Fishing winter crappie in AZ: how to hook ’em

Many anglers have reported spotting huge schools of  black crappie on fish-finders at lakes such as Roosevelt and Canyon. Other good lakes to try are Apache and Bartlett. (Crappie fishing at Alamo Lake reportedly is poor.)

With some stable winter weather, this can be an excellent time to fish for crappie and they head into deeper waters of our desert impoundments and form large schools.

But some anglers will troll jigs with grubs, roadrunner jigs, small crankbaits, and vertically jig with 2-inch grubs and Rapala Jigging raps — without any bites.

Why not?

Jim Goughnour of Rim Country Custom Rods offered some solutions:

Winter crappie fishing in AZ can be excellent — just know how to set the hook

AZ winter crappie fishing: feeling a light bite

  • The recent fronts moving through the area have been impacting the bite. So my first thought is to advise anglers to make sure they’re fishing during the right day. … large schools of crappie are relatively easy to find right now. Actively feeding crappie are in 20-25 feet depths.
  • If fishing deeper depths that lack cover such as trees, stumps or rock piles, an angler could be trying to catch inactive fish.
  • The best bait for Roosevelt at any time of year is a Lit’l Fishy bait. It’s a shad imitation bait in a pearl color with a blue stripe on the back (they are available at the Hwy 188 Tackle store in Tonto Basin). Fish this bait vertically and slowly over the school using a 1/16-ounce jig head hook.
  • During the winter, the bite is far less aggressive. The equipment should include an ultralight 5-foot, 6-inch spinning rod and PowerPro braided 4-pound line (I prefer the yellow color). The braided line is needed due to the extremely light bite. If the angler is not using this equipment, they may not be feeling the bite.
  • The bite feels like the rod is slightly bending due to pressure. I typically mark my line at 30 feet, and when I reach that depth, I slowly raise the entire rod — not the tip — about 2 feet. If I feel anything … I set the hook. Using this technique, 99.9% of the crappie will be hooked in the roof of the mouth. Unlike a trolling technique where the crappie may be hooked in the lip, using this technique you can set the hook. If after lifting the rod a few times, I don’t get a bite, reel up about two turns on the reel and repeat the rod lifting process.”

New Year “slab” from Canyon Lake

Jon A. caught this 14 1/2-inch crappie, his first fish of 2017 caught at Canyon Lake on the first day of the new year.

There is hope. Jon A. caught this 14 1/2-inch crappie on Jan. 1 at Canyon Lake. Jon said, “The crappie were in full winter mode holding deep and completely gorging themselves on shad in the morning. It was caught on a minnow jig and released soon after the photo was taken.”

So go get some winter crappie! Need a license? Get ’em 24/7 online and help conserve wildlife for future generations.

See more fishing resources

7 thoughts on “Fishing winter crappie in AZ: how to hook ’em”

    1. Hi Richard. Sorry you can’t easily print. Maybe you could try copying and pasting this information into a Word document and printing from there?

  1. I’m planning on fishing Bartlett on March 16. Not really too serious, just spending the day with family. Can you catch Crappie on a fly rod? I will have a 5 weight. Wondering what line and fly to try.

    1. Hi Grant! You definitely can catch ’em on a fly rod. Try use standard 7- or 9-foot leaders tapered to 3X or 4X tippet. Strike indicators work great for crappie, too. I like using woolly buggers (No. 10 or so). Try flies with maribou tails. Hope that helps!

      1. That helps a bunch, Thanks! I understand I should be focusing on the shallows and flats areas this time of year. Do you have any recommendations for areas to focus on? Email at if you want to keep your favorite spots private! I’m from Canada so I don’t have any experience with this type of fishing.

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