The Best Crappie Bait for Every Situation

The days of cane poles are long gone in most sections of the world, but the other aspects of crappie fishing have not changed much over the past century. 

Even though the technology in rods and line have become lightyears better in that timeframe, the habitat these fish are found in and the bates used to harvest them are generally the same. 

Let’s look at what exactly crappie baits are, and how they can be leveraged for success. 

Habitat

While both white and black varieties of crappie may look similar, they have varying habitat preferences. 

White crappie are less picky when it comes to habitat, and will be found in any clarity of water. They also do not mind being in open water or basin-type settings, where there is not much cover. 

Black crappie are the opposite in that they preferred as clear water as possible. They also hate open water and will most likely be found clinging to weed beds and other structure which provides safety for the fish. 

The habitat will be the main reason you will want to identify your target species first. Because they are so different, you will want to be prepared for what style of fishing or methods will be more in line with the fish you plan to catch. 

Crappie, no matter their variety, will normally have a very similar and simple diet. 

They feed on small insects, larva, worms, and baitfish that also inhabit the waters where they are found. 

While it may be quite simple to catch boatloads of crappie once you start catching them, choosing the correct crappie bait to mimic what they are naturally feeding on at that time is the key. 

The Best Bait For Crappie:

  • Waxworms
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Minnows
  • Soft Plastic Bait
  • Jigging Spoon
  • Flies

Baits Categorized

Depending on the weather, the habitat, the time of year, the water temperature, and the abundance of natural bait in the area, you will have your hands full when deciding which baits are going to give you the best chance at landing some crappie. 

In every scenario, you will have to choose whether to fish with live baits, including dead or chunks of bait that was once a live bait, or artificial lures. 

Both of these can be viable options, and it will most likely be the fish deciding what they like once you have presented them with each option. 

The best strategy is to have a large assortment of both live and artificial baits that you can throw to the fish and once you begin to catch on a particular version, switch out the nonproductive baits for the one that is working. 

Finding the fish before trying out bait options is probably the most important factor when it comes to catching crappies, or any other fish for that matter. 

Using a fish finder or gaining a high vantage point t target schools of fish is a major key to success. Like any other fishing scenario, you can fish for crappies all day in a location where they are not present and have no luck. 

On the other hand, you could fish for an hour in a spot full of crappie and fill the boat. 

Live Baits

Crappie bait

Okay, so now that you have identified the species you are after, decided on where to look, and have found a school of crappie, it is time to fish. 

For your live bait options, you will want to have waxworms, which are a crappie favorite. Having some nightcrawlers and some minnows will also be beneficial, as those are always a great bait for catching any panfish

Grubs and mall insects are also great crappie baits. Because these fish will eat almost any insect, matching the hatch can be a great way to catch more fish. 

When you get to a fishing spot or the boat ramp, turn over some large rocks or downed trees to see what type of insects are squirming around beneath them. 

If you can collect a few of these, they will be sure to make great crappie bait. The crappie will be used to feeding on these insects or larva, so there will be no convincing necessary once you rig them onto your hooks. 

Natural presentations always work the best, and fishing for crappies is no exception. If the weather has brought rain the day or night before your fishing trip, opt for using worms for crappie bait. 

When the rain washes worms down into lakes and rivers, the crappie key into that particular bait. When you fish with what the crappie are already keyed into, you are guaranteed to have better luck. 

Using a small hook to rig your baits will be a must when crappie fishing. If your hook is too large, the fish will be able to take the bait right off from the side and you will be getting false hits all day as you fly through your stash of crappie bait. 

Small hooks will let the fish eat the bait and hook all at once and your numbers of caught fish will severely outweigh your false hits.

Rigging is also semi-important based on the willingness to eat by the school of crappie. 

Waxworm and Nightcrawlers

If the fish are being finicky, you will want to rig your waxworm with the hook straight through the body cavity from top to bottom. This makes the most natural presentation for the bait. 

With the nightcrawler, break them into small chunks, and hook them through the sides. This will help them stay on the hook longer. 

Minnows

Minnows can be rigged in many ways, but I like to run the hook point into the mouth and out of the top of the minnow head. This makes for better hook sets in my opinion. 

I say that rigging is semi-important because if the fish are in a feeding frenzy, you can bait your hook however you like and it will get bit. This is the case with almost all panfish, and when it happens, you are bound to catch your limit in a short period of time. 

If this pattern does become the case, switch out your small hooks for a bit larger size. This prevents smaller fish from taking the bait, ensuring that you only catch the larger crappie in the school. 

