Crappie respond very strongly to changes in water temperature. Knowing the ideal water temperature ranges and conditions for crappie activity can really amplify your success fishing for them.
The best water temperature for crappie fishing is between 68 °F to 72 °F when the crappie spawn and post-spawn feed period seems to be at its highest point. This means the northern areas of the country can see this peak around early June while the southern areas can see it as early as early March.
The spawn can be quick, two weeks or shorter, so finding that prime time can be difficult. However, as we’ll look at in this article, there are other times of the year when crappie are just as active.
Crappie Fishing by Water temperature
In this section, we are going to break down each water temperature interval and look at the best tricks and tips for each.
I strongly recommend getting a small fishing thermometer like this one which is castable and will give you a quick and accurate temperature reading. Just tie it to your line for casting or hang it from a lanyard.
Below 40 Degrees
At this temperature, crappie are barely moving, let alone feeding. You’ll find them huddles in schools around 30-feet deep, depending on the structure of the water you’re fishing. If there’s a river feeding into the water body, they are likely to be in the channel.
If you are fishing when the water is this cold, low and slow is the way. When you find a school, drop your bait and let it go as slow as possible in front of them. Though the bites may be few and far between, you could still catch decent-sized crappie.
To learn how to catch crappie in cold weather & winter, check out this helpful article I just wrote.
Movement tends to pick up slightly as the water reaches this level. The fish will start moving to shallower, though still deep, waters of around 20 feet deep. When they are feeding, however, you’ll find them around 5 feet deep.
This is likely to be during the afternoon as the water heats up on the surface before cooling again at night. You still want a slow presentation with a smaller jig; around 1.5 inches should do the trick.
Things are really starting to pick up at this point. The crappie begin to prepare for the spawn, which means they are feeding like crazy. They’ll hit on just about anything you can put in front of them, plus they are moving considerably faster by this point.
They tend to move to shallow coves and bays, which will heat up faster than the rest of the water. What makes this temperature golden as well is the predictability of the fish; they will have a set pattern and stick to it until the water reaches 60°F or more. Perfect time to try out some new jigs and catch a mess of crappie for the frying pan.
At this temp level, the spawn is in full effect, usually mid to late spring depending on your location. This puts the fish in a frenzy as both the male and female will be in the shallow waters for upwards of two weeks, with the males hanging out even longer.
Depending on the weather, you could have several double-digit days in a row when fishing at this temp. The tackle you use can vary, though, depending on water clarity. Try to go with a color/pattern combo to match the local prey.
This is the peak time for crappie fishing in just about any body of water. This is when the crappie are at their highest point of activity during and immediately following the spawn. They are likely to be in concentrated masses along the banks and shallow points in the water.
Your presentation can be quick and horizontal. You will also want to use larger bait sizes. You’re also more likely to catch the big ones during this water temp level as well.
Above 74 Degrees
As the temp reaches this level, the crappie do tend to disperse. Immediately following the spawn will be a mass feeding frenzy, though it doesn’t last too long. Following that, and as the waters heat up even more, they will move to deeper, cooler waters. This doesn’t mean the action stops, it’s just not as crazy as during spawning.
They are still moving fast, so a fast presentation is still the way to go, though finding a large school will be difficult.
This fishing barometer is perfect for the novice and serious angler. It will take an accurate reading of the current barometric conditions and tell you if the fishing conditions are poor, good, or great.
One tool that will tell you exact water temperatures and give you an accurate picture of the situation below the surface is this castable fishfinder by Deeper. I own myself and really like it. Check it out for yourself.
For a complete breakdown of the best water temperature for fishing, to include bass, crappie, pike, trout, saltwater, and more, please check out the linked article I wrote recently.
Is Water Temperature a Big Factor for Crappie Fishing?
Crappie are creatures of habit and everything they do is based on a cycle; that cycle is controlled by the temperatures of the water. It’s important to keep that in mind when going crappie fishing. Colder temperatures don’t always mean you’ll have less success if you know how to fish in those conditions.
Temperature plays a factor in when crappie spawn as well. They will start the spawning process when the water temps reach about 50°F to 60°F. This is when the crappie will move into shallower waters and begin the process of building a nest.
Another factor to take into consideration, however, is the clarity of the water as this will be a deciding factor on how deep the crappie are during spawning. Plus, water clarity and water temperature are closely related as the water seems to be murkier during the colder months.
Crappies tend to go deeper than other sunfish when spawning. If the water is semi-clear, you can expect to find them between 3 and 6 feet deep. However, if there’s not much clarity, meaning light doesn’t penetrate very deeply, they may be as shallow as 2 feet. This is going to decide how you adjust your fishing techniques.
Seasonal Water Temperature Guide for Crappie Fishing
Each season brings with it a change in how and where you should target crappie. In this section, we’re going to break down each season and tell you how much, if any, success can be had in each.
Winters are different throughout the country; some areas will experience many weeks of frozen lakes while others barely catch a sniffle. So, then, let’s look at the different conditions you might face during the winter.
Regardless of what area of the country you’re in, winter brings cooler temps which have a great impact on crappie fishing. These cooler water temperatures make the crappie be a homebody; very little movement is done by crappie in the winter. Once they find their favorite spot, they are usually there for the duration of the winter.
