As youths, many anglers began fishing for crappie, bluegills and other panfish before “graduating” to largemouth bass. As Baby Boomers grow older, many bass anglers of that generation simply cannot fish as hard as they once did or choose not to, but they still enjoy outwitting finny foes. Many returned to fishing for crappie, bringing old favorite techniques with them.
“For most of my life, I competed in bass tournaments at various levels from local clubs to FLW,” recalled Dan Dannenmueller, professional crappie angler from Wetumpka, Ala. “Many older anglers still love to fish, but can’t do what they used to do anymore. I switched to fishing for crappie because it’s a lot of fun, not as stressful on the body and I still enjoy competing.”
Not long ago, crappie anglers typically dangled live minnows from bobbers near visible cover. That technique still works, but recently, anglers began fishing crappie tournaments similar to bass events. To beat highly skilled competition, anglers must step up to the next level with techniques. In addition, many companies now sell products designed specifically for crappie fishing.
“Crappie fishing today is very high tech, and the tactics are not that much different than fishing for bass,” Dannenmueller explained. “Many tactics and techniques carry over from bass to crappie fishing and vice versa. We use crankbaits and other hard plastics that most people think of only as traditional bass baits.”
A bass eats essentially the same forage as crappie of similar size. Both species enjoy munching minnows, shiners, threadfin shad and other finfish.
“Really large crappie hit large baits, just like bass,” remarked Jimmy Houston, professional bass angler from Cookson, Okla. “It takes a lot to fill them both up. Big crappie hit spinnerbaits, crankbaits or even large plastic worms. As a crappie gets larger, it’s going to eat bigger things. With a bigger bait, anglers might not get as many bites, but they’ll usually catch bigger fish.”
Since they feed upon the same forage, bass and large crappie frequently hit similar lures. Bass anglers often catch big crappie on lures, while crappie anglers commonly catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, depending upon location.
A large crappie might hit almost anything a bass might hit, but anglers specifically targeting crappie generally need to downsize baits and work them less vigorously. While a bass likes an erratic bait, finicky crappie prefer subtle movement. Crappie typically won’t chase baits very far, but might stare at something a long time before pouncing on it.
Since crappie primarily eat fish, stick to lures that mimic baitfish. Probably more than any other lure; swimbaits closely resemble baitfish. While bass anglers might throw large swimbaits, crappie enthusiasts should stick to 2.5- to 3-inch baits.
Jigs also resemble live prey. While bass anglers traditionally fish entangling cover with jigs tipped with craw trailers, a variation of that technique works for crappie. For crappie, use a smaller jig, one about 2 to 3 inches long and tipped with a minnow-like trailer instead of a craw. Just like for bass, work the jig through cover. When the jig hits a snag, pull it up and over, then let it drop. A falling bait imitates a wounded baitfish and few crappie can resist an easy meal.
Crappie occasionally suck up a Texas-rigged plastic worm, but a 2- to 3-inch finesse worm worked almost like baitfish can prove irresistible, particularly when fishing clear water. Use just enough weight to make the bait slowly sink. Fish this around brush piles, fallen treetops or next to stumps.
During the hottest and coldest times, big crappie frequently bury themselves deep in brush piles. When that happens, try drop-shotting them. A drop-shot consists of a weight tied to the end of a line. Above the weight, tie a hook or a small leader. Hook on a small plastic bait and drop it into a pile. For fishing really thick cover, insert the hook point into the plastic.
“A drop-shot is a good way to fish for deep crappie,” Dannenmueller said. “Don’t move it too vigorously. Just leave it in place and jiggle it a little in the fish’s face. Many people only throw a couple casts at a brush pile and might catch one or two fish before moving to another pile, but I’ve seen people catch 50 crappie off one pile or laydown.”
When crappie go really deep, try a jigging spoon. Small, heavy and compact, a chrome jigging spoon sinks quickly and flutters like a dying shad. Anglers can cast or fish it vertically. After the spoon hits bottom, lift it up a foot or two. Hold it there a few moments and then drop it again. Fish spoons around drop-off edges, deep rocks, brush piles or similar cover.
Whether casting or trolling, small, lipped or lipless crankbaits in shad colors make excellent choices for tempting big crappie. Work these baits more slowly than for bass. Pause occasionally to let the lure hover in the water.
“I run crankbaits at different depths,” said Roper. “I set one to run shallow, one for middle depths and some deeper. Some days, fish suspend extremely high in the water column. On other days, they go deeper. We also stagger the distances the baits run from the boat.”
Jerkbaits resemble longer and more slender crankbaits with short lips to make them dive when jerked. For casting or trolling, these minnow-like lures drive crappie crazy at times. Some jerkbaits float and others suspend or slowly sink.
“Small jerkbaits can produce a lot of big crappie and some bass,” Dannenmueller commented. “Many people use jerkbaits in the post-spawn, but jerkbaits can work all year long. In the winter, casting a jerkbait and working it across brush tops can prove highly effective for tempting suspended crappie.”
An old favorite, spinnerbaits also attract crappie. For years, anglers used small beetle spinners, in-line spinners tipped with plastic, feathers or fur, or jighead spinners to entice crappie. Bass anglers prefer “safety-pin” spinnerbaits, which feature bent wires holding one or more blades over jigheads, often tipped with plastic skirts. With the wire guards deflecting branches, rocks or other hard objects, spinnerbaits can usually slip through tight places that other lures cannot penetrate.
“Like bass, really large crappie go to the thickest cover they can find, so that’s where I fish,” Houston advised. “The right spinnerbait can get into thicker cover than a tube jig or some other crappie baits. I roll the bait through the brush hitting branches, snags and other things in the way and let it flutter down through there.”
While bass anglers can catch crappie on big spinners, anglers specifically targeting crappie should use spinnerbaits in the 1/16- to 1/8-ounce range. Sometimes, a 1/4-ounce spinnerbaits tempts monster crappie.
Any of these proven bass techniques can put big crappie into the boat. Just don’t get in a hurry. Downsize lures and work them more slowly with less erratic action. Pause more frequently and above all else — fish where big crappie like to feed with something that mimics their preferred prey.
Crappie Planer Boards
For years, walleye and striped bass aficionados employed planer boards to fish baits at varied depths simultaneously. More recently, crappie anglers adopted this technique.
Run a line through a floating plastic planer down to a weight and tie on about a 4-foot-long fluorocarbon leader. With such a setup, anglers can pull diminutive crankbaits, spinners, jigs or other enticements on multiple rods to cut a huge swath through the water.
This technique works well for running baits parallel to drop-offs, around humps or over bottom contours. To set the running depth, change the line length between the board and the weight. Allow about one extra foot for the bait on the leader to sink deeper than the weight. Troll this rig at about one mile per hour, being sure to keep baits above where the fish are holding.