Crappie Fly Fishing Tactics
When I was quite young, one set of my grandparents had a small home on a lake in the Midwest. It was a lake fed by a river, so it contained many species of fish including musky, northern pike, crappies, catfish, and sheepshead. We used to cut out the small stones inside the sheepshead skulls, which always had a “J” carved into them for whatever reason.
Anyhow, my grandma focused on crappies, and she and I would go out in her small outboard boat and troll for them with jigs. Once she found a school of crappies, we’d criss-cross the school repeatedly, catching more than enough for dinner. I despised eating fish, but I would grind through the meal somehow.
The reason I mention this story is because finding a school of crappies should be your first and only priority. You’ll almost never find rogue, individual crappies roaming around. They school-up, sometimes in huge numbers.
When you find a school, the action can be nonstop.
I mentioned earlier that you can find schools near drop-offs and structure. Often times, if you’re using polarized sunglasses, you’ll see a few crappies holding several feet down. You can be sure there are more nearby.
My favorite method, once I find a school, is to cast a weighted streamer and strip it back to me. Crappies aren’t picky eaters, and I focus on streamer sizes of 10-16, usually with a tungsten beadhead. Some beadheads are made of alloys that aren’t heavy and don’t sink well, but tungsten is heavy and will get your fly down.
Most of the time, I simply use weight-forward floating line, and about 6-8 feet of fluorocarbon leader, usually 5X. Fluorocarbon line is less visible, and stronger, than monofilament-and it sinks, unlike mono.
During the spring, the water is colder and fish aren’t moving quickly. So, don’t strip your streamer in too quickly. Keep things slower.
Crappies will often follow your streamer or fly for several feet, analyzing its locomotion, then take it in a blur in between strips. In other words, as the fly is dropping through the water. If you can see the crappie, you can set the hook accordingly.
But, if you can’t see the crappie, they can inhale then expel your fly without your even noticing. Similar to what smallmouth bass will do.
Being able to see crappies as they follow your streamer in is a blast. They’re good fighters too.
I’ve never found a stripping cadence that works best with crappies all the time. Some crappies like it a little faster, some like it moderate, and some will take it when your fly is barely moving. Always experiment.
As a starting point, try stripping 4-6 inches of line at a time, with a 1-2 second pause in-between strips. If this doesn’t work, do shorter strips until you hone in on the speed the fish want.
Catching crappies on the surface
Some people swear that poppers work well for crappies, but I’ve found this to be the exception rather than the rule.
You’re going to want to focus on subsurface patterns. It’s a rare spring day when crappies are eating off the surface.