Crappie Live Bait Options
Some type of tiny creature should always be considered as a crappie live bait option. Crappies have gained much of their popularity as fine-eating fish that can be caught year-round. Moreover, they’re generally eager to bite. We have a vast array of artificial options of countless colors for ice-fishing and open water. But there are times when crappies are aggravatingly picky, turning down our best presentations. That’s when live bait turns the tide. Even the ice-fishing pros on the North America Ice Fishing Circuit rely on live bait when the bite turns tough in the face of fishing pressure and nasty weather fronts.
Natural baits are hard to beat for any gamefish species when offered in an enticing fashion. Here’s a list of the top crappie killers.
These little baitfish are well-named since black and white crappies from coast to coast can’t resist them. In most locations, bait shops sell fathead minnows as ”crappie minnows.” Rosey Reds, a color morph of that species are big sellers where available. The fathead is a wide-ranging species, from the Northwest Territories to Alabama, and they’ve been stocked in other waters as well. Aquaculture operations produce them for sale and bait collectors in Minnesota and other northern states collet fatheads from creeks with traps and seines.
They’re a delicate-looking baitfish, with no defenses, but they last quite well when hooked carefully. Slip a fine-wire hook behind the upper and lower lips when fishing them on a jig, so you can retrieve the rig and the minnow trails behind. When float fishing, this hooking method works, but the minnow generally is more active if you tail-hook it, running the point just under the skin in front of the tail. The baitfish keeps trying to swim away, a very vulnerable look to any predator. On a tiny jigging spoon, often just ahead with some trailing guts on the hook is ideal.
“Waxies” can save the day when ice fishing or in spring when the bite is slow. When inactive, crappies in clear water often nose up to a bait, reluctant to bite. A whiff of natural fluids from a juicy waxworm can turn sniffers into biters. These larvae of the wax moth are apparently tasty, as fish of almost all sorts eat them eagerly. They wiggle slightly when hooked but even dead husks add attraction on a plain hook or jig. They don’t need refrigeration, but cooler temperatures keep them from morphing into moths. They’re often packed in sawdust and adding a bit of oatmeal keeps them fat and juicy when stored for more than a week or two.
In the southern regions of crappie distribution, freshwater shrimp, sometimes called grass shrimp, are a widespread natural food and an excellent bait choice. Defenseless and high in calories, various species are eagerly consumed by gamefish of all sizes. These 2 to 3-inch crustaceans are tasty morsels, but delicate baits. Keeping them alive on the hook enhances your catch, especially with crappies. Run a thin-wire #8 or #6 hook along the top of the shrimp’s tail. This keeps it away from vital organs and the shrimp swims in its erratic style when free-lined or set under a small float.
You can buy them in some locations, but a long-handled, small-mesh net can catch a good bunch when scooped through vegetation. After each scoop, place them in a container of cool clean water and they’re ready to fish. They breathe with gills, so you’ll have to change the water after a couple of hours.
Small golden shiners, often sold as “Arkansas shiners” are prime bait for outsize crappies. They’re the most popular baitfish in the U.S., accounting for almost 4 million pounds sold for a retail price of $16.4 million. Huge fish farms in Arkansas and other states grow them, but some states, including Minnesota, don’t allow the importation of baitfish from outside the state, so aquaculturists are expanding their operations there. Jumbo shiners from 7 to 12 inches are prized bait for trophy bass in Florida, while 2- to 3-inch juveniles are widely available and ideal size when you’re trying to weed through schools of crappies that contain a lot of dinks. Hook them through the lips or in the back.
These tasty morsels, actually the larvae of blue-bottle and green-bottle flies, are raised and sold across the U.S. as ice-fishing bait, and are sometimes called “spikes” for their sharp-tailed appearance. Adventurous anglers can raise their own in containers with old meat or fish, a stinky but productive process as the flies immediately come to lay eggs in the rotting flesh. They soon hatch into maggots that consume the carcasses as they grow. You can grow thousands quickly if you can stand the stench.
The 1/2- to 3/4-inch maggots make great bait for finicky fish, particularly sunfish and crappies, though rock bass, catfish, and largemouths take them as well. They’re delicate, so hook them gently through the flat front part of the worm, where you see a pair of tiny eyespots. Lately, savvy anglers have started wacky-rigging them, running a thin hook through the skin of one of the larvae’s wormlike segments. Just nicking the hook through keeps it wriggling actively and also slows the drop speed on a hook or tiny jig. Store them in a fridge in the mid-40•F range to keep them alive and prevent hatching into flies.
This bait is another form of a larval insect, often called “rat-tail maggots” when sold in bait shops. They’re favored for ice fishing in eastern states from New England to Michigan and commonly available there, less often in Mid-Central states. Mousies are larvae of the drone fly and run slightly larger than standard maggots or spikes. They crawl actively in the hand, trailing their tail behind, looking like tiny blind mice. The tail is hollow and used as a breathing tube when the larvae eat a carcass from the inside out. Skin-hook them in the head section for best action and store them at around 40•F.