Lures 

Artificial lures have come a long way over the past few years. When I was a kid, the best artificials were Mr. Twistie jigs that came in all different sizes, but usually just in green. 

Now, you can hit a bait store or shop online and there are tons of artificial options. This bodes well for anglers that do not have access to live crappie bait. With artificials, you can either opt for baits that mimic live baits, or ones that aggravate fish into biting. 

Soft Plastic

For crappie, there are going to be 3 distinct classes of artificials that will make for the best chances of catching. The first will be soft plastics. Similar to that old Mr. Twistie, these synthetic jigs have always been a standby in the panfish world. 

Have a few sizes and colors in your tackle box, along with multiple sizes of jig heads to rig them on. I always have luck with the small, white versions that resemble a grub. 

Again, just like fishing with live baits, you will want to mimic exactly what the fish are already keyed into eating naturally. While fishing with live versions is always the preferred method, tricking crappie into biting an artificial is becoming much easier these days due to realistic patterns and scents that the artificials come in. 

Walleye Spinner

Another lure that seems to work well in certain situations is a walleye spinner. While these can be rigged with live worms, they can also be rigged with false worms or false leeches. 

You can troll the spinners on the outside edges of a school of crappie to produce a ton of fish. The spinners may seem a bit large for crappie bait, but because of the way the hooks are set up on the lure, they will be able to catch the crappie as they strike the worm attached behind the blade. 

Some people call these blade baits, so just keep that in mind, blade baits and spinners are often confused and are similar, so there is no use correcting anyone on the proper name. 

Jigging Spoon

The next option is going to be a jigging spoon. While these are not as common in open water as through the ice, they can be a great way to put tons of crappie in the bucket or on the boat. 

Have a few different small jigging spoons with you and make sure that some have a single hook, while others have a treble. 

Sometimes fish are picky and the hook profile will make or break your presentation. Using a Swedish Pimple in a school of crappie has proven deadly on more than one occasion. 

Flies

Lastly, we can look at a broader classification of artificials, and these would be flies

Fly fishing for crappie is not the most common version of targeting these fish, but it can be the most fun. Using all sorts of dry flies to match the current hatch of insects will work well for crappie. 

Wet flies or streamers that mimic leaches have always been an awesome choice as well. Leeches are tough to get a hold of at bait shops because anglers use them for walleye, perch, and bass. 

Using a streamer that resembles a leech will have a similar effect and can be used on multiple outings. This makes them a favorite of fly fisherman. If you find a school of crappie feeding on the surface, there is not a better time to throw a fly or popper and have a blast.

Ice Fishing for Crappie 

Crappie bait

If you get the chance or are brave enough to face the elements, ice fishing for crappie can be a good time as well. 

The fish are schooled in dense pods this time of year, so catching a limit is the goal on a daily basis. Options for baiting are still the same as far as artificial vs live, but you may have a few more options available in the live bait realm. 

When the water becomes hard, live bait can be found amongst weeds or reeds that are near shore or in the shallows. Fish know this, so they are accustomed to feeding on these natural baits. 

To harness the power of this situation, anglers use their ice augers to run a hole down into the weeds. When they pull the auger from the hole, it spills tons of naturally occurring bait onto the ice surrounding their hole. 

By gathering this up and using it on their hooks, they now have the best chance at catching because the fish have no hesitation when striking. 

In addition to the live bait, anglers will have a second hole where they can use a jigging spoon as a visual attractant for the fish. 

This may not physically catch as many fish, but it will attract some attention and when the crappie come to investigate, they find a nice, juicy, live bait in the process. Which in turn results in them being a nice, juicy meal for the angler! 

River Crappies

A few remaining tips on the following categories may help you decide which crappie bait to use in each scenario. For river crappies, remember that these fish are constantly on the move. 

They will be feeding on baits that are flowing through the river system which may not give them the best chance to decipher whether or not the bait is actually edible before striking it. 

Drifting live bait or jigs on the outside edges of weeds or structures should give you a better chance at success over anchoring or casting from shore. 

Pond/ Lake Crappies

Pond crappie and lake crappie are more stationary. They will still be on the move, but schools tend to stay in a general area for longer periods. This allows anglers to fish with bobbers or floats from shore easier. 

Anchoring at the edge of a school can also be a great tactic for catching a limit in this type of environment. 

Conclusion

Crappie are super fun to catch, no matter what sort of crappie bait you catch them with. The fishing is generally the best in springtime, as soon as the water temp reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but they can be caught all year with varied success. 

Like I said before, finding the fish comes first. Let them choose what they want as far as your variety of crappie baits. Then stack as many as you can and call everyone you know for an amazing fish fry!