What Do Crappie Eat – Favorite Foods in Their Diet & Best Baits for Crappie

Crappie are one of the most popular sportfish that anglers target in the United States, and they aren’t particularly hard to catch. Crappies aren’t very fussy eaters, but if you know what they like to eat, and therefore what bait to throw, you’ll catch 20 instead of 2.

So, what do crappie eat?

Crappies are aggressive predators for their size and their favorite meals are small bait fish. This means they are actively looking for minnows, small bluegills, shiners, and fry of larger species. They also enjoy crawfish, crayfish, insects, and nymphs, but their main focus is small fish.

But, there is a lot more to what crappies eat than this. Their feed behaviors and choices change depending on seasons, where you’re fishing, and more. How do you crack the code? Read on to find out.

Join me as I run through what crappie eat, when, why, where, and more so you always know what the best bait for crappie is, no matter where you’re fishing or what time of year it is.

Table of Contents

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What Do Crappies Eat?

Crappie have large mouths for their size which means they can eat larger prey than other similar pan fish like bluegill.

Their diet is quite varied over their lifetime and in different seasons, but we will get into those details later.

Here is what a crappie’s diet consists of:

  • Minnows
  • Small bluegill
  • Shiners
  • Crayfish
  • Tadpoles
  • Frogs
  • Shrimp
  • Worms
  • Nymphs
  • Grasshoppers
  • Moths
  • Other Insects
  • Zooplankton
  • Snails
  • Bass, perch, walleye, pike and crappie fry

Young crappies will start out eating zooplankton and then once they have grown a little bit, nymphs and small snails.

When crappies get to adult sizes, they start looking for bigger protein rich prey – small bait fish, fry, shrimps, and crayfish.

crappie fish close up

What Do Crappies Eat in Different Seasons?

Crappies are pretty aggressive feeders and they will not shy away from an easy meal.

This means that as seasons change, and different food types become more abundant at different times, crappies will change their diets to match.

Crappie Feeding Habits in Spring

Once the water and air temperature starts to warm up after winter, things start to hatch and crappie are looking to regain some weight after a long winter.

Crappies will actively hunt for small bait fish, shrimp, crawfish, and nymphs while the waters heat up.

Once the air and water are a bit warmer, hatches of insects such as beetles, hoppers, midges, and more come out and crappies will actively start targeting these hatches on the surface like trout.

If you start seeing insect hatches, chances are the crappie have too and you will start seeing rises on the surface.

When the water is warm just before summer, crappies will focus hard on shad, minnows and shiners. They will also eat the odd worm or two.

crappie hooked and being reeled in with bait in it's mouth

Crappie Feeding Habits in Summer

In the summer, a crappie’s ecosystem is packed full of more food than any time of the year, and every type of prey is available too. The crappies will eat whatever they can lay their hands on.

This means they are after everything from shrimp and crayfish to minnows, bass fry, small trout. Perch fry, minnows, tadpoles, frogs, and let’s not forget the insect hatches too.

When fishing for crappie in the summer, it is very important to match whatever prey is most prevalent at any given time of the day. This will be insects hatching at sunset, or bait fish in the late afternoon, and maybe some crayfish in the morning.

Crappie Feeding Habits in Fall

In the fall, the rivers and lakes crappies live in are still packed full of their favorite food sources, so there is plenty to eat.

The crappie’s behavior also changes during the fall as they know winter is coming and they need to feed as much as possible to create enough fat stores to get through the colder months without much food around.

During the fall, crappie will be gorging aggressively on small bait fish and crayfish more than anything else. This is because these food sources are abundant and they are an excellent way for the crappies to fatten up before winter.

Crappie Feeding Habits in Winter

In the winter, everything slows down and this is because there is less food around and the crappies have to expend a lot of energy to stay warm in the colder water temperatures.

Crappies will still eat over winter but with far less aggression to save energy. Food sources such as nymphs are in short supply so the crappies go for shrimp, crayfish, plankton, and any small bait fish still in the system.

Over winter, the crappies essentially go into survival mode. They sit at the warmest water temperatures they can find, move slowly to save energy, and feed very opportunistically until spring arrives and brings with it warmer water and lots of food.

crappie hooked and being reeled in with bait in it's mouth

What are the Best Baits & Lures For Crappie

Now that we know what crappie like to eat and how their feeding habits change over the seasons, let’s use this knowledge to work out what the best baits and lures are to catch them with.

Best Live Baits for Crappie

Crappies prefer eating small bait fish over anything else when they can get their hands on them. This means that minnows and small fry and an extremely effective live bait for crappie and they work all year round.

Live shrimp and crawfish are also an excellent live bait for crappies since they look to these prey sources when they can’t find enough small fish to eat.

The best live bait is a fathead minnow as this is likely the number one favorite prey for large crappie. If you have one of these swimming around on your hook, it won’t be long before crappie inhales it!

Best Lures for Crappie

When loading up your crappie tackle box, it is all about finding lures that imitate what crappies feed on naturally.

This means you are looking for lures that look like crayfish, shrimp, minnows, shad, bluegills, shiners, yellow shrimp, tadpoles, and the lost goes on. Here are the best lure types you should be looking for:

Soft Plastics

Soft plastics are excellent imitations of a crappie’s natural prey. Being soft, they have an excellent action plus when attacked, they feel more natural to a crappie.

