Whether crappie fishing in open water or ice fishing, small minnows are the best bait for catching crappies, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. However, it is important to select proper-sized bait. Minnows that measures 1 inch to 1.5 inches in length are ideal. Hook your minnow bait through its back just below the dorsal fin without penetrating the spine. This will allow it to live longer and to swim freely. Use a small hook--such as size number 4, 6 or 8--with a light split shot located about a foot above the hook. You can also tip a leadhead jig along with a small minnow when fishing is slow. Other live baits that are effective for crappie fishing include insect larvae, waxworms, mealworms, mousies and silver wigglers.
When crappie fishing in natural lakes, search near inlets, marshes, marinas and canals. In smaller lakes, cast your bait in coves or close to the rock armor on dams. During spring, fish in large flood control reservoirs because crappies tend to congregate in large embayments close to submerged structures. Crappies leave shallow waters when the summertime comes and move into deeper waters with cooler temperature. Cast your line at water depths from 8 feet to 25 feet by drift fishing to locate schools of fish.
The most productive time to catch crappie is during their spawning period, typically during May. Cast near the base of vegetation stands, such as emerging bulrush or cattail. Males become extremely aggressive during this period and will often bite at a bait to defend their nest. Note that environmental conditions differ from place to place. Inquire at your local bait and tackle shops or with other local anglers regarding the most productive crappie fishing season in your own locality to determine the most accurate and exact peak activity. The most activity normally occurs in May, when the water temperature is in the 58 F to 68 F range.