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How to Catch Crappie Fish (Huge Guide)

Welcome to our “How to Catch Florida Black Crappie Fish Guide”! Inside this guide we explain where, how, and when to catch these little freshwater fighters in Florida. You can take 25 per day, so that should give you an idea whether or not they are plentiful. They are! Black Crappie are delicious to eat and the flesh is soft and tasty. This is one of those fish that are excellent for taking your kids fishing!

[Page Updated – 27 July 2021. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]

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HOW TO FISH for CRAPPIE—Guide

Ratings

  • Size: 2/10 stars 
  • Fight: 2/10 stars 
  • Difficulty to Catch: 3/10 stars
  • Taste: 10/10 stars

INDEX to Sections in this Guide:


PRO TIP – Florida Black Crappie are also known as specks, craps, speckled perch, and speckled crappie. If you have heard any more names, let me know!

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Crappie Fish Facts

Black crappie identification image. Black spots on the body, fins, and tail are distinctive.

Species: Genus: Pomoxis Species: Pomoxis nigromaculatus. In Latin language, nigromaculatus means with black spots.

Identifying Features

  • Small freshwater fish with spots of varying color on the body, tail and fins: green, brown, yellow, and black.
  • Almost symmetrical dorsal and anal fins.
  • 7-8 dorsal spines (vs. 5-6 for white crappie fish)
  • Small mouth
  • Dip in forehead over the eye
Small separator.

Similar Species: Crappie fish are a panfish, so it resembles them and sunfish of all kind.

Florida Black crappie fish compared to other panfish, and Florida State records.
Comparison of panfish Florida records. The Black Crappie is rather conspicuous in color and snout.

IUCN Redlist Status: LC – Least Concern. Crappie is well represented throughout its range in Florida and other US States. There are no restrictions in place but the 25 fish limit per person per day.This is a fast growing fish that reproduces quickly in large lakes.

Appearance: These are small panfish that resemble bluegill and many other panfish and sunfish in freshwater.

Length: Usual length for crappie fish caught on lakes is between 8 and 12 inches. Maximum length: 19.3 inches. (49 cm). Typical length is 10.8 inches (27.5 cm).

Weight: Usually less than 14-inches long and 2 lbs. Anything bigger is eligible for the Florida Big Catch program (certification).

Range/Distribution: The natural habit of Black Crappie fish covers most of the area of the eastern USA in freshwater rivers and lakes but it has become hard to distinguish native habitat from where it has been introduced. Since the fish is so sought after among anglers, there have been extensive programs to spread the fish to major water bodies in all US States.

Crappie (indigenous or non) are now found in these states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Habitat: Clearwater areas of lakes and rivers are the best places to find a lot of specks. They vary their depth considerably (benthopelagic), so don’t give up if you’re trying one depth and not catching anything. Lengthen the distance between your float and the hook. Go deeper, go shallower. If the crappie fish are not on the shore in their nests around 3-8 feet deep for breeding from February to April then they’re out looking for small fish and other prey and can be quite far from the shore.

Crappie fish seem to prefer slow-moving water that is cooler than what you might think. Crappie require cover of some sort most of the time, and can be found around live vegetation, fallen trees, rocks, and other debris both natural and artificial over mud or sand.

Temperatures preferred: Subtropical 57°F – 88°F (14°C – 31°C). pH required: 6.0 – 7.5.

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Fishing World Records

The all-tackle IGFA crappie world record comes from Tennessee where a lunker speck was caught by Lionel Ferguson that weighed over 5 lbs.! 5 lbs. 7.68oz. to be exact. Ferguson caught it at a friend’s pond called “Richeison Pond”, in Loudon County. It was caught on rod and reel on May 15, 2018. The fish was genetically tested to be sure it wasn’t a hybrid, and it was found to be a pure black crappie. Nice fish!

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Florida Record

The biggest crappie ever caught in Florida occurred at the big Lake Talquin in Gadsden County just west of Tallahassee and the fish was 3.83 lbs.! Ben Curry, Sr. is credited with the record. He caught the huge speck on January 21, in 1992. That’s a big one alright. Crappie rarely reach a weight over 2 lbs.

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Why Catch them?

Crappie fishing is as fun as any other panfish and sunfish fishing. Ideal for kids because a child can handle putting a minnow on the hook and casting it out… and retrieving a small fish. These fish rarely reach more than 2 lbs. and are easy to handle. My first fishing trip involved bluegill, they’re basically the same thing but crappies get bigger and fight a little harder.

Why Do So Many Adults Target Specks?

They’re thinking about dinner! Crappies are excellent table fare and can be caught in decent numbers so they can feed your entire family. At Thanksgiving. You can keep up to 25 in a day, so that should be enough to throw some fish down everyone’s throat, no matter how big your family.

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Where To Fish for Crappie Fish?

Probably all rivers in Florida hold crappie. I’ve been able to find them at any river I ever tried to catch them in, including small rivers like Tampa’s Hillsborough River. They can be in canals, streams, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, rivers… just about anywhere, to be honest.

In the map below, you can see that specks are all over Florida and most eastern US states. Map showing distribution of Black Crappie in brown. From IUCNRedlish.org.

Map showing (in brown) black crappie distribution throughout USA.

