It has been said that in the spring a young man’s fancy “lightly turns
to thoughts of love.” So be it. But the vernal equinox also sparks a keen
interest in fishing for males of all ages and no few of the fair sex.
When these natural phenomena occur, the crappie (both white and black),
aka “Ol’ Papermouth,” leads the parade of piscatorial endeavor. ”Okay,”
you say, “but how do I know whether I am catching white crappies or black
To answer that question before we dive headlong into other facets of
the big crappie-fishing picture, I jangled the phone of Bill James, chief
of the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Fisheries Section since about
the time they chipped the corners off of square stone wheels.
How do you distinguish between black and white crappies?
“Easy game, coach,” Bill says, pointing out that even though coloration
can’t always be trusted, the blacks (which often are darker) is spotted
and splotched, while the white tends to have dark vertical stripes.
For those who would like some characteristics that are more scientific,
you go to the dorsal fins (that’s the one on the back). The dorsal spine
of the white crappie will have five or six spines, while the same fin on
the black will have seven or eight spines.
Taking the spine thing one notch further, Bill says the front edge of
the dorsal fin of the black crappie starts closer to the head than does
the corresponding fin of the white. This tends to give the white
crappie a more streamlined appearance.
Bill also noted that while black and white crappies will be found in
many waters of the state, blacks prefer clear water. Whites tend to thrive
in waters that are more murky.
These questions answered, we popped the $64-thousand question: ”What
are some of Hoosierland’s best crappie waters this spring?” Patoka, Monroe,
Cataract, Raccoon, Brookville, and Eagle Creek reservoirs always produce
some good crappie fishing, Bill says, pointing out that the spring fishing
usually offers larger crappies. As summer comes on, larger crappies are
more difficult to catch, he says.
Dogwood Lake (Glendale State Fish and Wildlife Area), and Lake Sullivan
(at the town of Sullivan in the county of the same name), and Summit Lake
(Summit Lake State Park in Henry County) also get favorable nods. Many
of the natural lakes of the northeastern part of the state also offer good
Actually, crappies (like many other wild things) are where you find
them. And finding them--especially the big ones--is a matter of searching
them out. Although crappies are generally thought to be standing-water
fish, they may be found in many of the states larger and mid-sized streams
and rivers, especially sluggish, meandering moving waters of the central
and southern watersheds.
What’s the best way to fish for crappies?
Small minnows suspended below bobbers with spinning tackle undoubtedly
accounts for more crappies than any other live or artificial bait. However,
small jig-type lures are very good, and when combined with small live minnows
they are even better.
My favorite method for springtime crappie fishing employs live minnows
and small jigs while drifting shorelines in a small boat. I like two fly
rods or cane poles rigged with bobbers for fishing live minnows about two
feet deep. My minnow poles are placed at angles out of the boat’s transom
as I slowly move along shorelines that look fishy.
While keeping an eye on my bobbers, I am casting the shoreline ahead
with a small jig with casting bobber. When the minnow-rigged poles find
a school of crappies, I quietly anchor the boat and fish the school with
the all of the three poles. Indiana regulations allow the use of three
I like to fish for crappies near driftwood or at the edges of logjams.
Inundated woody cover near channels of streams is a good bet on the reservoirs
or other standing waters.
Easy-does-it when a crappie is hooked. The crappie gets its “Ol' Papermouth”
monicker honestly. Sure, you want to get them on the bank with a steady
pull, but rough treatment of a hooked crappie can tear out the paper-thin
mouth and free the fish.
Click on thumbnail
image for enlarged view.
Bill finds a good seat on a Muscatatuck River logjam and locates
a white crappie.
sketch was made by the late Mac Heaton, DFW artist for many