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The Fish for All Seasons: Crappie

Widespread and the target of those fishing for fun, food and even competition the crappie is one of America’s most popular gamefish. Listed as the fifth most sought-after species, the crappie has equipment and even boats designed with the crappie in mind. Found in every state except Hawaii and Alaska the white and black crappie are found in every kind of water and are notorious as schooling fish. Find one and they usually have friends. The world record for both species of crappie are both over five pounds! Because they like shallow water and submerged trees they are an ideal adversary for the kayak community. There are a wide variety of ways to catch crappie again adding to their popularity. A few examples are live bait in the form of minnows, casting small soft plastics, vertically jigging and even trolling bass style crankbaits in the dead of summer all are proven techniques.

My own introduction to crappie was purely accidental. Fishing smaller baits in search of bass I landed a few white crappies. Noticing a pattern of where they lived and what triggered these fish to “hit” I occasionally gave the bass a break and fished for bluegills and crappie.

Once relocating to Tennessee, I frequented a small river across the street from my home and while walking the shoreline caught a very respectable crappie on a fly rod. Hmmm? Soon launching a flat bottom Jon boat, I found the white and black species to be eager to bite and a pattern and life long relationship developed with these fish.

In an interview with Doyle and Phyllis Hudson owners of MidSouth Tackle they gave me some insight gleaned over decades of being on the crappie bait business. A controversy always rages of the question of color. Phyliss says, “anything chartreuse is a great color. Our top three crappie tube colors are chartreuse and black, number two is white / chartreuse and close behind is red and chartreuse.” Doyle added, “business is good when the economy is bad, people go fishing more. The bad weather, like droughts of the past hurts. The invasion of the silver carp has also destroyed some of our fisheries.” They both agreed that crappie fishing in the south is different as opposed to the north touting the clear water makes for tough fishing while southern stained waters produces crappie catches in 12 feet of water or less. You can contact them at

If you can’t catch crappie in the spring, you just can’t catch crappie! They move to shallow water in anticipation of the spawn. Surface water temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees has both species bunched up “looking for love.” Giant stringer of fish can be had starting earlier in the southern most states but typically in many areas late February through April is the time to load up and go. Over the years I’ve refined my tackle and techniques.

Go Soft for Slabs –

I’ve had the most success catching crappies with smaller soft plastic baits. At the top of my list are the MidSouth tackle tubes. My top producing colors are 0095 aka the Monteleone silver tube, 0650 Bloodshot, the cousin to the silver only with the addition of red glitter, 0100 GL a pearl color, 820C chartreuse red flake and 420 black/chartreuse red glitter. This collection of colors has me ready for most any water condition. I also carry pearl color curly tail grubs, Charlie Brewer Slider crappie grubs, small TTI roadrunner underspins and tiny Strike King “pond minnows”. I have a box dedicated to panfish, bluegill and crappie. I rig my plastics on a 1/8th ounce sickle leadhead. Carry lots of lead for two very specific reasons, 1. you’re using light line 2. in heavy cover.

Rods, Reels and Line –

My Lew’s rod a 6 ½ foot model M266MS medium action spinning rod coupled with a Lew’s light spinning reel the TLC 1000. This combo is light enough for all day fishing without fatigue and the performance of a reel giving ling casts, a great drag system and carefree years of service. I spool my reel with K9 brand 8-pound test braid and a six-foot length of K9 fluorocarbon leader. This set up allows for some light bass action also and works well for casting and playing fish around heavy cover as well as open water action. I often carry ultralight equipment also spooled with 4-6-pound test monofilament for the challenge and fun on the lightweight equipment. Choose an outfit that’s sensitive enough to transmit the lightest hit.

Finding Fish –

Wood, wood and more wood. Crappie hangout around wood to spawn, to hide and also to ambush minnows frequenting the wood to feed on the algae growth the hardwoods have to offer. Your local agency most likely has fish attractors and dedicated crappie enthusiasts sink brushpiles all over their favorite lakes. Depths in the spring can be a few feet and over 20 feet on the middle of summer. Crappie like other species can be patterned. Sometimes a slow gliding motion, other times a “swim, twitch” retrieve works. When the crappies are in a neutral or negative feeding mode a vertical presentation will often save the day (and fill the stringer).

Ethical Harvest –

When are “we” going to have a fish fry? That’s the question I get from friends when they see crappie pictures on my social media page. Debbie Brian and I do keep some fish. Occasionally some smaller legal bass, bluegill and of course some crappie. Debbie says, “I really enjoy catching crappie in between bass fishing and crappie are easily my favorite at the table.” I adopted a policy years ago when it came to keeping crappie especially out of smaller waters, I call it the 50/50 rule. If we are keeping early season fish the 50/50 applies, keep on, release one and so on. In the spring normally I release all my crappies so they can spawn and keep my secret spots full of fish. In June and later in the fall we will keep enough for a meal, likely five or six fish yielding 10 or 12 fillets. The legal limit in Tennessee is 15 fish at least 10 inches long.

Most bodies of water, any season of the year (even through the ice) crappies will bite, that’s why they are the “four seasons fish” the fish for all seasons