There’s just something special about crappies. Scrappy fighters that are quick to bite, crappies seem to have an almost cult-like following among New York anglers.
Crappies may not be the most common panfish in New York—that distinction almost certainly belongs to yellow perch—but few fish are more beloved by the core group of anglers who pursue them. And crappie anglers in New York are notoriously tight-lipped about their honey holes. (Don’t worry, we’re about to show you some great ones.)
Both black and white crappies inhabit waters across New York, with black crappies being the more common species. They reside in lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers throughout the state.
Part of the allure of crappies no doubt comes from their mysterious nature. They seem to be everywhere in May, striking any small jig that enters their field of vision, but they vanish like ghosts into the murky depths when summer arrives.
But if you’re able to pinpoint the seasonal movements of these panfish, crappies offer year-round fishing opportunities. These lakes are the best places in New York to fill a pail with feisty papermouths in any season.
This lake in Northern New York is a true fisherman’s paradise. Black crappies are just one of many abundant species here.
Black Lake is long and narrow, spanning 7,593 acres in St. Lawrence County.
It offers a wealth of diverse fish habitats. Weedy backwaters, rocky ledges and drop-offs, riprap banks, and boat docks are all in play for catching crappie on this lake.
The majority of Black Lake is shallow. Crappies have plenty of habitats to choose from when they head toward quickly-warming shallows from late April to early June. Bays and backwaters around Big Island are favorite spring crappie haunts.
The NY-58 bridge crossing between the western shore and Booth Island is another excellent spot. Bank fishing is allowed along the riprap-lined causeway, which spans the lake at a narrow bottleneck, creating a strong current adjacent to an area of shallow flats.
Crappies roam deeper areas of Black Lake in summer, but anglers probing deeper weed edges can often find schools of them.
Anglers sometimes catch crappies in surprisingly shallow water in summer here. They often seek shelter beneath boat docks, especially docks that are near deeper water. Schools of crappies have a way of appearing, seemingly out of nowhere, right around sunset.
By fall, look for crappie on mid-lake shoals that offer a mix of rocks and weeds.
In winter, look for crappies suspended just off the bottom as deep as 20 feet. The south end of the lake is where you’ll find that deeper water. And it’s often the most productive spot for ice fishing for perch.
Chautauqua Lake offers 13,156 acres of beautiful water in Western New York. It is one of the best all-around fishing lakes in this part of the state. Black and white crappies are both abundant.
The spring months offer truly outstanding crappie fishing on Chautauqua Lake. While plenty of anglers will be focusing on walleye. Even so, on a warm May weekend, you’ll see anglers lining the banks casting for “calico bass,” as some locals call crappie.
Chautauqua Lake is divided into northern and southern basins by Bemus Point, and both basins of the lake have great crappie habitat. The fish follow lines of cover to shallow areas starting in April. You can expect to catch crappies in 10 feet or less into early June.
The best spring crappie fishing is in the bays, which warm up fastest thanks partly to their dark, muck bottoms.
Bemus Bay, Dewittville Bay, and Irwins Bay are great spots in the northern basin, along with Ashville Bay and Burtis Bay in the southern basin.
If you have a boat, you can seemingly catch a bucket full of 9- to 12-inch crappies just about anywhere in these bays, along with a few slabs up to 16 inches. Fathead minnows beneath a float are the bait of choice.
For shore-bound anglers, the best spring spots are the boat canals created at various marinas and residential areas around the lake. Some of the better channels are in the Ashville area. Be cautious to avoid trespassing on private property.
Throughout June, crappies transition into 10-foot and greater depths. There’s not much wood in this lake, so deeper weed lines are usually the best cover for anglers to target.
By mid-summer, crappies usually spend their days at 30-foot depths but often rise toward the shallows at dusk to feed.
As mentioned, Chautauqua Lake has many excellent fisheries, including some of the best walleye fishing in New York.
Whitney Point Reservoir
About 30 minutes from Binghamton in Central New York, Whitney Point Reservoir is a 1,200-acre lake that offers outstanding crappie fishing. Even though populations can be cyclical, no other lake in this part of the state more consistently kicks out big crappies.
Whitney Point Reservoir was built for flood control along the Otselic River, and the contours of the original channel are still clearly visible on depth maps of the lake. Following that channel is often the key to finding crappies.
Much of Whitney Point Reservoir is shallow flats that range from 6 to 15 feet deep. These areas have a lot of nearshore vegetation, flooded brush, and woody cover. Those structures are great for catching crappies that move out of the channel in springtime to spawn in shallow water.
But the river channel offers sharp drop-offs to depths ranging from 15 to 20 feet. So outside the spawning season, crappie anglers bag the most crappies fishing the edges of the submerged channel.
Fishing channel edges is essential during the ice fishing season. Throughout January and February, it’s common to see anglers lined up along the edges of the channel, dropping jigs and minnows for crappies that suspend here.
That’s the go-to tactic at the “almost annual” crappie derby hosted every winter by the Whitney Point Sportsman’s Association. Ice fishing after dark is also popular here.
Another key spot to look for, no matter the season, is the deep area known as the Pond at the lake’s southern end. This spot is about 17 feet deep and directly offshore from Dorchester Park, which also offers boat ramps and bank access.
Lake of the Isles
Lake of the Isles is very much its own beast. It’s not truly a lake but rather a 1,300-acre embayment on the St. Lawrence River, almost entirely surrounded by Wellesley Island.
