Crappie are fun to catch — and eat

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be successful fishing for crappie, and it’s probably the one reason many anglers essentially thumb their noses in even trying for them.

Crappie has been one of my favorite fisheries for years. Don’t discount them. On light tackle, they’re a tremendous amount of fun; on the dinner table, they make for tremendous eating.

Prime time for crappie fishing is quickly approaching, when they school and head for shallow water to spawn.

The name alone is somewhat confusing. Most will pronounce it “CRAW-pee” while others call them “CRAP-pee.” Either way is correct, mostly defined from which part of the country you first heard the name.

There are two distinct breeds: black and white. While there is white crappie in California, most of what we take is black crappie. White crappie prefer a discernible current, the silted water of rivers and reservoirs, while black crappie prefer the calmer and clearer water with more vegetation. It’s one reason that during the spawning season you’ll find black crappie around heavy structure, like brush.

As a generic fish, crappie has a couple of other names: “papermouths,” in reference to the fragile, thin membrane surrounding its mouth; and “slabsides.” Once they’re scaled, gilled, gutted and beheaded, you’re left with a large “slab” for eating.

Most foothill lakes and sloughs throughout the region hold crappie, but generally you’re going to find larger crappie in lakes and reservoirs. Amador, Camanche and Camp Far West hold good populations. Sloughs, such as Lisbon, will produce good stringers, but you’ll usually find the crappie to be smaller. The Port of Sacramento region holds a sizeable population.

Most anglers, myself included, prefer using live minnows as bait. To be effective, that minnow must be alive, as crappie won’t inhale an inactive, dead minnow. If you’ve done the unthinkable and run out of minnows, you can give your dead minnow a somewhat live appearance by jigging the rod tip lightly, but this will only work if there is a strong bite occurring.

If you want to preserve some minnows and there is a hot, active bite, switch to a crappie jig. There are numerous styles and colors so you might have to experiment to find out what they prefer at that particular time.

Water temperature of 62-65 degrees is prime for crappie. At that point, they’ll congregate in shallower water for the spring spawn.

They’re prolific fish. While I’ve caught crappie to four pounds, a half-pound female will produce up to 50,000 eggs. Problem is, it’s a real fight for survival. The adult fish feed on their own young.

When the spring spawn occurs, the beginning and end times will be the slowest, while the in-between can be so hot and heavy your hands never get the chance to dry off from dipping into the minnow bucket for more bait.

You’ll find crappie by any structure — trees and brush. After dark, you’ll find a large school moving in under docks. For brush and trees, nose the boat into the structure and tie up. Hook on a minnow and let ’er down.

You can find hidden, underwater structure on your depth finder. Drift on the spot and use the electric motor to stay on top of it.

Prime fishing time for crappie is early mornings, late afternoons and after dark. If you’re going to fish after dark, you’ll need the assistance of a “crappie light,” of which there are two types. The most common, for shallower water during spawning time, is a headlight surrounded by a ring of Styrofoam with alligator clips that attach to a 12-volt battery.

The light attracts a whole food chain, beginning with bugs and microbes that smaller fish will feed on, thereby attracting crappie. Fish off to the side of the light.

You’re usually going to lose tackle because of where you fish for crappie. That means you have to drop that minnow beside or in the midst of the brush and trees.

Depth can vary. Start at the bottom and work your way up slowly, trying various depths until you start picking up fish.

Because the membrane behind their lips is so fragile, it’s suggested that you use no more than a fine-wire No. 6 hook. A heavy hook will make a big hole in that soft, thin membrane, and chances of losing fish are greatly increased.

Contact George deVilbiss at at