Fisherman are an interesting group of people. For one thing we have a hard time agreeing upon what a fish should be called.
Growing up, the term “Crappie” was the preferred nomenclature. However, after traveling around and talking to other fisherman I’ve heard them called croppie, papermouth, speckled perch, and — this one really stumps me — strawberry bass.
Despite all the different names, it seems that no matter what part of the country you’re in these are a wildly popular game fish. And not only are they fun to catch, but they are regarded as one of the best tasting freshwater fish.
So if you’re looking to have a fish fry there are few things finer than carousing a lake in your kayak and bouncing jigs around brush piles for these wonderful fish.
Below we’ll talk about exactly how to do that.
How to find crappie
Fishing for crappie is a staple in North America. And as such they can be found in just about any body of water from lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers.
Many states stock these fish in public fishing areas so they are readily accessible to the public. However, they are not found in all public or private waters so it’s always best to do some research first before heading out.
After you’ve done your research and picked out your lake, you’ll need to know how to locate them in the water. Depending on the water temperature, crappie can be found in many different areas.
Seasons of crappie
In the winter time you’ll find them near bridge pilings, docks, and deep ledges near brush.
In the summer and fall you can find them in deep water near structure, but they can begin to move shallow in mornings, evenings, or low light conditons.
The spring is more diverse because they have three separate patterns: pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn.
- In the pre-spawn you’ll find fish moving shallower looking for food.
- During the spawn they can be found shallow up on their beds and will eat just about anything you throw at them.
- During the post-spawn they’re heading back into deeper water. Be on the look out for creek channels that lead away from spawning flats or structure near beds.
Picking out your crappie tackle
There are many different types of lures you can use, but a jig with trailer is one of the more affective approaches.
When fishing over a brush pile you can either cast to it and allow the lure to sink to the fish’s level then retrieve. Or, you could vertically jig it. This is where you drop it down over the side of your kayak and either bounce or wiggle it in order to entice a strike.
🎣 Pro-tip: Try varying your depths when using this method to see what the fish like best.
It can be overwhelming when picking out your jig trailer.
If you’re not sure what to get then stick with a light natural color with a straight tail and then get one with a curly tail. Then pick a dark color in those same patterns. Use only these when first starting out and then you can branch out and pick up different colors and sizes as you become more proficient.
🎣 Pro-tip: Many crappie fisherman swear by chartreuse as their “go-to” jig color. Try one of these if you need to add some chartreuse to your crappie tackle box.
Crankbait and live bait
During the summertime, using a crankbait can be very effective. The usual thought is that when the water heats up the fish slow down. But throwing a deep diving crankbait and allowing it to kick up dirt and sand will trigger a reaction strike.
Look to throw a crankbait that can dive to 12-20 feet and run it along ledges, flats and channels. You can burn this past structure as well, but be careful you do not get snagged on anything as this will result in a lost lure.
If you’re interested in throwing live bait then minnows will work the best. Worms and crickets can be used; however, minnows are the preferred prey. These will work best when suspended underneath a slip sinker, or free floating.
Crappie have very delicate bites so you man not know if one is on until you see your bobber slowly moving sideways, so keep a close eye.
Other essential gear
Using a fly rod to fish for crappie can be extremely fun, especially when they are actively looking for food and there are insects out.
Throwing a dragon fly popper can produce some very nice sized fish and it’s always fun seeing them attack on the surface. This strategy works best in the mornings and evenings during the spring and summer when you’ll find more fish in the shallows looking up in the water column.
If a fly rod is not your game then your best bet is to use a spinning rod.
With this set up you can effectively fish any kind of bait or lure you wish. This is perfect for throwing smaller and lighter lures and will allow you to cast out a small jig with ease.
You’ll want to use fluorocarbon line in the 4-6lb test range. This will allow you to use delicate presentations and is thin enough that the line will be virtually invisible to the fish.
If you want to troll with crankbaits and want to get your lure down deeper then move your line up to a heavier test — typically 8-10lbs. The heavier line will get your crankbait deeper into the water.
Spider Rigging: your secret weapon
Spider rigging is usually done from larger boats but you could set up a couple rod holders and effectively use this in a kayak as well. It may take some jerry rigging but you could easily have 3-5 rods in the water by using the technique.
This is best used if you want to cover a lot of water quickly and want to do so at varying depths or lures. Perfect for the angler on a small lake who is not familiar with the water, or for someone who knows where the crappie are schooling.
🎣 Pro tip: Once you have hooked into a fish, take note of what lure and depth it hit at.
Crappie fishing tips
- Look for docks, bridge pilings, or brush piles.
- Attempt to scout the lake, but if you’re not able to yourself you can use a topographic map to look for ledges and drop-offs where fish like to hang out.
- You can also ask friends that live in the area, or call up local tackle shops to ask them.
- If you’re not the social type or prefer doing it yourself then sonar is going to be your best friend. Just be prepared to do some paddling around and marking spots for a while before settling down to fish.
- If you’ve found fish but they aren’t biting, try switching up the color of your lure first before moving on. Sometimes a pink jig or crankbait will entice when a white one won’t.
- You can also try on a horsehead jig with a blade. That extra vibration coming from the blade will help trigger strikes from any lethargic fish.
Common crappie mistakes
A common mistake when fishing for crappie is sitting in one spot too long. You’ve found fish, you’ve switched your lures a few times, and still — nothing.
That means it’s time to move on.
Changing your lures a few times can be beneficial, but being scared to move because you know this spot holds fish is the wrong move. If they’re not hitting anything then give them a rest and go look for a new area. Since you know that spot holds fish you can always come back to it later.
Not using a map or sonar to find areas that fish key on is another common mistake (and often leads to the mistake mentioned above about fishing one spot too long!).
You can troll a lake looking for crappie but the majority of the time they’ll be holding to cover, on ledges, or near drop offs.
Spider rigging your kayak and trolling a lake can be effective but it is even more effective when trolled past spots you know that fish like to hold to. And the only way to do that is to utilize your electronics or have a map handy.
The Afterparty — Catch N’ Cook
The great American fish fry is a summer tradition and one that many people still indulge in.
After you’ve enjoyed your day on the water, share your bounty of fish with friends, family, neighbors or whoever else. Below is an easy recipe that even the most inexperienced cook can follow and succeed with.
- 1lb filets
- 2 cups enriched cornmeal
- ½ cup self-rising flour
- 2 teaspoons of cayenne (add or subtract depending on how much heat you like)
- Old bay
Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Dredge filets in milk then cover in dry ingredient mixture. Have oil preheated to 350 F and drop in filets one at a time. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Then serve with any side you prefer. Hushpuppies, slaw, and potato salad all will work well.
It’s to the point where you can be just as effective catching crappie from a nice sit on top kayak rather than a jon or bass boat.
If anything, kayaks may have an advantage over the larger motorized vessels. The reason for this is that almost all lakes hold crappie, but not all lakes have a boat ramp.
So, if you want the versatility to catch crappie anywhere at any time, then it’s worth it to take a look at a kayak.