Where and How to Catch California Crappie

4.25. Bait Fish Use in the North Central District.
Except as provided below, live or dead fin fish shall not be used or possessed for use as bait in the North Central District:
(a) Golden shiner, fathead minnow, red shiner, mosquitofish, longjaw mudsucker and staghorn sculpin may be used in Napa and Sonoma counties, in Marin County except for Stafford Lake, in Lake County except for the Eel River and its tributaries, and in Lake Mendocino (Mendocino Co.).
(b) Live threadfin shad, Mississippi silverside and lamprey may be used only at the location where taken.
4.30. Bait Fish Use in the Sierra and North Coast Districts.
Except as provided below, live or dead fin fish shall not be used or possessed for use as bait in the Sierra and North Coast Districts.
(a) In Donner, Fallen Leaf and Tahoe lakes Lahontan redside, tui chub, Tahoe sucker, Lahontan speckled dace, mountain sucker and Paiute sculpin may be used only in the same lake where taken.
(b) In Shasta Lake only golden shiner, red shiner, fathead minnows, mosquitofish and threadfin shad may be used or possessed for use as bait.
(c) Crayfish shall not be used for bait in the Pit River and all tributaries between Pit 3 Dam (Lake Britton) and the Fall River-Cassel Road Bridge at Fall River Mills, California (includes Hat Creek and Fall River and their tributaries).

As you can see from these excerpts, fishing in California can be confusing. Check witrh you local DNR Office before fishing, because California changes regulations often sometimes on a daily basis (it seems).

You’ll find good schools of crappie at major lakes in Northern CA like Lake Berryessa, Bullards Bar Reservoir, Clear Lake, Folsom Lake, Lake Oroville, New Hogan Lake and Lake Shasta. Be sure that crappie populate many other smaller waters. It’s always worth a few casts to see if crappie inhabit the water you’re on. Clear Lake holds the state record for white crappie while New Hogan Lake holds the record for black crappie.

Lake Camanche, The Delta, Lake Don Pedro, Lake McClure, Millerton Lake, Lake Nacimiento, New Melones Lake and Pine Flat Lake all have nice populations of crappie as do some of the smaller bodies of water in Central CA. The warmer waters of the lower elevation lakes in Southern CA like Big Bear Lake, Lake Cahuilla, El Capitan Lake, Lake Hodges, Lower Otay Lake, San Vicente Lake and Lake Sutherland have decent populations of crappie.

The California state record black crappie came from New Hogan Lake and Clear
Lake produced the CA state record white crappie. Biologists classify the many varieties of this specie into two main categories. Both have been introduced in many waters both north and south and they tend to adapt to most environments.

Crappie are school fish and can be caught by still-fishing, casting, trolling or drifting. Spring is the best time to catch crappie as they are involved in their spawning runs. They love cover, so locate brush, stumps or artificial cover at appropriate depths and you are likely to find crappie. Use live bait, a crappie jig or a small crappie lure. At dawn you may find them close to the surface. As the sun hits the water they drop to 5 or 10 feet deep depending on water clarity.

As the sun gets higher in the sky they may retreat to deeper water, 25 feet or more. When the sun begins to set they will move back up to the shallows and finish the day at the surface as dusk turns to darkness. Typically they return to deeper water for the night and may occasionally do some feeding during the dark hours.

Baits which imitate minnows, insects, worms or small crustaceans will attract crappie. The more aggressive the crappie are, the faster you can move the bait to cover more water.


Top Baits: Live Bait, Crappie Jigs & Spinners.

Fish shallow to moderate depths as the crappie move into the shallows for warmer water to begin spawning. Their primary food source is minnows and small crayfish. Try slow drifting and slow moving baits until you catch a fish. Mark the spot and fish it thoroughly as you probably located a school of crappies.


Top Baits: Live Bait, Crappie Jigs and spoons.

Fish shallow in the mornings and evenings and move deeper as the sun rises. “Deep” depends on the overall depth of the lake you are fishing. In some lakes you may need to go as deep as 35 to 45 feet.


Top Baits Live Bait, Crappie Jigs & Spinners.

Fish shallow to moderate depths in the mornings and evenings. As the crappie migrate deeper during the day move to outside deep structure and use spoons or jigs.


Top Baits: Live Bait, Crappie Jigs & Small Worms.

Crappie tend to school deep and have less interest in feeding during the colder months. Deep for white crappie may be a little shallower than for black crappie which may drop as deep as 45 to 55 feet. They are sluggish in cold water, so move your bait very slowly around deep cover and structure. If you locate a deep school, be patient and work slowly.

To get the full “Where and How to Catch California Crappie” article you’ll need to download it here.

Dan Eggertsen is a fellow crappie fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on crappie fishing since 2004.

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