Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crappie Fly Patterns

I've tried a good number of fly patterns on the crappies around here.  Almost everything will catch fish at times, but there are a handful of patterns that have REALLY stood out as being VERY effective for crappies.

Crappies everywhere have a ritual of moving both higher in the water column AND closer to shore in the evenings.  During the day they often hang in deeper water, and are more difficult to target with a floating fly line.  But in the evenings they can often be caught fairly easily if you find the right areas.

Also be aware that although crappies often like to hang near some sort of structure (preferably woody structure, like a fallen tree or flooded brushpile), they often also school suspended in open water.  Fishing can be quite good if you can keep near a school of crappies!

Another thing to keep in mind is that crappies prefer to feed UP.  Depending on the water clarity, they will move up a fair distance to take a fly.  I've seen this behavior even in cold water, when ice-fishing.  I've seen crappies move up from 5' to even 10' below the fly to chase it upwards before hitting it.  And that was in water of questionable clarity!

In the evenings, crappies can sometimes be caught on topwater flies, but I don't believe this is the BEST option.

I do a lot of my crappie fishing in the late evenings...from just before dusk to well after dark.  The fly that has worked best for me when fishing at night over several years, is the Boa Yarn Leech.  Silver or white can be good, but bright yellow has worked the best for me.  This pattern has excellent movement in the water, and can be fished shallow and slow.  Slow is key.  I tie Boa Yarn Leeches unweighted on a #8 3XL Streamer Hook.  If the fish won't come up to within 5' of the surface, you can add a beadhead to get the fly down a bit deeper.

Another unweighted pattern that can be good is a charteuse-and-white Thunder Creek Minnow pattern.  The key is to have the right size fly.  I sometimes go as big as a size 6, but usually size 8 and 10's will get more hits.  And this is interesting...I've caught good numbers of 12"+ crappies using spinning gear and 3" long twister-tail jigs...but when fly-fishing, I've had better luck going SMALLER!
The top fly below is a Thunder Creek Minnow.  The other hairwings sure look good, and I have caught fish on them, but just not nearly as many.

For weighted patterns, I've got 3-4 good ones in my arsenal.  First is what I call a Microjig.  These have marabou tail and chenille or yarn bodies.  The best colors for me are pink-and-white, and chartreuse.  I tie these on 1/80 oz and 1/100th oz jigheads, and sometimes larger/heavier if needing to fish deeper or get a faster sink rate.
A very similar pattern is the Springbrook Wunder.  These are usually tied in more natural colors, starting with grizzly chickabou tail, and a silver or gold sparkle chenille body:
Here's the actual one that caught a lot of the nice crappies in the previous blog:

The next pattern is a Kraft Fur Clouser...which is tied like a Clouser Deep Minnow.   Because I tie these in sizes 8 and 10...and sometimes even 12...I find Kraft Fur works a lot better than bucktail on patterns this small.  1"-2" sizes work very well.  I've caught crappies on all the colors below.  Chartreuse and/or white is always a safe way to go, size seems most important.  Choose the barbell, hourglass, or beadchain eye size/weight to suit the hook size and the sink rate you desire.  Also, you can somewhat affect sink rate by how thick you tie on the Kraft Fur.  Too much can hamper hooksets, though.
Red sandwiched between white has been a good color scheme for me, too.
Somewhat similar to the Clouser, and also very effective, is the Crappie Candy.  Again, pink-and-white or chartruese-and-white are usually good colors to start with.

One last pattern to consider, especially in dingy water is a minnow pattern tied with silver or opalescent mylar tubing, and your choice of tail material.  You can use lead tape or lead-substitute wire under the mylar tubing to achieve the sink rate you desire.

If you feel comfortable with Woolly Buggers, weighted and unwieghted versions can work in a pinch.

Of the ones I've listed above, my top 3 would be Boa Yarn Leech for the shallowest presentations, and I really really like both the Microjigs/Springbrook Wunder, and the Kraft Fur Clousers.  All three of these are very quick and easy to tie, which is a plus.  If you are fishing around brush, you definitely might lose some flies!

