An important thing to understand is the crappie habits. Crappie are predators that hold to schools and can cover large areas of water, while chasing large schools of baitfish.
Baitfish is the key word here. Crappie almost exclusively eat other fish, nightcrawlers and other baits aren’t going to work as well.
There are two major species of Crappie. The black crappie, and the white crappie.
1. The Black Crappie (Promoxis nigro-maculatus).
Obviously, the black crappie is the darker of the 2 species. It also has 7-8 dorsal spines, as well as pronounced spotting in it’s sides.
The black crappie prefers larger, more acidic lakes, and are more predominate in the Northern states, and up into Canada. However, they do co-habitate with White Crappie often, because they prefer similar areas, as you’d expect.
It is rare for white crappie and black crappie to inter-breed, but it does occur. Black crappie also inter-breed with Flier Sunfish (Centrarchus macropterus)… but only in extremely rare cases.
2. White Crappie (Promoxis annularis).
Of course, the white crappie is lighter, and has only 6 dorsal spines. It also has 8-9 dark-colored bands on it’s sides, and typically inhabits the southern states.
This species can usually be found in slow flowing rivers, quiet backwaters… but also inhabits larger bodies of water, though not as frequently.
They can also handle rougher waters than their black crappie kin.
Both species of crappie can grow to over 5 pounds, though the average size is slightly under 1 pound.
You can break down the behavior of crappie into four seasonal modes.
The pre-spawn conditions usually occur when the water temperatures reaches 60 degrees.
This can happen as late as May or June. or as early as February in warmer climates.
The crappie having been in their winter habitat, but will now move towards the shallows (8-10 feet) — following lines of cover.
The males move first. They will congregate in these areas before moving into shallower waters (2-3 feet) to build nests near the cover.
The femailes will follow shortly after, and pick a male to breed with.
During this time, you can catch crappie easily with live minnows and jigs.
2. The Spawn.
Once the females have a mate, they move into the nest, lay eggs, and the eggs are fertalized.
When this is complete, females move out to deeper waters, while the males guard the nexts. The “fry” will hatch when the water temperature gets to between 60-65 degrees.
During this phase, males attack ANYTHING that approaches the nest…and you can catch them with ease.
You’ll have best success with something as simple as a cane pole with a minnow or jig.
3. Post Spawn.
Once the fry have hatched, the males and females school along the cover in deeper water to recover.
They can be frustrating to catch in this phase because they oftentimes suspend at a certain depth, away from cover, and will not move to take bait more than a few inches away from them.
Post spawn is one of the toughtest times to catch them all year long… and when the water warms up, they’ll click into a summer “mode” of migrating to favorable temperatures, and areas where there are baitfish.
You’ll find them near structure (this holds true almost always…), near the thermocline, and around large schools of baitfish — especially shad and minnows.
Typically they’ll be deeper during the day, at night they’ll rise up to about 5 feet deep.
The bad news: they’re a little tougher to find. The good news: when you do find them, they’ll actively feed.
Once things start cooling off, and the water temperature drops to the low 60s, crappie will migrate to the 15-20 foot depth range, suspending over structure.
They’ll hold at this depth all winter, until pre-spawn comes around again.
Additionally, they will still feed, but smaller baits work best… and move them slowly. Stick to small jigs, small minnow… and you’ve got to get your baits right in front of their noses.
You can find some great crappie fishing action during the winter, mostly because there is far less fishing pressure, and the crappie move around less.