Whether you call them crappie, speckled bass, or sac-a-lait, angling for these aggressive panfish is about as much fun as you can have with a rod in your hands. In fact, from Michigan to Louisiana, crappie provide year-round fishing excitement, whether you take them through the lake ice or from the shaded banks of a bayou.
But as any crappie addict can tell you, to improve your odds, you need to choose your lures carefully and pay attention to water color and light conditions. Below, we’ll discuss how we choose our crappie lures and review some of our favorites.
Quick glance at the best crappie lures, jigs, and bait:
Table of Contents (clickable)
There’s no fine science to lure selection, and variety is often key. But there are some general guidelines we’d like to recommend.
Color choice is one of the stickiest issues anglers face. If you’ve watched a buddy using a different color lure pull fish after fish out of the water in the same spot you’re casting, you know exactly what we mean! Talk with a few fishermen for more than a minute or two, and the discussion will turn to favorite lures and colors--guaranteed.
And as every experienced angler can tell you, color choice can be the difference between fishing and catching. After years of fishing and lots of research, here’s what we have to say on the matter:
Take a look at the chart below, and note that if you’re fishing shallow water, color matters a lot. If you’re jigging for crappie on the bottom, however, red and orange may not show up very well, depending on just how deep you’re fishing. In general, the shallower your quarry, the more color matters.
So what do we recommend? If I were choosing only four lure colors for crappie, these would be my top picks:
Crappie aren’t called “papermouths” by accident, and if you’re an avid angler, you already know that a gentle hookset is critical for these guys. But there are a few things you should consider when selecting lures and choosing hooks for crappie.
Crappie have large mouths relative their size, and as a result, they can take a pretty big hook. We’ll often fish #2 and #4 hooks, depending on what we’re putting on them, and it’s worth noting that #6 and smaller hooks can more easily tear themselves free from a crappie’s mouth, just by virtue of the small gap between the shank and the business end.
Johnson’s beetle spins are a staple in many anglers’ tackle boxes for a reason. Combining an enticing soft bait with a spinning blade, this is essentially a jig on steroids, adding the flash and motion imparted by the blade to a colorful soft bait and jig head combo. Available in a massive range of colors and sizes, we recommend 1/32, 1/16, ⅛, and as large as ¼ ounces for crappie (and for rods that can throw that weight lure).
Both gold and silver blades produce strikes, but our top picks for the soft bait color are--unsurprisingly--“white red dot,” “white black spots,” “black chartreuse,” and “chartreuse black spots.” All Johnson beetle spins feature a black jig head with white eyes, and by selecting the contrasting soft bait color for your conditions, you can make this a lethal weapon in your crappie arsenal.
One reason we like beetle spins so much is that they’re a versatile lure that lets us cover a lot of water quickly. By allowing the beetle spin to sink, running it after a pause and twitch, or making it cruise just below the surface, we can quickly locate active fish. Give that a try the next time you’re hunting a large lake, and see just how effective it is!
As you’ll see below, we like a few soft bait options, too, and these can be easily combined with your beetle spins when the original two soft baits wear out. But be warned: after countless strikes, they will wear out!
If I were headed out for crappie with only one style of lure, it would be the rooster tail. Combining a flashing blade, a colored cylindrical body, and a touch of feathery fringe at the hook, these lures are magic.
Worden’s rooster tails are available in a range of sizes. We like 1/16, ⅛, and ¼ ounces for crappie, and all three have delivered time and again. If there’s any disadvantage to this lure, it’s that most species find it irresistible, so you’ll be catching bass, bluegill, perch, and pretty much anything else in the water your fishing, too!
White, black, chartreuse, and firetiger are our favorite colors. With any blade material you prefer, the range of options is astounding.
Rooster tails, like beetle spins, can be fished using a variety of techniques. Everything from slow and steady, to burning speed, to pauses and snaps can trigger a strike. And because they cast so well, you can cover a large area quickly, finding the fish or moving on to better angling opportunities.