This favorite spot can vary depending on the water body, but many will plant themselves near the water source, whether that be a river or stream, and in the deepest waters, they can find. Even in the north, with even a foot or more of ice on the water’s surface, you will still find the crappie about 30-feet down, but still slow-moving.
It can be extremely difficult to catch a crappie in waters below freezing simply because they rarely, if ever, move, not even to feed. This is one of the main reasons the spring spawn is such an active period; they are trying to make up for lost time in the food department.
As the waters reach around 50°F, things begin to thaw out considerably. In the northern areas, this happens mid to late spring while the southern parts of the country can experience increased action from late February into March.
As this thaw occurs, the crappie begin to feed aggressively, both to recoup what they missed out on during the winter and to have enough energy for the spawn. They will go literally after anything that moves and can fit in their mouth. If you can find a school of crappie in waters around 50-60°F, you’ve got a great day of fishing ahead of you.
You’re likely to find the crappie hanging out in waters 6 to 12 feet deep and remember, finding structure is not as important as finding food for the crappie. Drifting across flats is likely the best way to find hungry schools of crappie.
Remember, too, crappie start spawning around 55°F, though white crappie might wait until the mid 60’s to start spawning. Any action before this is considered to be a pre-spawn action, though they can be just as aggressive as if they were spawning.
Many anglers find they have more success with crappie in the deeper waters during the summer, though this isn’t always the case. In fact, where the crappie go after spawning is as much dependent on which species of crappie you’re going after as it is the water temps, plus additional factors such as structure and water sources.
The problem with summer is that is brings an end to the spawning period, which often means the crappie disperse out. It can be hard to pinpoint a school during the summer as they tend to break up as they recover from spawning. And, as the water temps rise, the crappie will go deeper and deeper.
Summer is also when crappie focus heavily on finding good cover, so where you fish will be dependent on your body of water. That being said, the best time of day to fish for crappie during the summertime is going to be during dawn and dusk.
The low light of the early morning and late evening hours allow the crappie to leave their shelter to feed. During this time, you can usually find them along the banks and inlets where the majority of their prey are located.
Fall brings a sort of reversal of the process, without the inclusion of spawning. As the water temps begin to lower again, the habits of the crappie will transition to how they were during the springtime. Fall seems to bring with it a desire to build us reserves for the winter.
Starting in late September into October, depending on which part of the country you are in, crappie begin hitting hard and fast. They will begin suspending around 15-feet of water and/or around the source feeding the body of water you’re fishing.
You’ll need to change your technique as fall progresses. As the waters cool the crappie slow down, so you’ll need a slow-acting bait. Plus, while bigger jigs work well in the warmer waters, the cooler waters of fall require a smaller jig and working the baits vertically.
Working the bait slower and vertically will allow your bait to remain in the strike zone longer, giving the crappie time to react and strike.
You’ll also want to transition to a lighter action rod as the bite can feel different as the fish slow.
Does Air Temperature Impact Crappie Fishing?
Though you wouldn’t think it considering the fish are in the water, air temperature can have an effect on crappie fishing, especially during the spring season. Cold fronts are more likely to occur during the spring and fall months and can have a large impact on both air and water temps.
One thing to remember as well is that during the spring, a change in air temperature has a greater impact on the water temperature than it does in the summertime. So, if the air goes from 60°F to 50°F or lower overnight, it could send the water temps below 50°F, pushing the crappie to deeper waters.
Best Air Temperature for Crappie
The best air temperature for crappie fishing is between 70°F to 75°F, depending on the location you’re in. If you’re in an area with high humidity, you might find the ideal air temp to be slightly lower, as the higher humidity will cause the water to retain more heat than in lower humidity areas.
How cold is too cold for Crappie Fishing?
In truth, there isn’t a temperature where it’s impossible to catch crappie. In fact, many ice fishermen will jig for crappie and catch several in a day.
However, if the water temp is below freezing, the chance of landing crappie is very slim. It’s fair to say 40°F should be the cut-off for planning a successful crappie fishing trip.
How hot is too hot for Crappie fishing?
In warmer climates, water temps can vary by 20 degrees or more from the air temp, especially the deeper you go. The ideal air temp for catching crappie is 70°F to 75°F, as this is likely when the water temperature is perfect for spawning. However, catching crappie when the air temperature is higher can be successful, too.
They are likely to congregate near a river feeding into the water, as this will bring cooler water in. Plus, you’ll find more success in the dawn and dusk hours of the day.
Storms & Weather Changes
Many anglers believe in watching the barometric pressure when fishing as this will help you see what the weather is going to do. Crappie tend to be extra sensitive to this pressure, especially preceding a storm front.
The sudden drop in barometric pressure sends the crappie into an aggressive hunting frenzy before they head to deeper waters to ride out the storm and wait for the pressure to rise.
They will also actively seek out underwater structure, so this would be a good place to start when crappie fishing before a storm. This change, though, does affect the more mature fish more than the juvenile, so catching a larger fish might not be on the table.
For a complete breakdown of the best water temperature for carp fishing, check out this article. For a complete breakdown of the best water temperature for bluegill fishing, check out this article. Check out this article for a complete breakdown of the best weather for crappie fishing.