When it comes to American angling, crappie are unique fish. The world is home to only two species—the black crappie and white crappie—and both are native to North America.
Black crappie originated in the eastern half of the United States with the exception of the northeastern seaboard. Starting in the late 1800s, introduction efforts expanded the range of the species to nonnative eastern sections as well as territories in the West and Midwest.
The original range of the white crappie extended from eastern South Dakota to New York south to Alabama and Texas. This species has also been widely introduced to new waters, and like the black crappie, it now thrives in all lower 48 states.
Together, these two species comprise our most popular group of American panfish. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at least 6.1 million U.S. anglers aged 16 years and older fish for them. Only black bass, trout and catfish are more popular.
Crappie don’t fight hard, and they don’t get very big, either. A 3-pounder is a monster, and it may bite so lightly you won’t even know it’s there. People love crappie, nevertheless, because they are widespread, abundant in numbers, relatively easy to catch year-round and among the most delicious fish on the planet.
Yet, the primary question for panfish anglers remains: “Where can I fish so I have the greatest chance of catching as many crappie as the law allows?”
With so many possibilities, that can be a tough question to answer. But after extensive research, I believe the following 10 states encompass more topnotch crappie hotspots than any others. Plan a trip to one of these best states for crappie this year and you’ll have a better than average chance of loading a live well, cooler or stringer with limit after limit of these scrumptious panfish, including, if you’re lucky, some true slabs weighing 2 to 3 pounds or more.
- The Prairie State often gets overlooked when great crappie states are mentioned, but some of the enormous slabs caught there in recent years show it’s a must-visit locale if you want a chance at a true wall-hanger. Kinkaid Lake near Murphysboro, for example, produced a 4-pound, 5-ounce fish in 2010, and a 4.5-pound hybrid crappie was pulled from a Jefferson County farm pond in 2008. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the best lakes for big black crappie are Evergreen, Shelbyville and Carlyle, and the best white crappie lakes are Braidwood, Heidecke and Shelbyville. Here, Kyle Schoenherr, who guides on Rend Lake, Kinkaid Lake and Lake of Egypt, shows a crappie typical of those often caught in these southern Illinois impoundments. Photo Provided by Keith Sutton
About the Author
With a resumé listing more than 3,800 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith “Catfish” Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2012, he was enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator. The 12 books he’s written are available through his website.