When “Crappie” Is Good

crappieCrappie fishing; continuously changing, with no “typical fishing day.” In fact, when it comes to crappie fishing, you can count on one thing–that for every generalization you make, the opposite frequently applies. For instance, crappie are often caught through the ice, but the best fishing is in the spring, from ice-out to midsummer. While early morning and evening are prime fishing times, crappie will bite throughout the day. I usually fish with white or silver lures, but sometimes only black will do. Depending on the time of the day and year, crappie can be found in one foot of water or the deepest part of the lake.

Known by a variety of names, from calico and strawberry bass to papermouth, the correct pronunciation of this fish is “crop-ee”. Classified as a warmwater fish species, crappie occur in almost all types of water including lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and impoundments. They are schooling fish, and are frequently found where there is structure in the water such as brush, logs, stumps, emergent vegetation, rocky shoals or man-made piers and docks. If you’re not getting snagged, you’re not crappie fishing.

New York is home to two species of crappie, `black and white, both of which occur throughout the state. The black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) is more widespread and abundant, while the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) is more tolerant of murky or cloudy water. Members of the sunfish family (which includes bass, bluegill and pumpkinseed), both species of crappie are very similar in appearance, making it difficult to tell them apart. In fact, the New York State record white crappie, caught in 2001, was initially misidentified as a black crappie.

Crappie can grow to fairly large sizes in New York, with the state records being 3 pounds, 13 ounces for the white crappie, and 3 pounds, 12 ounces for the black crappie. However, the average crappie is much smaller, generally under 1 1/2 pounds in weight and 7 to 14 inches in length. Recently, New York State enacted a 9-inch minimum size limit for crappie because studies indicated that fish less than 9 inches in length had not attained sexual maturity.

Crappie are the perfect fish for the average worm-dunker to pursue. These fish are widespread, abundant, easy to catch, and are prized for their firm, white, tasty flesh. Along with sunfish, bluegill and yellow perch, they are great species to pursue when introducing a youngster to fishing.

A variety of tackle can be used to catch crappie. I frequently use an open-faced reel on a six-foot ultra-light rod with four-pound test line. Fly fishing tackle also works well, especially in combination with streamers or small, dark flies such as black gnats. But there is no need to get fancy–I caught my biggest crappie on a cane pole, using a bobber and a worm.

Bait for crappie fishing consists of crickets or grasshoppers, worms, minnows, or small bucktails or jigs with plastic bodies. Be sure to use a quiet approach, and cast as far as possible from the shore or a boat. If jigging, let the lure drop before beginning a retrieve, and then retrieve erratically. Crappie often take a lure as it descends in the water. Remember, more than one fish is frequently caught in the same area. These fish will feed extensively at night, and under the right circumstances, such as a lit dock where the lights attract insects and minnows, the fishing can be fast and furious.

Following the tradition that you just never know what’s going to work when fishing for crappie, I’ve even taken crappie on topwater lures, just like largemouth bass. I still recall one June day when they were consistently hitting floating Rapalas cast right against emergent shoreline vegetation. My friend from Kentucky, an avid crappie fisherman, couldn’t believe his eyes. We concluded that most likely they were spawning and defending their nests.

Crappie are excellent eating and can be prepared for the skillet with standard filleting techniques. I like to dip the fillets in milk and put them in a bag containing a mixture of equal parts Italian bread crumbs and yellow cornmeal, seasoned with onion and garlic salt. The coated fillets are flash-fried in very hot oil (smoking) until golden brown, and then served with tarter or cocktail sauce. For a real summer treat, combine the fillets with corn-on-the-cob and zucchini Parmesan.

I can taste ’em now.

Leave a Response

Currently you have JavaScript disabled. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser.