etc.
Crappies are easiest to find and catch when they move into shallow water to spawn. This happens when the water temperature reaches about 60-65F. March, April, and May are the likely months. These fish like heavy cover to accompany the shallow water. Look for water 3-8 feet deep with sunken trees, tule beds, cattails, lily pads and undercut rocky banks. This is much like the cover used by largemouth bass. Shore anglers do well in spring, as the fish move in close.
In summer and winter crappies are harder to find, so stringers get skimpier or are empty. But they are still there and eating. Here are some ways to find them. Look in deeper water. They’re usually down in 10-20 foot water or deeper. Crappies like underwater islands and stream beds, ledges, etc.
Often they are in deeper water just adjacent to where they where in the spring. One good way to find them is to troll a a jig or minnow across likely spots with lines of various depths. Mark the spot and depth when you get a hit. Troll slowly with oars or electric motor, or drift. Electronic fish finders will also do the job.
In the fall, crappies are not quite as deep as in the summer (8-16 feet). And early and late in the day, crappies, like bass, move into shallower water to feed. So even in the summer, the first angler on the lake, or the last to call it a day, may fill a stringer with crappies in shallow water.
Jig Fishing for Crappies
This is by far the most popular method of taking crappies all year long. A word of caution before getting into the technique of this approach: It’s easy to spook schools of crappies (especially in shallow water), so fish quietly and keep a low profile. And don’t, for example slide an anchor or tackle box along the bottom of your boat. Approach likely spots slowly and carefully.
Crappie jigs, or mini jigs, are in the 1/32 to 1/8 ounce size range. Most are little lead-head jigs with a bright colored feather covering the hook end. Eyes are often painted on the head end. Some like Sassy Shad Jigs have rubber bodies that imitate swimming shad.
Tie these jigs directly on about a 4, or even a 2 pound test line. Light line gives the jig better action. Short, accurate casts are called for from a boat or shore. But since you’ll be casting into cover, expect snags and expect to lose some jigs. Allow the jig to sink to sink to the desired depth, and then retrieve either smoothly and slowly, or impart a twitching action with the rod tip.
A small, clear casting bobber can be added up the line from the jig if it’s too light to cast the desired distance. The bobber will also prevent the jig from going down deeper than is set below the bobber. Boat anglers, when directly over a school of crappie, can drop a jig straight down and then twitch it around.
Crappie jigs come in many colors. Here are some guidelines. Light colors, like white, work well on clear days in clear water. Yellow is better on overcast days and at dawn and dusk. In off-colored water try dark colors like brown and blacks. Experiment with different styles and colors. These jigs are inexpensive. Sometimes color doesn’t even seem to matter.
Best Crappie Baits
Crappies love minnows, so if you prefer live minnow fishing, this is the way to go. Bait can be fished from shore, dock or boat. Most anglers use a bobber. Minnows are best hooked up through both lips.
Most experts agree that a slight movement of your bait is desirable. Flick the rod tip frequently to move your bait. Another basic principle is to change depths if the action is slow.
Frequently, larger crappies are deeper down than most bobber anglers suspect. These anglers use a sliding bobber rig to get their bait deeper while still being able to cast and retrieve the crappie to back near the rod tip. The main line slides through the slip bobber.
This rig can be reeled in all the way until the bobber is up against the swivel. That’s because the rubber band bobber-stop is small enough to pass smoothly through the rod line guides. After casting out, the sinker will pull the rig through the bobber until the bobber stop gets to the bobber. By changing the location of the bobber stop on the line, you can change dishing depth.
Tackle and Equipment
Just about any light freshwater tackle will do such as light spinning, spin casting, bamboo poles and long fly rods. Actually, the lighter the tackle the better, since it will help cast out the light jigs and baits. Ultralight spinning tackle is popular. The only other thing you’ll need is a a stringer or a collapsible fish basket.
Where to Fish for Crappies
Crappies are found in abundant supply in many Northern California lakes. Some of the lakes that are known for fine crappie fishing are Clear Lake, Camanche, Berryessa and Black Butte. Back sloughs and ditches in the Delta are also good. See the Freshwater Fishing posts for this.
Cleaning and Cooking
Many people clean crappie in the traditional way. Scale them by rubbing a knife or scaling tool from the tail of the fish to the head. Cut open the belly and remove the guts. Finally, cut off the head. Rinse them off and they’re ready for the pan.
An alternative for good-sized fish is to fillet them. This yields a little less meat, but filleting eliminates skin and bone in the cooked fish. See instructions on filleting in the Fish Cleaning category.
Sauteing the whole fish or individual fillets is most popular. Dip them into sifted flour and sprinkle with salt, pepper, parsley and lemon flakes (if desired). Melt butter in a hot skillet, toss in the fish and turn until golden brown. Another delicious method is to batter and deep fry pieces cut from fillets.