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Updated: 2012

By John A Vance
special note for diehard crappie fishers!
"Just Crappie" - the book - now available at my product page.
This book is for the dedicated and hard-core crappie fishers of the northern US and Canada, north of the Mason-Dixon line. It covers large medium and small water bodies and includes a large chapter on ice fishing.  Find out where crappie go - and why - after the relatively easy spring fishery. Not the 'same old, same old'!
 After reading the article below - go to product page, please!

NEW FOR 2012 – Audio Cd instructionals – on a host of topics, including crappie!

Please surf my products page – or email me for more info...

Crappie fishing is excellent fun, a wholesome treat for the whole family too! 
Trouble is, many have trouble finding them after the waters have warmed up a bit in early summer. But finding crappie isn't rocket science, if you know a bit about this relatively flat looking critter. 

Photo, a nice crappie, and when cooked up taste much like perch - except sweeter!  This one is a nice greenish colour, but out of some water-bodies, they will be a silvery color.

Crappie are also called 'Calico Bass' by some fisher-folk in a few areas of this fine fish's range, and there are both white and black crappies as distinct and individual species.   Primarily  we'll be dealing with the black crappie as it is on the overall more aggressive, and  thus enjoys a larger  habitation range across most of North America. Fortunately for crappie enthusiasts, fishing techniques for both the white and black crappie are much the same.

Black crappie prefer warmer water than many fish, and you'll find their range extending into southern Ontario Canada, especially all around the Great Lakes Basin,  Having said that, some of the finest crappie fishing I know of is in central Ontario in the Muskoka/Haliburton area. I recently found a nice pocket of slab crappies near my home waters in NORTHEASTERN ONTARIO. Excellent crappie fishing can also be had in the Rainy River area of Northwestern Ontario, too. Of course, the bulk of the crappie's range is in the US, where the more southerly sun exposure warms the water to a higher degree than in the north.  But all those reading this should take note that in the water around Georgian Bay, and into the Lake  Simcoe area of Ontario (Canada), crappies have been rated as OVER POPULATED in many watersheds! For those so inclined, these waters can afford excellent fishing opportunity for 'slab' crappie. 

Photo; a nice catch of crappie from over populated waters of  Ontario's Georgian Bay watersheds. The trouble is, overpopulated fish can be stunted out and relatively smaller than the fabulous dinner plate sized slab crappies!

To ardent crappie fisher persons, 'slab' crappie is the name given to larger members of this fish, which to many fisherman - would translate into 'a lunker'. Such fish have absolutely huge slabs of meat on them. Once these fish attain roughly the ten inch size they start to fill out substantially on the back area where we take our fillets from. A 12 to 14 inch 'slab' has as much sweet while flesh as a three to four pound walleye!

Perhaps more crappie are taken in the spring-time than any other season of the year, partly due to their accessibility. During the spring they come into the shallows, usually shortly after ice-out, and remain their until after their spawning period, usually occurring in mid-May to early June in the cooler northern waters.  The  shallow water is the first ice-free water areas, and they warm-up sooner than the deeper and subsequently colder waters. 
 In my book “Just Crappie” I describe in great detail where and how to catch slabs, specifically


For sure, this thought would make a tackle shop owner giggle/grin - the sky's the limit if you wish! -  THIS IS NOT NECESSARY, though, as you prefer - or as your budget may dictate. Downright decent crappie fishing can be accomplished with mighty meager tackle.  I'll cover some of the basic stuff, and let you go from there. If your budget can handle it, you can blossom out and obtain what you can afford. It should go without saying I go more in-depth as to tackle and techniques in my book "Just Crappie". The Pro and Semi Pro fishers that have read it simply love it - it is comprehensive and covers much new ground not discussed by anyone else. If you are an ardent crappie fisher - or wanna-be crappie enthusiast - this book IS for YOU! 


Personally, I prefer to use a five foot ultra light rod, using four lb test Trilene XL.  The reason for the four lb test, rather than the two lb test is simply because most of the waters I fish also hold reasonably large smallmouth and largemouth bass, and the occasional  mundo (slang for 'very large') pike, as well as the the odd walleye.
The new fine braided lines are also superb. Because these lines have zero stretch - they transmit back to you ( especially if using a graphite rod) the smallest/subtlest nibble/bite. IF USING THESE BRAIDED LINES - I URGE YOU to use a fluorocarbon leader on the end of the braided line. This is because crappie can be light and finicky - and they simply CANNOT SEE the fluorocarbon leader AT ALL! As an added bonus, the fluorocarbon leader gives you back a small amount of stretch. This is important because a slab crappie, when it's making a power lunge just before being netted/boated can snap/break a line. The stretch afforded by the leader can give just enough stretch to mean the difference between success and failure. When using said braided lines, I will use a light  line, usually in either 6 or 8 lb test.

