What are the best crappie lures? Crappie anglers are sometimes divided into three groups. First, some folks fish artificial baits only; and some use the undeniable natural allure of live bait to tempt slabs and consider lures a waste of time and money; and finally, those who may do some of each, depending on the situation and attitude of the fish. In spring, for example, you rarely need minnows unless a severe cold front has afflicted your area. In winter, though, we have to watch crappies turn up their noses at the neatest little lures but willingly gulp little minnows.
Crappie anglers have never enjoyed such a selection of baits as they do today — soft baits, hard baits, and more. Manufacturers know that crappie specialists number in the millions all across the U.S. and portions of Canada, dedicated to pursuing these fascinating fish. Crappies are a puzzle—sometimes almost too easy to catch; other times, it’s like they’ve disappeared. Crappies are a favorite for many reasons; one is their usual willingness to bite year-round, under the ice and in summer’s heat.
Killer Crappie Lures: Jig Baits
One key category is a jighead/soft plastic combo, in sizes from 1 to 3 inches, weights from 1/100- to 1/16-ounce for ice-fishing, 1/16- to 1/4-ounce for open-water applications. We fish them under floats in spring, either set floats for shallow water or slip floats to probe deeper lairs. In winter, vertical jigging is fun and exciting as you match wits with the fish depicted on your sonar unit. And there’s an incredible array of killer crappie colors, including wild two-tones that often turn on slabs in both clear and murky waters.
A few tiny ice baits, such as VMC’s Tungsten Nymph Jigs, come rigged in the package, ready to fish. These mini softbaits glow up to 15 minutes for the hardy should who love to ice-fish at night. The Waxy Jig is also built for the ice and is available in the exact mini sizes with fluorescent features. Its ridged body provides a wormlike profile in this vertical-style jig, perfect for fishing tiny soft plastic tails. These glow as well.
However, most jig styles let you mix and match head shapes and softbait choices. We find a great array of ballheads and other shapes that match lure styles. In addition to the Tungsten Nymph Jig, VMC offers the Tungsten Tubby Jig with a compact profile and a 90-degree hook eye. Available in weights from 1/64 to 1/16-ounce, it’s a fine ice-fishing choice but doubles for cold-water fishing in spring under a slip bobber.
Another favorite is Big Bite Baits’ Elite Jig with a black nickel hook, wire keeper to hold their softbaits, and 3D holographic eyes. It’s an all-around choice for small grubs, tubes, and minnow-style softbaits. Big Bites’ latest is the innovative Pendulum Jig, which has a small swivel molded into the head to prevent line twists that can be a problem when fishing vertically or semi-vertically: for example, pitching it around brush, stake beds, docks, or other crappie cover. It should be available this winter.
Swimbaits are a must-have category in your crappie lures arsinal. Casting small swimbaits is an overlooked presentation, but one that’s great for locating groups of fish in spring, summer, and fall. Crappies tend to move in large schools and hold in very precise locations. If you miss the school by 15 feet, you may not get bit and leave an area that’s loaded with fish. With light braided line (6- or 8-pound test) and a long supple rod, you can fire a little swimbait like Big Bites’ Kamakaze Swimmer 30 to 40 yards to slowly work over shallow flats.
Ideal for these little swimmers is a tapered head like VMC’s Sleek Jig, with a teardrop shape that swims smoothly and doesn’t flip over on the retrieve. It has an extra-long-shank needle-point hook to hold mini-swimmers and catch light biters at a long distance. Another versatile favorite is VMC’s Hot Skirt Glow Jig, available in weights from 1/32- to 3/8-ounce to cover all depths and situations. It comes with a glow-in-the-dark skirt and flashabou fibers that trigger active fish. It works well out of the pack, but the addition of live bait or thin plastic trailers tempts extra bites at times.
Killer Crappie Lures: Crankin’ Crappies
Fishing crankbaits for crappies has become a tradition in many southern reservoirs where anglers push or pull an array of hardballs as the troll along creek channels, flats, or other crappie lairs. They may employ more than a dozen poles at once, allowing them to experiment with lure color and running depth. But hardbait crappie lures are virtually ignored by northern lake and river anglers who rely on fishing floats nearly all the time.
But in many cases, downsized crankbaits, jerkbaits, and rattle baits are deadly for fish abiding in weedy cover or among stumps in dark-bottom bays. A long cast and slow retrieve covers a substantial stretch of water on each cast, giving evidence of groups of active fish. Moreover, hardbaits tend to allure the largest slabs in the area, the ones that scarf down 3- to 4-inch minnows with no hesitation. An active approach is fun as it forces you to move away from obvious areas and often uncover great spots off the bank.
In spring, we’ve found that working a small jerkbait can be a great way to snare slabs. Zip a size-6 Husky Jerk, minnow-sized at 2.5 inches, and work it with pauses as the lure hovers around pockets where big fish hold early in the season. As the water warms, crappies get more active and switching to a Rapala X-Rap, which has more of a slashing action, can really pay off. This one’s available in sizes down to #4, just 1.5 inches, which is guaranteed to pick up some bull bluegills as well as crappies.
Later in the season, deeper diving cranks come into their own, including Rapala’s pair of down-sized killers, the Ultra Light Crank and Ultra Light Shad. The Crank dives to 8 feet to bounce along with deeper stumps and brush piles, while the Shad has a more streamlined look and runs a little shallower. Both are bite-sized at 1.5 inches but cast easily on light spinning tackle. An all-time favorite is the Shad Rap, as its balsa body has a subtle wiggle and buoyant action. They’re available down to the 1.5-inch size-4, as well as 2-, 2.5-, and 2.75-inch models.
Finally, every crappie angler needs to include the Rippin’ Rap in his crappie lures arsenal. These little rattlers aren’t just for bass and walleyes. Crappies can’t resist them in summer and winter. Ice aces have found that the 1 1/8- and 1 1/2-inch Ultra Light Rippin’ Rap can be a deadly way to fire up a school of slabs that sits below some 10 to 20 feet below the ice, ignoring tiny lures and even live minnows. But give the Rap a few good rips and you often see a change in attitude. Something about the bait’s flash, vibration, and rattle has a way of turning fish on.
On fall evenings, slabs invade the outer edges of vast beds of pondweed and coontail, on the prowl for minnows. In this situation, have a 2-inch Rippin’ Rap at the ready. Retrieve to the edge of the vegetation then let it wiggle down into the depths where crappies patrol the outer edge. On those chilly fall evenings, you’ll be happy not to dip into the minnow bucket!