When you go crappie fishing, you need to know not just where to locate the fish, but also at what depth they prefer swimming. This allows you to choose the right gear and line length to catch this wily species.
The perfect crappie fishing depth is between 4 to 6 feet. But they can also drop to 8 or 12 feet depending on the light conditions and water temperatures. And if you’re ice fishing, then you might find crappie as deep as 20 feet below the ice.
A lot of variables come into play when you’re fishing for crappie. The time of year, the feeding habits, and the underwater topography, all determine how deep the fish will be. Read more to find out all you need to know about the perfect depth for crappie fishing.
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How Deep should you fish for crappie?
To determine at what depths crappie are to be found in the water, you need to know the depth of the body of water first. If you’re fishing in a shallow pond, chances are the fish will be closer to the surface than near the bottom.
The clarity of the water also plays a role in how deep crappie will go. While the fish avoid going near the bottom, they also don’t like to go up to the surface which is usually flooded with light. Predators will spot the fish easily in clear and well-lit waters thanks to their dark and spotted skin.
So if the water is clear and the temperature of the water is high above 50 degrees F, crappie will go down to 10 feet or even 15 feet if the lake is deep. But it will come up to 4 or 6 feet when the water is murky and vegetation is dense.
Like most fish species with so many enemies, crappie relies on camouflage to stay one step ahead of the predators. It will lurk among dense weeds when it senses danger. Does that mean that the fish will not go beyond 15 feet?
They would, depending on the depth of the body of water. In some cases, you might find crappie as deep as 50 feet. The colder the temperature of the water, the deeper the fish will dive. One way to simplify things for you is to use electronics to find crappie. We’ll cover this later in this article.
Best Depths to Try while Crappie Ice Fishing
Like most fish when the top of the lake or pond freezes over, crappie will dive down toward the bottom where the temperature of the water is warmer. However, since it doesn’t fully trust the bottom, crappie will go looking for food at depths between 8 and 12 feet. This ideal depth keeps it away from the cold waters above and the lurking predators that wait at the bottom.
What this means to you as an angler is that in the winter, you should avoid shallow waters. It doesn’t provide a school of crappie any protection from predators or icy water. Another factor to consider which would help you locate this elusive panfish is the quality of the vegetation. In the winter, the vegetation will dwindle considerably which is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s a curse for crappies that will have to travel long distances looking for food. But it’s a blessing for anglers since if you can pinpoint the top vegetation spots in the lake, you’ll surely find schools of crappie nearby.
This also explains why crappie keeps moving up and down the depth of the lake during the winter. It will sometimes climb up near the frozen surface where the weeds produce oxygen, but after feeding, it will dive back to the warm waters around 12 feet deep.
One last thing to consider when fishing for crappie in the ice. The fish tends to move a lot. This will mean drilling more holes. If you spot a school of fish in one place but then they stop biting, that means they have moved to another spot.
Related read: The ideal rod length for fishing for crappie
When you go fishing for crappie in a large and deep lake, it’s often difficult to find the fish. That’s because they keep swimming up and down without sticking to a certain depth. However, you can always use the following signs to narrow down your search.
- Duck Ponds: In later winter and early spring, duck ponds tend to be dewatered. The water in these ponds is usually warm and rich in nutrients. So when it flows into the river, it becomes a magnet for schools of crappie. Shallow bays and sloughs are the best spots to find the fish.
- Mouths of Creeks: This is the favorite place for large schools of crappie to gather before spawning. They might be anywhere from 100 to 200 feet from the mouth of the creek and they hang there for hours on end. However, they’ll change their depth constantly. So when they stop biting, change the depth you cast accordingly.
- Ledges: Around spawn time, crappies will look for calm and flat beds in creeks to spawn. But being the cautious fish they are, they’ll often seek the protection of the creek ledges. Approach these ledges as quietly as you can and cast your jig.
- Bridges, Dams, and Piers: In the winter crappies will seek these structures especially if they’re made of concrete. They tend to absorb and store the heat of the sun so the water around them is usually warmer than the rest of the lake.
- Covered Areas: Shelter is important for crappie. So always look for schools under stumps and brushes. As long as they’re submerged, there’s a good chance you’ll find crappie there.