Ultra light long, in an eight foot rod or longer is also fine to use for crappie, but personally I find them cumbersome to cast and maneuver around. But either of the two choices are good (long or short UL). In either case, choose a small reel that has a good drag/tension system, as your bound to catch larger fish occasionally too. Make NO MISTAKE - a twelve inch crappie is a POWERFUL SCRAPPER!

If you are going to use standard gear that you already have - this is fine - I've used six and seven foot conventional rod reel combos for years, and did very well thank-you.  I like to use four lb test line on the standard rod & reel set-up, and have a spare spool along with six lb test line for switching over to bass or pike if I'm not able to get a 'line on' crappie on any given day.


Again, tackle shops have a whole huge panorama of crappie catching paraphernalia - each one supposedly better than the one beside it! 
Plain & simple is the best way to start off - you can fill your tackle box - and likely will - over time.  But here's the basic stuff you should consider. 

Plain Bait Hooks - choose short shank hooks, the best quality you can afford.  The standard shank hooks are fine too, but I've personally gotten used to the short shank jobbies - less metal for a fish to detect - and spit out.  Size six hooks are as large as I like to use for crappie, and I prefer a size eight hook for serious crappie fishing.  These should also be the favored size ranges for any lures or flies or jigs used in crappie fishing.  Use small hooks for minnows.  Incidentally, the best sized minnow for crappie I've found, will be not longer than about two inches, with inch-and-a-halfer's best! When possible I will ALWAYS use a small tag of real LIVE BAIT such as crawler or a maggot or wax worm. The Berkley GULP! baits can also dupe crappie. IF you are going to consitently fish for slabs, then use either size six or four hooks so tat you have a bit more metal – crappie's mouths are brittle and fine wire hooks will easily rip out – and fish gone a real drag if it's a biggy!
At my product page you'll find some impressive and exclusive crappie lures NOT available ANYWHERE ELSE - such as my Crappie Drifter line of tackle! Inexpensive, basic - and they work!

When choosing colors for twister tails, flies etc. my all time crappie favorite is chartreuse, followed by yellow. In the early spring, white is also good, especially if there is some fuchsia or hot pink in combination.  Bright greens are also good - in fact any fluorescent color will have value on various days.  If it is cloudy, early morning or late evening, use black, white, chartreuse or dark colors.. Use jet black if fishing at night! 

Jigs should be small, and I like a thirty-second of an ounce jigs best. See my product page for exclusive jigs that can be used for BOTH under slip bobbers especially - and for ICE FISHING! My Tick Jig - especially my exclusive GLOW ON BLACK has taken thousands of crappie and 'gills and perch across North America! This is not bragging - it's fact! Over the years I've worked on and developed a number of my own exclusive colors – and even I have never managed to 'better' my own glow on black coloring. My new glow on black – ultimate is good, for sure. I paint any/all of my exclusive crappie jigs myself, and use special paint...but since I don't wish to train my competitors, just know that I've used science and savvy to come up with some amazingly effective stuff! Because I've been a professional fisher/outdoor writer for OVER FORTY YEARS – this adds up to a LOT of hours in the field – THOUSANDS of hours...but I've digressed, haven't I!

Small spinner type lures can be a great thing, especially in the summer just before dark.  After my own exclusive crappie drifter series of lures, I like the Panther Martin with Fly best.  Troll or drift fish just out and off a weed line - and get ready - fish on! If you have decent crappie water and wish to hunt out the slabs, then I urge you to get my book Just Crappie because I tell you where/how and why!


Some of the time you'll be fishing  up off the bottom ( slabs, especially are notorious for suspending), and I will use a slip bobber to keep my bait/lure in the 'kill zone'.  Use the best quality  SLIP BOBBER you can afford.   Slip bobbers are great for crappie fishing, and I urge you to learn the simple procedures needed to properly fish them - not rocket science - and they'll open a whole new fishin' dimension for you, and expand your fishing savvy for other fishing opportunities too.  If you are gong to choose bobbers, you want the most sensitive types you can handle.  Thill 'Stealth', and 'Mini Stealth's' are excellent bobbers for many applications - especially crappie.   I also carry a high quality but inexpensive AMERICAN MADE slip bobbers - and with the slip bobbers ARE MY EXCLUSIVE DIRECTIONS on how to set them up and use them. If you've never used a slip bobber before, then these directions will be worth every bit as much as the bobbers - and they're free with the bobbers! I want you to succeed! simply go to my product page – or email me – I'm here for ya!


