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Fly Fishing for Crappie: Learn from a Guide

When it comes to panfish, the crappie is definitely near the top in popularity among anglers. Whether they are white crappie or black crappie, anglers love going out on the water to catch them, and they can make for action-packed days in many cases.

Fishing for crappie this way can be an absolute blast, and if you haven’t tried fly fishing for crappie, stick around. In this post, we will take an in-depth look at fly fishing for crappie, from gear to tactics.

Target Fly Fishing for Crappie in The Spring

crappie caught on the fly

Early spring is by far the best time to fly fish for crappie. Crappies are typically open-water fish and are suspended over deep water for much of the year, but after ice-out in the northern regions, crappies are one of the first fish to enter the shallows.

Southern bays that are sheltered from the wind are the best areas to search for early spring crappies with a fly rod. These bays receive the most sunlight throughout the spring days and will typically have the warmest water temperatures on the lake.

After two, three, or more days of sunny and warm temperatures at the start of spring, algae and plant growth will start, which in turn will bring the presence of plankton, invertebrates, and — up along the food chain — to crappies.

Top Tip: After ice-out, the crappies will push up into these shallow, southern bays to breed and feed on the developing warm water food chain.

At times, these bays may have open water while the main body of the lake will still be covered in ice, and if you can access these areas easily by boat, you can set yourself up for some amazing crappie fly fishing.

If a common spring cold stretch comes in with overcast weather, the water temperatures will decrease again. In these situations, the crappies will pull out of the bays and move back into deeper and warmer water until the sun re-emerges and the water temperatures increase once again.

Fly Fishing Gear and Setup

man fly fishing for crappie

The fly fishing setup used to catch crappies is about as simple as it gets in terms of fly fishing.

You will want to use a medium-length rod that is anywhere from 7 to 8 feet in length and is designed to use 3, 4, or 5 weight lines.

A 3-weight rod is a great choice for this style of fishing and works well for other species like trout as well. It’s also a great option for beginner fly anglers.

You will also want to use a leader of 7 to 8 feet in length, and you can use both level or tapered lines, but personally, I would choose tapered.

Fly Selection

Selecting flies to use for crappies in the spring is also incredibly easy to do. Crappies are not picky at this time of the year and will eat just about anything.

Author Note: Streamers that imitate local forage minnows like the black-nosed dace, muddler minnows, creek chubs, lake shiners, emerald shiners, and others will work.

Insect imitations like leggy flies are great for imitating the insect larvae that rise out of the muddy shallows in the early spring. Ice fishing jigs will also work well this time of the year, tied to the end of the fly rod, along with soft plastics like the Impulse mayfly.

One of my favorite bait imitations to use on a fly rod this time of year is a simple single hook with a Mister Twister grub tail. Whether conventional fishing or fly fishing, the grub tail is my favorite choice for spring crappie.

One thing to keep in mind with fly fishing for crappie at this time of the year is that all of the forage the crappies are feeding on is very small, from insects to minnows, so be sure to keep your presentations on the small side, and try to stay away from hooks larger than size 10.

Multi-fly Setups

Like with conventional crappie fishing, you can run setups with more than one fly on the line to increase your fish-catching potential.

A good place to set up a second fly is 1 to 1.5 feet above the fly tied to the end of your leader, and it is also a good idea to use some sort of strike indicator when running these types of setups.

The small foam bobbers that are used in ice fishing are great strike indicators for this style of fishing. They are very light and easy to cast on a fly rod and can be held in place with a toothpick.

Structure Fishing

large caught crappie

Crappies almost always relate to some sort of structure unless they are suspended in open water, but even then, they most likely are keying in on some sort of nearby structure such as a steep drop-off, hump, or something else that can be construed as structure.

When fishing the shallow bays in search of crappies, you should target structure, as this is where the crappies will congregate.

Areas like brush piles, bushes overhanging on the banks, downed trees, tree root systems, and even docks, if present, will all hold schools of crappies.

When structure fishing in the shallows, distance from the target is less important than casting accuracy and precision. Position your boat from 20 to 30 feet from the target area to ensure that your fly casts can be accurately placed in all of the nooks and crannies.

Fly action

When fly fishing for crappies in the early spring, you will want to impart very little or no action to the fly at all.

The water is still cold, and the metabolism of the crappies is still pretty low. The bait they are keying in on is also moving slower than it would be in the warm water months of the summer.

It’s also a great idea to stick with unweighted flies. Since you are fishing in very shallow areas, the unweighted fly slowly sinking through the water looks far more natural than that of the faster descent of a weighted fly.

This makes things easy on us anglers. Simply cast the fly out to the desired location and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse and repeat.

Color Selection

There really aren’t any standard colors that work better than others this time of year, so you will have to let the crappies tell you what they want.

Top Tip: White and black, along with natural colors, can be a great place to start, but they can key in on any color from pink to chartreuse, depending on the day.

When fishing with Mister Twister grub tails in clear water, I have found white to be an incredibly effective color to use, personally.

If you don’t have many takes on a certain color, switch colors often to see if there is an increase in interest from the crappies.

Don’t Forget To Be Stealthy

With boat positioning being within 30 feet or less, it’s important to remember to be as quiet as you can, in terms of making noise in relation to the boat, like stomping feet and dropping things, but also in relation to your flies.

When casting to the fish-holding structure, you will want to avoid slapping the line on the water. This will scare the wary school of fish in the shallow water, and it will take some time for them to return.

Late Spring and Summer Fishing

laerge black crappie

As it gets later in the spring and the water temperatures increase, the crappies will still be shallow, be it pre-spawn or immediately after in post-spawn. This is a great time to scale up fly sizes, as well as try flies like poppers which can be very effective in the month of May.

After spawning, and as summer starts getting into full swing, the crappies will start heading out to deeper and cooler water.

At this time of the year, you may be able to contact schools of crappies in transition areas, or areas of water in the 5 to 10-foot range where weed beds end or a drop-off occurs.

Areas at these depths, with dense milfoil walls, can host schools of crappies that are close to the surface and easily caught on the fly.

During summer, most of the crappies will have moved to the deeper, cooler water that is 10 feet deep or greater.

But they can still be found scattered throughout weed beds in pockets or amongst the weeds themselves, along with bluegills, bass, and other fish species.

At this point, it gets difficult to target crappies specifically and will usually result in a multi-species fishing day.

Final Thoughts

Most of this article on fishing for crappies is centered on early to mid-spring fishing. This is the best time to hammer crappies in shallow water on the fly and is the reason for the focus, as compared to other months.

Fly fishing crappie in the spring can be an absolute blast with non-stop action, and fish are caught on nearly every cast during prime fishing times.

It’s also a great time for beginner fly fishermen to get out and practice fly casting and fishing and have a great time doing it.


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