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Speckled Perks: Black Crappie Fishing in Florida

Here's how and where you can reap the benefits of the state's exceptional black-crappie fishery.

Speckled Perks: Black Crappie Fishing in Florida

Black crappie, a.k.a. speckled perch, are found statewide but perhaps most abundant and robust on larger lake chains and slow-moving, clear rivers. (Photo by Joe Richard)

Mike Hill may easily rank in the top 10 for landing the most crappie each year, though his totals fluctuate because of local lakes and their dynamics. He lives in Gainesville and fishes strictly for this one species. He has the advantage of being favorably situated within 30 minutes drive of crappie-rich Orange, Lochloosa, Santa Fe, Newnans, and a few minutes farther away, Rodman Reservoir. These are venues that many anglers drive a long way to fish, even from other states. He catches crappie totaling in the low thousands during a calendar year, often releasing every fish. And he keeps count with a clicker device.

How does he catch so many "specks," as they're locally known (short for speckled perch, another common name)? With jigs, not minnows.

Mike trolls, but not with one of those pontoon boats with many rods set out like spider legs. He just drags jigs behind the boat, near and far. With a couple of collapsible cane poles jutting out both port and starboard, using 1⁄2-ounce egg weights that keep those jigs deep but right alongside. He uses a big electric motor and twin, quality batteries.

fishermen in a boat
You'll cover more water while trolling compared to soaking baits in lily pads. (Photo by Joe Richard)

"If the wind is blowing more than five knots, that's a hindrance for slow-trolling," said Mike. "Against wind and waves, you can't keep up a proper speed. All you can do is use the outboard motor to run back upwind, and then electric troll downwind with the waves."

Mike carries a wide assortment of jigs but says his favorite colors are popsicle, which is pink/yellow, and John Deere (green/yellow). If anyone has doubts about the accuracy of Mike's catch totals, he keeps a log. He may have had his record year in 2021, thanks in part to a massive and rare, late summer run of specks on Newnans Lake, where he landed up to 115 fish each morning. At first, he had the lake almost to himself but word leaked out (social media?) and before long a hundred boats were on that lake, most of them determined to bring home limits. And sometimes more, it was that easy. (I haven't checked with local game wardens, but assume some cases were made there.) The fish hit almost any color jig and thousands were hauled away. The shallow water spawn the following February, 2022, showed me very few crappie. You had to use minnows, and fish were scarce as hen's teeth. One more reason I would advocate for a lower, 15-fish daily bag limit.

"My total in 2022 was down to a little over 2,000 fish on different lakes," said Mike. "I throw back 90 percent of my fish. If my buddy wants to take some home he can, but I don't take specks home. You see a lot of boats out there trying to take home their limits. I tell ‘em ‘You can't eat that many, take what you can eat.'"

Back to the crappie: Trolling jigs obviously works well, and look how much ground is covered while trolling back and forth a half mile, compared to soaking minnows in lily pads, where hooked fish are often lost, especially the big ones, by wrapping the line in vegetation. With trolling, all sizes of crappie chase those jigs. "A 3-inch crappie is aggressive enough to inhale a jig," said Mike. "You can't even tell they're on the line dragging behind the boat, until it's time to move to another spot and you reel in the lines."

Trolling these same lakes, I've had hooked crappie jump behind our trolling boat, easily heard on quiet mornings; that sound catches the attention of trollers who hear the splash. The bigger fish have to be carefully reeled in while the boat maintains forward motion. Jumpers can throw the hook and often do, and I've taken to reeling when they jump, to keep the line tight. We almost never net our fish, just snake them over the side. Thumping them against the boat's gunnel often means a lost fish. Sometimes a hook will come loose with a fish in mid-air, but momentum still sails the fish into the boat. It's delicate work, because they have that paper-thin mouth and the hook is pretty small. In Mike's boat I noticed a long landing net, the hoop small in diameter but the handle at least six feet long. He says he doesn't like to lose the big ones. Watching a near-trophy 2-pounder drop off the hook is not something speck fishermen care to see very often, if at all. Same here, because I prefer bigger crappie that can be filleted.

crappie fishing lures
Jigs tied by Paul Anderson, a friend of the writer. The heads are also custom molded. Tackle shops in crappie country carry suitable selections from a variety of makers. (Photo by Joe Richard)

On the other hand, I've seen nearby boats net every fish they hook, even the quarter-pounders. As mentioned, these boats maintain forward speed all the time, otherwise the jigs plunge to the bottom and pick up muck or weeds. Which means reeling in and cleaning every hook. Making a U-turn requires a gradual swing at a decent speed, otherwise the jigs sink again. For a guy fishing by himself, tending numerous rods and trolling in a crosswind, that's a busy time, so forget the landing net.

Fishing with Gainesville's H.C. Williamson, we often watch Mike's boat in the near distance. We might land a dozen in a row without the net, although these are mostly one-pound fish or smaller. Mike does the same, reeling in fish without stopping. Each guy in the stern does most of the landing work, because almost every bite is astern, sometimes way back there, and you want someone who can reel 6-pound line just right, even skipping that fish on the surface for a few moments when its head is out of the water.

Special care should be taken using jigs from the big box stores. I bend each jig's hook upward a little, to create a bigger gap that will grab more crappie lip. Hook the jig over the lid of a bucket and pull gently, or straighten the hook gently with a thumb; these are thin-wire hooks. Bending the hook also makes it more likely to straighten out some, if later snagged underwater. This has saved us a number of jigs over the years. In open lake water there are few real snags, of course, but the ones you find can be excellent fish-attractors. Take note of their locations.

Choosing Jig Colors, Weights and 'Bling'

I'm lucky to have a friend in Paul Anderson of Ocala, who makes crappie jigs as a hobby, giving away hundreds at a recent club fish fry.