You can use a strike indicator and fish somewhat vertically. In this case, the Microjigs are most likely to sit horizontally in the water, and so look like the most natural presentation.  Wind/wave action on the indicator will provide movement to the microjig.  If not using an indicator, I usually cast out, let the fly sink to an appropriate depth, then start a slow, jerky retrieve.  For some reason, Crappies LOVE a jerky retrieve!  Sometimes this can be better achieved by sort of shaking your rod while slowly retrieving, but often just doing very short, abrupt movements while stripping in the line works well.

As for strike detection, crappies often just suck the fly in.  You'll really need to watch your line.  At any indication that some extra weight is on the line, or your line begins to move backward while you are doing your slow retrieve, SET THE HOOK.  A quick hook-set is more important than a STRONG hookset.  Just tightening your line, or doing a medium side-sweep with your rod is usually sufficient to bury the hook.  Don't horse the fish too much during the fight.  The skin around their mouths is paper-thin, and you can rip the hook right out of their mouth with too much pressure.

Crappies on fly gear are a lot of fun!  Good luck!


  1. Dave
    I believe I ask you for a picture of your crappie fly you were using the other day on your last post--boy did you deliver, those are some of the best looking flies and jigs I have seen to land crappie. I really like the clouser and the Boa Yarn Leech. The informaiton you included with each fly and jig is extremely helpful---I am going to try some ot these patterns next week on one of my brother's favortie favorite lakes. Thanks for sharing these patterns and putting out the info to boot.

  2. I ussually have luck with wooly buggers olive and cray colors and with prince nymphs
    Also any bass pattern or panfish pattern work good to

  3. Hello Dave,

    I just moved to Arkansas and am really liking crappie fishing. I've found some patterns and recipes but am hoping you could share a few of yours. I like tying and I especially like crappies. Now that I live here in the South I can really get after it.



    1. Lee,
      You are in a great place to fish for crappies! :)
      I wrote this blog article in 2010. Now its 2015, and as my flyfishing and experience has evolved, I've refined my favorite crappie fly list since then. Actually, it hasn't changed significantly.
      The 1/80 oz microjigs (aka Springbrook Wunder) are definitely my top crappie producer when flyfishing. They are simple: you can buy the 1/80 oz jigheads (no collar) in eBay. Next, use bright red or red-orange thread. Tie in marabou tail of your color choice, and chenille body of your color choice. Finish the tie right behind the jighead with extra wraps of the thread. Its supposed to look like the red of fish gills. My best-producing colors are all-chartreuse, metallic gold or silver chenille body/grizzly marabou tail, red body/chartreuse tail, and olive mylar chenille and black tail. I fish this @ 18" under an indicator all Spring, and again in the Fall....deeper in the summer (and probably also Winter in your area...but the lakes here ice over).
      Crappie Candy is also a great pattern for crappies, as shown in the blog post above. Chartreuse/white is a great color combo.
      And finally, when the fish are really shallow in Spring and late Fall, and when fishing at night, I like a #8 yellow Boa Yarn Leech. It sinks very slowly, can be fished slowly around weed lines and shorelines, and it pushes enough water that the fish can find it in the dark.
      Good luck, Lee! :)

  4. So you fly fish for these crappies in the dark? You have a lot of luck doing that? How many hours after dark would you consider good fishing. I understand crappies are temperature sensitive does the night temp play any factor you think?

    1. Ezra,
      Yes, crappie fishing is often quite good after dark. I have fished as late as midnight, and the crappies are still hitting. A friend of mine icefishes all night during the winter, and catches his biggest crappies in the dark. There doesn't seem to be a magic time. Apart from temperature sensitivity, Crappies tend to be light-sensitive, especially outside of the spawning season. I once saw an In-Fisherman TV episode where they said crappies typically move higher in the water column and closer to shore as the sky darkens in the evenings.