Crappie seem to really bite best during the reduced light hours of the day but night fishing can be hit or miss from my experience. With the right approach, you can make a killing catching big crappie after dark but come with the wrong approach, and you’ll catch nothing but some mosquito bites.
Is crappie fishing better at night or during the day? On full moonlit nights with minimal cloud cover during warmer months, the night bite for crappie is incredible. However, crappie fishing is normally better during the daytime, especially early morning and late afternoon than it will be at night.
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Crappie & Night Fishing
Best Time of Day: Crappie Fishing
The best time of day to catch crappie is in the early morning and late evening when sunlight is reduced and the water is cooler. This is when you’ll see the most fishing success and crappie will eagerly venture out away from cover to hunt. For a complete article that covers the very best times of day to catch crappie in every season and weather condition, you really should read this article I wrote.
But during the warmer seasons, the nighttime can be awesome for crappie. Moon phase do play a role in turning on and off crappie at night. Crappie don’t seem to have great night vision so they rely heavily on light provided by a full moon.
Full moon nights with minimal cloud cover will be your very best option. No moonlight nights will be poor unless you implement some form of artificial lights. I will discuss fishing light usage later on.
Is Nighttime Fishing Good for Crappie?
I would only consider night fishing crappie if I was you during late spring, summer, and early fall. Avoid night fishing during colder seasons because will be most active during the day when the air and water temperatures are at their highest. You probably won’t do well at night during the winter as the crappie will be too cold to hunt for food.
Compared to most daytime fishing, nighttime fishing will be slower because crappie will have a tougher time locating your bait. If you are fishing on well lit nights, fishing within the top 3 or so feet of the surface will be a good option.
You can also fish deeper with live bait like fathead minnows, shad, or shiners. The scent and pulsations of the struggling baitfish will draw in crappie from the darkness to your hook. Night fishing can be very good for crappie but you will need to slow down your approach or simply switch to live bait to catch big slabs.
Daytime vs. Nighttime
My answer is day time. I prefer to fish for crappie during the day, especially early morning and late afternoon just before sunset. This is when I have the best success. Crappie are sight-guided hunters and need some light in order to better locate their food. At night, often it gets too dark for crappie to effectively.
Night fishing crappie is best on well lit (full moon) nights with little or no cloud cover and also if you have artificial fishing lights that can draw in baitfish and crappie. If you use a fishing light, you will likely catch a ton of crappie if you pick the right location and are patient.
Time of Year
During the winter, I don’t think you will have a lot of luck fishing for crappie after dark. Crappie will favor the warmest conditions and the warmest water they can find. When the water is at its coldest, crappie will be docile and not really in a feeding mood. During the winter, the coldest time of the day is at night.
Instead of fishing at night in winter, I recommend fishing mid-to-late afternoon when the sun is out and has had time to really warm up the water. This is when crappie will be a lot more active and feeding more aggressively.
Summer time is the best season for catching crappie at night. You catch big crappie consistently at night with the right approach. Fish in the upper 2 or 3 feet of water on full moon nights with moving baits. This is because moonlight is so much less strong than sunlight and can only penetrate the upper reaches of the water column with moonlight.
Crappie will be fixating on baitfish swimming near the surface so that is where you will want to present your lures. Now if you are using live bait, you can fish at any level of the water column holding crappie. I would recommend using electronic fish finders to determine where in the water crappie are holding.
But the beauty of live bait is this type of bait gives off great scent and also the struggling of a hooked baitfish is irresistible to crappie, even in the dark. You can fish right down near the bottom with a hooked minnow or shiner and crappie nearby will find your bait. Summer is definitely the best season for night fishing.
Lights Can Improve Night Fishing
In the absence of light, crappie can’t find food. At least not easily. But you can place one or more artificial lights in the water that can change the whole situation for you. You can buy a fishing light for under $20 that will illuminate a large expanse of water for you and draw in crappie.
The way it works is the light will draw in plankton and zooplankton which shiners and shad feed on. The baitfish will arrive and if you wait long enough, bigger fish will come in drawn by both the novelty of the light and the presence of schooling baitfish. The key is setting up over a good location that attracts crappie and being patient for fish to arrive.
Fishing lights can turn an ok night of fishing into one to remember. Fishing lights come in green, blue, and white lights. For most fishing situations, I recommend going with green as it seems to perform the best. For a very useful guide to catching crappie at night using underwater fishing lights, I strongly recommend you read this great article I wrote.
Best Baits for Night Fishing
The best baits for night crappie fishing will be live bait. That is hands down the best recommendation I can make for you. Shad (if you can keep them alive after capture), shiners, small perch or bluegill, and fathead minnows are your best option. Worms and leeches can be really good too.
Live bait outperforms lures at night because crappie are attracted to the scent and muscle pulsations of a struggling prey item. If you are not legally able to fish with live bait, Gulp! Minnows are very realistic, smell natural, and do catch crappie when jigged slowly. You can also try out marabou jigs, spinners, and tube jigs as well.
These are ideal crappie baits for daytime fishing but you can have success at night by fishing them a lot slower. Blacks and blues tend to be great nighttime colors for crappie.
One tip I can give you if you choose to go the lure route is add some scent to the baits. Slab sauce and Powerbait Crappie Nibbles are great to smear along the sides of lures to add great scent. You will catch more crappie at night by adding either of these scents to your lure. It will also help crappie find your bait. To learn what the best baits for crappie are, check out this article on what crappie eat.
7 Tips for Making Night Fishing Better than Day Fishing
1. Slow Down at Night
Let’s face it, every reaction time is slowed at night. Even when you are driving at night, your reaction time to deer in the road is slower than during the day. The same is true with crappie at night. It is hard for them to see and they want to be sure they aren’t about to be eaten when they lunge for your bait. Slow down your fishing approach by fishing your bait slower and more methodically. Give crappie some time to find and grab your bait.
2. Fish Before Sunset Until Dusk
In my opinion, the best time of day to catch crappie is about 2 hours before sunset right up until dusk. When dusk nears, you are more or less fishing in the near darkness anyways. If you want to fish at night and catch the most crappie, near dusk is your best window to fish.
3. Location is Key
The most important factor that determines fishing success is location. You can fish with the best bait ever but won’t catch any fish if you are in the wrong location. On the other hand, you can catch a ton of crappie on mediocre bait if you set up over a great reef or sunken tree. When fishing in the darkness, finding the right location makes all the difference in the world.
4. Live Bait is Unmatched
I have mentioned it a few times already but if you want to catch crappie after dark, live bait is your best bet. Live bait fishes itself and will draw crappie out of the dark to your hook. If you can’t legally use live bait, add some attractant scent to your bait.
5. Add Scent
By adding some scent to your lures, you can draw in more crappie when they can’t rely on their vision to find food. Crappie Nibbles are great to smear on your baits. Slab Sauce is another fantastic option. They cost almost nothing and definitely help you catch more fish, especially at night.
6. Locate Schools of Baitfish
Crappie love feeding on baitfish. Schooling baitfish like shiners, shad, and minnows are great. Young yellow perch and bluegill will also school up, especially at night. If you find any of these baitfish schooled up either by sight or on your fishfinder, that is a fantastic place to fish for crappie as bigger fish will follow these bait balls around the lake.
7. Full Moon Light is Best
If you had to pick one condition that offers the best nighttime fishing, it would be a full moon. The full moon will produce the brightest light of the all moon phases by far which will help crappie feed better in the dark.