Anderson fishes exclusively for crappie and he does it all year long. Both of us are fortunate to live in Florida's hot crappie region that includes the three big, semi-connected lakes of Newnans, Orange and Lochloosa.

When Anderson got into crappie fishing some years ago, he ordered jig molds and learned to pour his own lead.

"You can build a lure you can't buy, something the fish have never seen," he said. "If you like a certain color or profile, you can make it. Dial in your local fish. Maybe they like pink/white jigs because the crappie eat shad; you can take advantage of that. There are so many materials and colors to pick from, and I buy it online. There are lots of suppliers out there. Some have good materials and others not. If you find a good supplier, stick with them even if they charge a little more. With a new supplier, order a few things and see what happens. Don't spend a hundred dollars on a new supplier. I had one guy who just kept the money, never sent anything in the mail," Anderson said.

Anderson said he uses super glue to secure plastic tails to jigheads.

"You fit that worm onto the jig correctly, or it will spin or run funny underwater," he said. "When the tail sits perfect on that hook, I back it off and add super glue and then push the plastic back up, snug. You gotta get it just right. A jig that spins will ruin your line, or cause problems."

Jigs, as Anderson will attest, work year-round. Not all colors work in all lakes, but there are some combos that are good just about anywhere. That would be blue/white, chartreuse/yellow and white, pink/white, chartreuse/yellow/lime green. Also, purple/chartreuse. With those five, you should catch fish in almost any Florida lake, regardless of water color.

Anderson's favorite jig weight is 1⁄16 ounce. "I have 1⁄8 and 1⁄32 ounce but if I could have only one jighead size, it would be 1⁄16 ounce," he said.

crappie lures
Pink/yellow and green/yellow are patterns favored among trollers on Newnans Lake, top. But, it’s smart to have others. (Photo by Joe Richard)

His take on color? "You can be catching fish and they'll stop biting. Change color and they may start up again. You can have a cloud pass over the sun, and they'll want a different color. With experience on the water you figure it out, swap lures, let the fish tell you what they want."

"If they won't hit my five favorite jigs," Anderson continued, "I'll set out some under-spinner blade jigs and try that. I use spinners to create sound and vibration. If a crappie can hear the lure coming, he can feel it. A real minnow puts off vibrations, and the crappie home in on that. They spot the flash of passing schools of minnows. I like to use under-spin blades, the smallest I can get, but sometimes they won't bite a lure with a blade; they're just fickle.

"If they won't bite, try downsizing. I'll try a couple of jigs, 1⁄32-ounce near the bottom of the lake. The bigger fish like that."

One thing to consider: Crappie move around, and they're not just following shad schools. A biologist was studying crappie and he examined their stomach contents. It seems that lake flies were burrowing holes in the mud, and crappie were sucking the larvae out of these holes. So, crappie don't just eat minnows and shad. Insects, too. Lots of grass shrimp. They move around to wherever there's food. During spring they move into shoreline vegetation.

These fish have large eyes and they adjust quicker in low light. That's why they feed early and late; the shad can't see as well. Crappie know they have the advantage. That's why some lures come with UV light glowing materials; it works—early in the morning or late in the day, UV lures must glow like light bulbs to crappie.

Top Crappie Waters

  • FWC staff picks of Florida's favorite crappie waters.
Florida Crappie Map
Top 8 hotspots for black crappie in Florida.

Where are top spots for specks? Florida Sportsman caught up with Allen Martin, FWC regional freshwater fisheries administrator, and Travis Tuten, head of FWC freshwater fisheries research.

ALLEN MARTIN: After talking with some folks, we've come to the conclusion that the best crappie fishery in the state right now is probably the Orange Creek Basin including Newnans Lake, Lake Lochloosa, and Orange Lake. They are really close together and at any given time at least one, if not two or more, of the lakes will be producing great catches.

Lochloosa is the most consistent and was terrific in 2021. Newnans was phenomenal that same year and should be just as good again in a couple of years based on trawl data. Orange has been really good the last few years, but fishing effort dropped off in 2022 due to an increase in hydrilla making it tough to fish for crappie. We saw plenty of anglers there when the fish were out in deeper, open water and they caught them. However, when the fish moved shallow the anglers left. Once the peak of the spawn was over and the fish moved back offshore, some crappie anglers came back until the season wound down.

For an additional top three, we'd go with Lake Talquin, Lake Okeechobee, and Lake Marian near Kenansville. Talquin is the best place in the state for large crappie (of course, we don't have white crappie so that is a bit of a relative term). Lake Okeechobee has been okay lately, but Lake O is still a really good fishery. Lake Marian is a consistent producer that has been doing really well the last couple of years.

TRAVIS TUTEN: That sounds good to me, and I'm biased too with spending lots of time on the Orange Creek Basin, but Lochloosa is my pick for number one lake system. St. Johns River systems produce some of the biggest crappie in the state. If you had to pick specifics on the St. Johns, I'd go with Monroe and Crescent, but I like going with that general area approach of the middle St. Johns. I agree with the other lakes you mentioned, Talquin, Okeechobee and Marian.

Crappie Limits

General Florida statewide bag limit for black crappie, or speckled perch, is 25.

A few watersheds have special regulations. On Lake Okeechobee, Lake Talquin and Lake Griffin, any crappie under 10 inches must be released. The Tenoroc and Mosaic Fish Management Areas under FWC management have a crappie bag limit of 10. Waters shared with Georgia (Lake Seminole, St. Marys River) and Alabama (Perdido River, Lake Jackson in Walton County) have a 30-fish crappie limit, consistent with those adjacent states.

  • This article was featured in the December/January 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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