Night fishing for crappie is an art in and of itself. Besides having the right rig and knowing where you’re most likely to find the fish, you also need to know how to use light like a pro. Usually, there are two types of light you can use. Above water and underwater light. Each school of thought has its fans and many people would swear by either one. But the real secret to catching crappie at night is to use both types of light.
- Lanterns: It’s no secret that lanterns at the front or on the side of your boat are a good way to attract crappie. Not that the fish are particularly fond of lanterns. But insects are, which attract baitfish. Baitfish in turn are a favorite meal for crappie. Use two lanterns for more light and allow them a couple of hours to see results.
- Sealed-beam Lights: Use these just below the surface of the water. They usually send their beams down so they won’t attract insects. Green LED light is most effective since it attracts planktons which draw baitfish and in turn bring all crappies to your light. You could also use ultraviolet lights but they only illuminate the bait and do little in drawing any fish toward the boat.
We saw how crappies like to hug ledges of creeks during spawn time to stay protected throughout the time they spend there. But they also like to come close to banks especially when they’re abutting deep waters. This is a good opportunity for you to cast your lines from the bank and without getting your feet wet or venturing deep into the water.
The key is to look for stumps of trees that are totally underwater. These are good spots for crappie to gather and feed. They also prefer dense weeds and rocks. So if you’re fishing in the morning or evening time, you can cast your line right close to the submerged structure. The fish might venture out from under the cover at those times when visibility is not that great.
But if you’re fishing at noontime, then you should cast your line right in the thick of the weeds or the cover itself. Either way, you’ll need to move as little as possible and don’t make sudden jerks with the line since that will spook the fish. This is a game of patience and crappie takes its time to bite. You’ll also need to adjust your technique and gear based on the season of the year and whether this is pre-spawn or post-spawn time.
Depth for Crappie in a Pond
Whether you’re fishing for crappie in a deep or a shallow pond, you have to think like a crappie in order to find the fish. The first thing to consider is the shade. Crappies run away from open waters with lots of sunlight because that exposes them to the enemy. So although the fish will still seek the deep end of the pond, it will always stay close to the shore where visibility is less clear.
The other thing to look for is the water temperature. If you’re fishing in warm waters, then look for the spots in the pond where the water is cooler. This is usually near the shade and dense vegetation. It’s also the reason why crappie would sometimes abandon the surface of the water which is rich with food and oxygen and go down to the murky depths of the pond.
Use live bait to catch crappies in a pond. Tube jigs are also quite effective as long as you don’t move the bait around too fast.
Bridges offer an ideal spot to go fishing for crappie. You have access to the deepest water and the bridge abutments attract schools of crappie offering them shade and cover. But you’ll have to cast your line either early in the morning around sunrise or just after sunset. Both high visibility and high water temperature will push the fish away from bridges during the daytime.
You will also need to use the right rig for bridge fishing. Usually, the best bait to use includes live bait, jigs, spinners, and grubs. And keep an eye on the current if you’re fishing in a river. Fast currents are not the best places to find crappie. The fish prefer calm waters where weeds grow in abundance.
You can also approach the bridge not from the top, but from a boat. This gets you closer to the action and gives you more mobility. Since crappie is always on the move, you can follow them on a boat from one abutment to the next.
A third option is to stand on the bank and cast your line. Near the bank is when the water is calmer and vegetation is dense.
Technology has come a long way and is now more affordable than before. As an angler, you won’t have to rely on a hunch when trying to determine the depth of the crappie. It’s one thing to know if there’s a school of crappie in this spot or not and it’s a totally different thing to know at what depth the fish are at the moment.
That’s where electronics such as fish finder come in. Not only do they save you time by telling you if the spot is teeming with fish or not, but they also pinpoint the exact depth of the fish. But how can you tell a crappie from any other fish species on the screen of the device? They all appear as dots on a blue background. So what are the telltale signs that distinguish crappie from other fish? Click here to see our preferred fish finder for crappie.
The first thing is the color of the dot. If it’s white, then most likely it’s a school of crappie. The other indication is the location of the dots. Crappies usually congregate near covers so the dots nearest to the tree stump or vegetation are more likely to be crappies than any other fish.
When fishing for crappie, you need to determine the depth at which you’ll find these every-moving fish species. Water temperature, shade, and cover all guide crappies as they swim closer to the surface or dive deeper toward the bottom.