Some of the best fishing spots for black crappie fish include:

Orange Lake, (Alachua County). Specks anglers are catching them primarily in the north and south ends of the lake. This is located about 15 miles south of Gainesville in northern Florida.

Ochlockonee River / Lake Talquin (Leon, Gadsden and Liberty counties). This is a few miles west of the state capital, Tallahassee.

Lake Kissimmee, (Osceola and Polk counties). Like in most lakes, the best way to catch Crappie in this lake is by free-lining minnows from a boat or the shore. Hotspots are around the C-37 canal and near Brahma and Bird Islands near channel markers seven and eight.

Lake Placid. In the middle of the state, this one is about 75 miles south of Lakeland.

Lake Okeechobee. This is just west of West Palm Beach on the east side of Florida. A massive lake, there are all kinds of freshwater fish represented here.

Lake Marian, (Osceola County). Lake Marian has anglers trolling small fish and minnows near Jordan Slough and 4-mile Point. Small jigs can be used when the specks are spawning because they’ll attack anything that comes near their nests. In 2020, anglers caught specks at the rate of 2.6 per hour on average, that’s a very high rate of catch and Lake Marian is not a place you should miss if you’re able to get there to fish. This lake is located between Lakeland and Vero Beach.

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Diet – What Do They Eat?

Crappie are piscivorous, meaning they are carnivorous and eat almost entirely small fish. They also enjoy a varied diet of crustaceans, small fish like minnows, and aquatic insects and larvae and some insects found on topwater. The best live bait to use for specks is definitely small minnows, and even bigger-sized minnows.

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When Is the Best Time to Fish?

Fishing freshwater lakes and rivers, the moon phase is not all that relevant, so when is the best time to fish for Crappie fish? Morning or around dinner seems to be best. Insects wake up in the morning and start moving around in the water and in the air, landing on top of the surface of the water and becoming breakfast for fish. So, I like early morning better, before the sun rises but the evening can also be very productive.

The absolute best time to fish for crappie? Midnight to 2 am. Not joking. These are primarily nocturnal fish, but of course few would be caught if they weren’t also available in the daylight hours.

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Gear—The Essentials



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Crappie Fish Laws in Florida

Florida black crappie management plan details how to optimize this fishery to be enjoyed for generations to come.
If you’re wondering why Black Crappie are so in demand, it’s because they taste as good as Pompano!

Because these fish are so prolific and they’ve been put in many locations by state officials, and all over the USA by now, there are few rules about the species. They are in good numbers, and always have been to my knowledge. You still need a fishing license to drop a line in the water, so you should check out the license info below.

License Requirements

Here is our page covering Florida Fishing Licenses. There is no special Pompano permit required.

Legal Gear for Harvesting

Hook and line, cast net, and beach or haul seine only. No gigging, snatching, or spear-fishing allowed.


Florida Gulf (West) Coast Laws

There is no specific season for Black Crappie on the Gulf Coast. OPEN YEAR ROUND

  • Minimum Size Limit: No minimum set.
  • Daily Bag Limit: 25 per person.

East Coast (Atlantic) Laws

  • Minimum Size Limit: Same as Gulf Coast.
  • Daily Bag Limit: Same as Gulf Coast.


Get the Fishing App

If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.

Farming

Florida crappie are delicious and easy to catch, but they’re not farmed much because they are a very small fish compared to something like a redfish or tuna.

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How to Cook Crappie?

With such a small fish, the only way to get any meat out of them is to broil the entire fish. Scale it. Gut it. Clean it off. Leave the head. Stuff the belly with lemongrass and add butter, a bit of oil to the glass tray so the fish doesn’t stick, and throw a piece of foil on it. Puncture the foil a couple times with a knife point and put it in the over to broil, on the top shelf.

They are thin fish and they’ll cook fast. Be careful not to overcook them. At 500°F they’ll not take more than 8 minutes.

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Resources

  • IUCN RedlistThe International Union for the Conservation of Nature assessed this fish in March of 2012 and found it to be of least concern. Find out more info at this link.

Image credits:

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More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know

Florida Fishing Guides >

Fishing Styles >

Fishing Tacklebox Essentials

Florida Fish Regulation Ruler (Belt)

Florida fish legal limits – make sure you get for the year you will be fishing.
Durable and waterproof, this essential fish ruler will keep you out of trouble on the water! Get yours HERE.

Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)

Fish scale to weigh your fish. Also has measuring tape.
Know how much your fish weighs immediately. Buy this handy scale HERE.

Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)

Florida Saltwater Fish ID guide for helping you identify legal fish caught in Florida.
Some fish are difficult to identify. Make sure you know 100% which fish you have before you keep it. Florida fishing regulations are strictly enforced. Buy this little 5 inch by 7 inch booklet HERE.
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Fishing Tacklebox Essentials

Florida Fish Regulation Ruler (Belt)

Florida fish legal limits – make sure you get for the year you will be fishing.
Durable and waterproof, this essential fish ruler will keep you out of trouble on the water! Get yours HERE.

Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)

Fish scale to weigh your fish. Also has measuring tape.
Know how much your fish weighs immediately. Buy this handy scale HERE.

Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)

Florida Saltwater Fish ID guide for helping you identify legal fish caught in Florida.
Some fish are difficult to identify. Make sure you know 100% which fish you have before you keep it. Florida fishing regulations are strictly enforced. Buy this little 5 inch by 7 inch booklet HERE.