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Fishing for Crappie
Crappie are a fun and exciting fish to fish for, if you can get past their name. Which may explain why anglers have given it so many other nicknames: calico bass, strawberry bass, speck, paper mouth and slab. Whatever name you decide to use though, crappie are a very popular NY sportfish. Both black and white crappie can be found in the state with black crappie being more common. Crappie are popular for a number of reasons: their wide spread, fun to catch, can be caught both during the open water and hard water (ice) seasons, and are also very good table-fare. At times they can be fairly easy to catch, but at others they can be very frustrating. The current state record black crappie is a whopping 4 pounds 1 ounce; while the white crappie record is 3 pounds 13 ounces. Crappie must be 9 inches to keep and there is a 25 fish daily limit.
When looking at a crappie the first thing you may notice is that they have an upturned mouth and fairly large eyes. These are both things to keep in mind when you're fishing for them. Because of their upturned mouth they typically "feed-up", so it pays to present your bait or lure above the fish. When using a thin pencil style bobber, it's not uncommon, when a crappie bites, for the bobber to float up and lay on its side instead of going under like normal. Their large eyes allow them to feed under low light conditions and after dark; some good crappie fishing can take place after dark. Crappie, at times, also seem to be more color selective then other fish and it can pay to switch colors if your not getting bites.
Fishing for crappie during the early spring is generally done in shallow water, less than 8 feet deep, around docks, fallen trees or other woody structure along the shoreline. Rip-rap or rocky structures can also be good places to look. A nice thing about crappie is that when you find one you usually find a bunch, especially at this time of year. Backwater areas or protected bays are the first to warm up and can be good locations to start your search in spring. When searching for crappie work your way along the shoreline casting small jigs or minnows fished under a bobber. When fish are found, slow down, anchor and work the area thoroughly with minnows or jigs. If fishing from shore chose a shallow protected area where there is some woody structure. From shore you may have to pick a likely area and wait for the fish to come to you.
Fishing During the Spawn
As the water warms into the high 60's, crappie begin to spawn. Like other members of the sunfish family they build a nest (shallow bowel shaped depressions) and the males guard the young for a short period after hatching. Fishing for them is often a sight fishing game looking for fish, if the water is clear that is. A small jig fished under a bobber works really well for this fishing as it is easy to cast and you can work the bait in a small area by shaking the bobber.
After the spawn, crappie typically move to deeper water so fishing points, drop-offs, over weed beds or on the outside weed edges near spawning areas can be good places to start. Drifting over a weed flat with a jig or minnow under a bobber or casting in-line spinners or small spinnerbaits is a good way to cover water. This can also be a good time to drift with a jig fished with a fly rod spooled with a floating fly line. The fly line floats and helps keep your bait above the vegetation as you move along. You would want to use a 7-8 foot monofilament leader between the jig and fly line.
As summer progresses crappie often pull-off a disappearing act and seem to vanish from a lake. This can be a very difficult time to catch them. One reason for this is that they often suspend over open water, meaning they may be 10 feet down over 30 foot of water. Suspended fish are some of the hardest fish to locate and catch. There are times when they give themselves away by coming right up to the surface when feeding, but this doesn't happen too often. If you're lucky enough to see this happening cast your bait or lure right into the area and enjoy the action while it last, which usually isn't for very long. A good method to locate these open water crappie when they aren't showing themselves is to troll with small crankbaits or jigs, covering water and watching your depth finder looking for fish located up off the bottom. Once fish are found slow down, let the boat drift and try fishing with small minnows. This is a good time to have marker buoys handy so you can stay in the general area where fish are biting.
During the winter crappie also suspend and can be caught from immediately under the ice to just off bottom. It pays to start jigging from just under the ice and work your way down. Fishing the low light periods early and late are often best. Don't quit just because the sun is setting though, after dark is also productive on some water.
Baits and Lures
When choosing baits or lures for crappie, you generally want to keep them on the small size, in the 1 ½ -3 inch range. Good natural baits are small minnows, wax worms, night crawlers, mousies or spikes. Artificial lures also work well and many companies make small crankbaits and spinnerbaits just for crappies. Small jigs are the most used lure for crappie as they work well and come in a staggering variety of colors and styles. Jig heads in the 1/32 to 1/8 ounce will work in most situations. As mentioned above crappie are one of those fish that lure color seems too often make a difference. Carry a variety of colors from bright pink, yellow, chartreuse, white to more subtle colors like black or the many shades of watermelon. Fly anglers can also have fun by fishing nymphs, poppers or streamers for crappie. Bobbers or floats are very useful when fishing crappie, and let's face it, regardless of your age there is nothing quite as exciting as seeing a bobber go under. There are many types of bobbers to choose from, smaller is generally better though and you want one just big enough to stay afloat with whatever weight your using.
As most of the baits that you will use are small, spinning or spin-casting reels are a good choice. Match them with a light or ultra light action rod from 4 ½ - 8 or more feet in length. Longer rods are more forgiving and you're less likely to tear the hooks out of the fish, their called paper mouths for a reason. In NY State you can use three rods while fishing, which will let you try a variety of baits at one time. Many anglers also like to use two hooks or jigs on the same line when targeting crappie. Monofilament line will do for most applications, with 4-8 pound test being good choices. When fishing with bait, gold Aberdeen hooks, in sizes 4-8, are a good choice.
Crappie are found in most lakes and ponds in the state but their populations tend to be highly variable from year to year with some waters being "hot" one year and poor the next. Some waters are often good during certain periods of the year but very slow during others.