As mentioned, crappie come into shallow areas just after ice-out as the water starts to warm.  After the ice has been out about a week to ten days, and the water  has warmed a bit more, these fine little denizens go on feeding frenzies, seemingly making up for the long cold winter.  Crappie will be eating many of the insect life (types) and small minnows found in these 'warming' areas. 

Summer will find crappie hanging out in open sections of water, and often in other favored locations such as around bridge abutments, rock piles and similar structure.  They especially like 'hangin out' behind such places when they are in a current, such as when they're in a river-shed, rather than a lake.  They don't like too much current however, and will use  structure such as the bridge abutments and rock piles etc. to break the flow/current for them. 

Crappie are not generally a deep water fish, although they may be found suspended in sometimes relatively deep water. Most often though, they'll be up in the top layer of water, usually not much deeper than 15 feet down. I go into some of the exceptions to this in much more detail in my book "Just Crappie"

As a simple rule of thumb, I've taken more crappies in the five foot down range of water, in water that is ten to twenty feet deep, than at all other depths.( best re-read this over again so you grasp what I'm saying - or contact me by email for more/further discussion - that's what I'm here for)  Once in a while though, you WILL find them in deeper water, but I've found most often, for excellent crappie fishin'', the water won't be too deep. If you are ardent and wish to learn in-depth info on crappie and why they do what they do, and at a particular time of the year, then my book "Just Crappie" is for you.  As mentioned, my favored choice of depth to start fishing at is five foot down. I'll vary this BOTH ways, when trying to locate and hunting out crappie.  In a nutshell, find water that is about 20 feet deep, put on a slip bobber rigged for at about five foot down, using your lure/bait. If nothing is doing at this depth within ten minutes, change the depth at which the bait/lure is at.  You can also use Bear Paw connectors to attach other hook set-ups if need be at any depth/interval.  This will enable you to test the various depth levels for crappie where-a-bouts, quickly!  If you prefer to troll, my crappie drifter line are superb – and I usually tag on an inch of crawler or very small minnow. Using my exclusive weight stackers that come with a trolling formula, you can achieve almost any depth you need to – for the slabs in bigger water...


Once you've arrived at your desired location, bait up, cast out your rig with about five feet of line under a bobber.  Let this rig simply drift around.  If nothing is happening, vary your depth accordingly, up or down about a foot at a timeTry various depths until you hit fish.  I've caught crappie right on and very near to the top, with less than a foot of line under the bobber, as well as occasionally catching them right next to the bottom. As a rule of thumb - if you are picking up the occasional perch, smallmouth bass, or bottom feeder type fish - you're likely fishing too deep.  I have rarely (but have - none-the-less) caught crappie right off the bottom, but only during the early spring, and usually just after ice-out. 

The single most important tip for catching crappie that I can give you is to very GENTLY - keep your bait/lure moving - EVER SO SLIGHTLY.  You'll have the best chance of landing a crappie doing this - they bite so incredibly softly, and if you allow your bait to just sit there, they'll mouth and fool around with the bait/lure - and drive you nuts. If you are lucky enough to catch a fish using the 'just sit there' method - you'll be very lucky indeed - and likely the fish will have swallowed the hook. BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR HOOKS NEEDLE SHARP - NOTHING ELSE WILL DO! 

I hope you've enjoyed my basic crappie fishing write-up - look for my  BOOK - "JUST CRAPPIE"  Please check out my product page for  the book and some other super stuff -  Also - review the jig fishing 'how to' section ( see side bar to the left) - there are some great crappie fishin' techniques for ya!

NEW FOR spring/summer 2012 – AUDIO Cds on crappie fishing – so you can learn at home or while you're driving to work! Maybe you just don't like to read books! Simply email me for pricing and availability! These isnstructional Cds are NOT me bragging about the fish I catch, but are plain/simple fishing knowledge – nothing fancy – just the info you need to know to become proficient at what we do – John A. Vance!

Author: John A Vance
Copyright © 1998 John A Vance. . . 

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