One of the many benefits of living in Arizona is the year-round fishing. When most of the county is under ice, we still enjoy the open waters on our lakes, rivers, and streams throughout the winter. If you’re somebody who loves to chase panfish, particularly Crappie, there may be no better time for Arizona anglers to target this species. Crappie are not only fun to catch, but I must admit they are one of my favorites to eat as well. You can find Crappie in most of our Arizona reservoirs, and many of our urban lakes. Some of my favorite lakes to target Crappie are Bartlett, Alamo, and Roosevelt Lakes. These bodies of water have an abundance of Crappie that can be rather easy to find especially with good electronics/fish finders. In the colder waters, Crappie can be found suspended in schools anywhere you find schools of bait, but also around deep trees or brush. Look for these deeper trees and you will find Crappies in or near tops of the trees. I like to look for trees in 20 to 40 feet of water.
Here are several preferred techniques and lures I choose once I have located them. Using a 1/32 to 1/8 Kalin’s Crappie jig head paired with a 2″ single tail grub is my first choice. You may also try a Roadrunner with its small bladed jig head which has always been another good option to successfully catch Crappie. Experimenting with jig head will depend on the depth of the fish, but the lighter jig head allows the grub or lure to fall and swim at a speed that is not too fast to trigger strikes.
Another option is to drop a minnow (live bait) directly down to the fish with a vertical presentation. Not much technique required here as the minnow will do most of the work if you can drop it down to the right depth. Live bait can be hard to beat at times and is often helpful when nothing else works. When live bait is not an option or available, I use the Acme Hyper Rattle and Hyper Glide which have erratic vertical jigging action which imitates an injured minnow.
Lastly, trolling small Crappie Crankbaits to cover water or over tops of trees can be very productive, but it is critical to have everything set up correctly and know your lures are getting through the strike zone.
Crappie can be finicky, as most fish in cold water are, so using finesse tactics are critical to catching them. I recommend using 2 to 4 lb Seaguar InvizX Florocarbon line. Light line allows you to cast these small lures with distance, and the Florocarbon is extremely supple and sensitive. Crappie can bite very light so using the right rod will help you detect these bites and successfully land more fish. Crappie are also known for their paper mouths which easily tear from hooksets. To avoid losing fish you want a rod with a soft tip so you don’t tear the mouth when setting the hook. I currently use a Duckett 7″ medium/light graphite rod with a fast tip. This set up has been successful for me and increases my hookups and landing ratio.
Remember if you’re not catching them, keep moving as Crappie will group together in large schools. It may take you a while to locate them, but only a short time to load the boat.