When fished with an added jig head, you can fish them at different depths and use the stop-and-pause motion that entices crappies to attack.

These lure types will work all season round as crappie are always looking to eat a small fish, and you can slow down or speed up your retrieve to match the crappies behavior.

Jigs & Tube Jigs

Feather jigs and tube jigs are one of the best lures for crappie fishing. The feathers give these lures a very natural movement in the water and the jig head provides an excellent action too.

Feather jigs and tubes imitate small fish perfectly. You can also fish them at multiple depths and speeds, matching the aggression of the crappies which makes these lures highly effective.

Crankbaits & Plugs

Crankbaits and plugs are great lures to use for crappies during the summer and fall when crappies are at their most aggressive.

Both of these lures imitate fleeing bait fish which crappie can not help but want to chase. Look for shallow and deep diving crankbaits so you can fish them at different depths as crappie move in the water column throughout the day.


Inline spinners are also great crappie lures for the summer and fall when the fish are being more aggressive.

The spinning blade catches the light and creates a lot of noise in the water, attracting these predatory fish out of their hiding places and invoking an attack.

Grasshopper Lures & Flies

When fly hatches begin in late spring and run through to early fall, crappies will gorge on them at the surface, especially during sunset hours.

This is the perfect time to throw out a floating grasshopper lure and catch a crappie on the surface.

If you are into fly fishing, throwing a hopper fly during these moments is deadly for crappie or any fly that matches the hatch best.

angler holding freshwater crappie close up with a lake background

What Lure Size is Best for Crappies?

As I have already mentioned, it is best to find lures that imitate a crappie’s natural prey and this is true when it comes to size too.

The bait fish crappies go after are small and usually between 1 to 3 inches long, so be sure to buy lures that are 1 – 3 or maybe even 4 inches long.

Having a range of different lengths is also important so that you can size up or down to match what the crappies prefer on any given day.

What Lure Colors are Best for Crappies?

The best lure colors will imitate natural prey. You should have brown and red lures for crayfish, gray and black for minnows, shads, and suckers, and blue/yellow/green for bluegill and perch.

But, natural color imitations don’t work all the time, as it depends on light and water clarity. When fishing in clear water, natural colors are best, but in dirty water or on dark days, bright colors or dark colors are needed.

Be sure to have a solid range of lure colors to experiment with so you can experiment with them on the water.

man holding Crappie fish


How do crappies hunt?

Understanding what crappies like to eat and the best lures or baits to catch them with is one thing. When you understand how they hunt, you can fish your lures and baits in a way that will always entice an attack.

Crappies are ambush predators and therefore behave similarly to bass and pike. Crappie will hide amongst structures such as an overhanging bank or sunken tree and wait. When, for example, a small fish swims past, they will rush out from their hiding place and eat it.

This means when fishing for crappie, you will want to focus your efforts around structures crappies choose to hide in. You should fish your lures and baits along the edges of structures.

When using lures, pause during your retrieve as this creates the image of an injured bait fish and will force a crappie to come out of hiding and take your lure.

Do crappie eat worms?

Yes, crappie do eat worms when they can find them. They are not the most prevalent food source in a crappie’s ecosystem and are usually only abundant after heavy rainfall has washed them into the lake or river.

Should you use worms as bait for crappie?

A crappie will certainly eat a wiggling worm on a hook but other fish like bluegill will find and eat the worm before a crappie does 90% of the time. Minnows and crayfish are far more effective baits for crappies.

How much do crappies eat?

Crappies, like a lot of fish, do not have a mechanism to tell them that they are full and will continue to gorge on food so long as it is readily available to them.

This makes it impossible to work out how much a crappie eats each day, and it is specific to how much food it has available.

Crappies are aggressive though, as I have already mentioned, and they grow very quickly. Luckily, they will not get too fat in the wild as winter ensures they lose weight each year.

What time of day do crappie feed the most?

Crappies have excellent vision and color perception in poor light conditions. This means during sunrise, early morning, late afternoon, and sunset they have the advantage over their prey and they use this to feed hard.

During these times, the water temperatures are also cooler which in the warmer months makes the crappies more active. They are the best times to fish for crappies!

If you are fishing for crappie over spring, summer, and fall, the best time is sunrise through to 9/10 am and 4 pm through to sunset.

In winter, crappie will be most active when the water is at its warmest, and this will be the middle of the day.

Can you fish for crappie at night?

Since crappies have great vision in low light conditions, bright nights with a full moon are great for crappies as they can hunt down their prey with ease.

This also goes for artificially lit areas like marinas. But, on dark nights crappies can’t see well at all and crappie fishing will be very slow.

When do crappie spawn?

Understanding when crappies spawn will also help you catch more of them.

During spring, when the water temperatures warm up to between 56 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit, the crappies move into shallow waters to begin spawning.

This usually happens in May, so if you are fishing in this month, focus on shallower waters.

Winding Up

Thank you very much for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it and have learned a great deal about what crappie eat, what bait and lures to use, and how to fish for them more effectively.

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below, tell me if I missed any great baits/lures, and I want to hear about your crappie fishing experiences too!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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