Shallow and fertile, Lake of the Isles is a breeding ground for panfish, including crappie and perch, as well as bluegill and sunfish. Toothy northern pike patrol its weed beds, and anglers boat some trophy-sized largemouth and smallmouth bass here.
Spring is a thoroughly enjoyable time to fish for crappies on Lake of the Isles. The feisty black crappies that reside in the bay bite readily in shallow cover as late as June most years.
Boat docks also provide prime cover, often well into summer. Crappies frequently seek the shade of boat slips and docked pontoon boats on hot summer days. Pitching small soft plastics under these structures can put a lot of fish in the livewell.
Because Lake of the Isles is mainly isolated from the flow of the St. Lawrence, it has little current. That fact makes the habitat more like a lake than the river (hence the name). This lack of current also allows it to freeze over in winter, turning this bay into an ice fishing mecca.
Tiny ice jigs tipped with mealworms or mousies are the go-to baits among ice anglers. Some also use live minnows beneath a float. Expect to catch a mixed bag of various panfish through the ice.
Dewolf Point State Park provides boat launches, fishing docks, and camping on Wellesley Island overlooking Lake of the Isles. Eel Bay, on the other side of the island, is also a great fishing area.
A glacial lake of 10,558 acres, Canaindaigua is long and narrow, stretching 15 miles end to end.
Canaindaigua Lake supports a two-story fishery, with cold water game fish like lake trout and brown trout in its depths and warm water species like bass and crappie in the shallows.
Spring is the season when anglers regularly target crappies in this big lake, and they make some great catches in April and May. The prime areas to target are the lake’s north and south ends, each with broad flats less than 20 feet deep.
Ice over here is only partial most years, but there often are areas thick enough to allow a brief ice fishing season.
As soon as the ice recedes, crappies seek out the warmest shallow water they can find at either end of the lake.
Lots of 9- to 11-inch crappies are caught around the docks along Canandaigua City Pier in April. Once crappies shift into spawning mode in May, the Canandaigua inlet stream (at the south end) and outlet stream (at the north end) are great places to catch them.
The inlet and outlet are also fantastic places for kayak fishing. One of the most enjoyable ways to fish for crappies is to slowly paddle through these slow-moving streams, tossing small jigs or “dipping” minnows in pockets of cover.
Kayak access to the outlet stream is available from the launch in Kershaw Park. Put in at the Woodward State Boat Launch to get to the inlet at the opposite end of the lake.
Canandaigua Lake is one of eleven lakes that make up the Finger Lakes chain in Central New York. Most of these lakes have at least modest populations of crappies, with Honeoye Lake being the second-best option, following Canandaigua.
One of the largest natural lakes in North America outside of the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain sprawls across 314,000 acres on the border between New York and Vermont.
The lake offers excellent fishing for just about everything that swims in freshwater, and crappies are no exception.
Both white and black crappies are abundant in Lake Champlain, and both reach impressive sizes. Catching 2-pound fish is not out of the ordinary. The trick is finding them in such a massive lake.
The best crappie fishing in Lake Champlain tends to be in bays rather than the main lake. The bays toward the southern end of the lake, in particular, are known as crappie hotspots.
Bulwagga Bay, a large embayment on the New York side of the lake, is one of many Lake Champlain bays that offer a great spring crappie bite. Smaller bays like Stevenson Bay and Mullen Bay also have a lot of potential.
Try to stay on top of crappie movements as they make their way into the bays. This shift begins almost as soon as the ice recedes in April. Schools of crappies will start biting at the mouths of the bays and gradually make their way farther into the backs of the bays by the end of the month.
By the last week of April and the first week of May most years, hoards of crappie will be chasing minnows tight to the bank, often in just a foot or two of water.
Boat ramps at Port Henry and Bulwagga Bay Beach provide access to some of the best crappie waters.
As a border water, authorities manage Lake Champlain under a cooperative agreement between New York and Vermont. As a result, anglers may fish from a boat on any part of the lake using a fishing license from either state.
A small reservoir in Western New York’s Cattaraugus County, Lake Flavia was virtually unknown until 2018, when an angler pulled a new state record black crappie weighing 4 pounds, 1 ounce from the lake.
Lake Flavia is a flooded gravel pit lake that spans just 225 acres. Country Side Gravel Inc. still owns the lake, and the company has opened a portion of the lake to public fishing through a cooperative arrangement with the DEC.
You can’t use a boat on Lake Flavia. The lake is open to bank fishing only along a 7,000-foot stretch of public shoreline. That restriction somewhat limits anglers’ opportunities to catch crappies here. But conversely, limited access also keeps the small lake from becoming overfished.
Not surprisingly, the best time to fish here is spring. The lake has an undulating shoreline of small coves and points, and crappies school up in the shallows in April, May, and part of June.
Classic crappie tactics are effective, including casting small jigs and spinnerbaits. For example, the state record crappie fell for a black marabou jig tipped with a minnow.
Lake Flavia also offers excellent largemouth bass fishing. Expect to catch a mixed bag of crappie and bass in springtime, with the balance shifting toward bass as the calendar turns to summer. And a lot of crappies are caught in the fall as well.
Angler access and parking are available at the DEC Access Site on the west shore of Lake Flavia, on Fair Plains Road.
Catch More Crappies
If you fish the best crappie lakes in this list and follow the tips, you’re well on your way to catching more crappies in New York. However, if you want to up your game, you really want to check out our free and simple guide to crappie fishing, including all the techniques and tackle ideas you’ll need to catch these panfish anywhere.