Marabou jigs are monstrous on crappie, and there’s just something about that soft feel and fringe that drives these fish wild. If you’re not familiar with these lures, they’re a hybrid of a fly and a jig head, offering the weight you need to apply good jigging technique with an irresistibly life-like action.
For some reason, we find these to be especially effective in foul and cooler weather.
Available in a range of weights and hook sizes, we recommend #4 over #6, as crappie’s large, tender mouths are better snagged by slightly larger hooks. These lures in that size will weigh in at ⅛ ounces, allowing ultralight tackle to be used.
We especially like “red white white,” chartreuse, and black--no surprise there!
Jigging can be a super-effective technique, especially once you know where an active school is. We recommend that you start gentle, with tiny motions of your wrist and a few pauses, moving to more active jigging if that doesn’t attract a strike.
Especially if spider rigging is legal where you fish, we like to run our jig heads beneath an appropriately sized cork, matched to the weight of the rig. But don’t forget to add a swivel to keep your jig dancing freely, as in this Bubble Rig pictured below (we’re not sure you really need a fluorocarbon leader, but pros use them!):
Soft baits work, hands down, and Berkley’s Crappie Nibbles are an awesome choice. Spilling scent into the water around your lure, they’ll drive fish crazy, and we find that they’ll get consistent bites in any conditions. Available in four colors--white, pink, chartreuse, and yellow--it’s worth experimenting to find the color Nibble that works best for you.
We like to use them on Quikset Weedless Crappie Jigheads in all three weights of #2 and #4 hooks, and there’s no reason not to sweeten a maribou jig or beetle spin with these as well. The Quicksets are a real asset when you’re fishing in and around weed beds, as you’ll spend more time casting and less time snagged or cleaning your jig head.
The Quicksets are unpainted, so it’s worth stopping by Walmart and getting a few cheap bottles of fingernail polish. Black is an obvious choice, as are red and white. But bright yellow shouldn’t be overlooked. When you get home, paint those jig heads in different colors, always adding an eye, and see which work best for you.
Another soft bait sweetening option is the Berkley Gulp! Minnow. Shaped like the real thing and saturated in scent, these tiny soft baits feature a fluttering tail that drives crappie wild. We like the one-inch size, and find that “chartreuse shad,” “rainbow,” and “firetiger” have worked for us.
Again, we recommend that you have at least one realistic color on hand, some sparkle, and a few color options for different water and light conditions. But whether you fit these on a jig head or run them on your beetle spin, crappie can’t resist their action and smell.
Last, but certainly not least, live bait can be murder on crappie. However you rig your minnows, and whatever rig you use, never underestimate the impact of live bait.
A few options for spider rigging we really like are the Mr. Crappie Troll Tech Double Drop Rigs and the Mr. Crappie Troll-Tech Crappie Rigs. Both work really well with a variety of bait options. We also have had a lot of luck tightlining with the Bullet Weights Mr. Crappie Rig and the Eagle Claw Crappie Rig.
Sometimes we like to rig our own tackle, too, and when we do, we turn to Eagle Claw Aberdeen and Mustad Classic Aberdeen hooks. They’re thin enough to keep our minnows alive and kicking for a long time, and they’ll bend when we snag them. It’s easy to make them true again with a pair of pliers once we’ve pulled them free.
When you want to use a float, skip the cheap red and white plastic, and go for quality--you’ll notice the difference immediately! For instance, when paired with a Thill Crappie Cork of the appropriate weight for your bait and rig, you’ll detect even the lightest nibbles. And a good slip float like theThill is easy to cast and just as easy to set the depth of your tackle with.
Give one a try--you won’t be disappointed!
There’s no “best” crappie lure, just the best lure that day, fished well. Depending on the light, water, and your technique, any and all of these lures will deliver--and all of them have. If you haven’t tried one of these options, or if you’re new to chasing “papermouths,” we hope you found this article helpful.
If you keep what we have to say about color choice and hook size in mind, we’re sure you’ll enjoy more success. And if you try one of the recommendations we make above, let us know. We’d love to hear from you.
Please leave a comment below if we’ve missed your favorite crappie lure, too.