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Crappie by the Numbers

Posted by editor on February 14, 2015

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By Ken Duke

Ken Duke is the Managing Editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer Magazine, most recently serving as Senior Editor of B.A.S.S. Publications (2005-14). Before that he served as B.A.S.S.’ Senior Publicist (2004-05) and as an editor with Game & Fish Publications (1999-2004). He is the author of two books on bass fishing and has been published in more than 50 regional and national outdoor magazines.


If you're a crappie angler, you probably know lots more anglers who love catching crappie just as much as you do ... or almost as much. But what do you really know about your brothers and sisters who share your passion (and appetite) for the sport? Who are they and how do you compare with them as an angler and as a consumer?

The answer is in the numbers. With them, we can learn a lot about our sport, our resource and the economic impact that crappie fishing has on the fishing industry. We can also plan a course to improve things. Let's get started.

How Many of Us are There?

There are about 27 million anglers in the United States. That's a big number — until you realize there are about 316 million people living in the country. Then you realize the number of anglers is less than 10 percent of that. Taking it one step further, crappie anglers make up just over 6 million of all anglers — about 23 percent of the angling whole. So crappie fishing is an important part of the American fishing picture and our efforts and expenditures command a certain level of attention in the industry.

The average American angler spends 16.4 days fishing each year. The average crappie angler does a little better than that at 16.7 ... so crappie anglers are a little more avid than average. That's a big deal if you're a marketer or tournament pro. Avidity is as good a measurement of seriousness and dedication as we have, and being more avid speaks to the appeal of crappie fishing and the dyed-in-the-wool nature of its participants.

The flip side of that kind of avidity would be a sport like dove hunting. There are millions and millions of dove hunters out there, but few who pick up their shotguns after opening day.

Crappie fishing is a lifestyle, not merely a diversion.


Where crappie fishing struggles — at least according to the numbers — is in economic impact when you compare it to other types of fishing and other types of anglers. Crappie anglers just don't spend as much as the anglers chasing other species.

Part of that is the equipment itself. You just don't see many crappie fishermen using $1,000 split bamboo rods to catch a few slabs. And the most productive crappie lures are probably not handmade and hand-painted in Japan by someone selling them online for $400 apiece.

The real reason is that you just don't need to make that kind of financial commitment to catch crappie. (You probably don't need that kind of commitment to catch trout or bass, either, but it doesn't mean there aren't anglers out there ready to spend those sums.) The same methods and equipment that served our fathers well are still productive today, though we've made plenty of refinements and done a lot of upgrading.

One day there may be a $400 crappie lure, but it's going to take the same kind of revolution that happened in the bass market about 20 years ago. Anglers will have to see a quantum leap forward in performance before they'll consider such a change in their spending habits.

An encouraging sign in this area — not the increase in spending, but the concept of a crappie revolution — is that we have several publications and websites dedicated to crappie fishing. Unfortunately, few of us are reading them. The fact that you're reading this puts you in a distinct but important minority. Media like this is important to the growth and development of our sport. It's the best and easiest way for us to communicate and learn what's happening out there. Without these outlets, we might as well be each on our own little island, fishing exactly the same way year after year after year and watching our success levels stagnate or dwindle. When we learn and share and band together, we get better as a group, we have more clout, and the sport gets better.

The Glass is Half There

The bad news (and it's definitely bad) is that crappie anglers spend less than the average angler on absolutely every aspect of the sport from food and lodging to baits and boats. In fact, if you want the distilled version, the average crappie angler spends about one half as much on his annual fishing efforts as the average American angler. And of course it's worse than that if you compare crappie anglers directly with bass or trout anglers.

You see the impact of this everywhere. State fishery departments manage for bass and trout far more than crappie, and a lot of the tackle we use has evolved from that designed for other species.

Though you and your buddies might catch only crappie from one, they're still called "bass" boats. While the average American angler spends $1,164 on his fishing over the course of the year, the average crappie angler is at $633. Yes, that means crappie fishing is a bargain, but it also means that the voice of the crappie angler is a lot softer and harder to hear than the voice of the bass or trout angler.

The Good News

Though crappie fishing doesn't provide the same economic impact as bass or trout fishing, it is far from inconsequential. Crappie fishing still accounts for nearly $4 billion in economic impact every year when you add it all up — everything from food and lodging to bait and tackle purchases.

But when we understand that we're not the 800-pound gorilla in the room that must be heard, we start to realize we need to pick our fights carefully and look for ways to speak with one voice.

And that's tough. Getting anglers of any ilk together on any issue can be a lot like herding cats. But if we want our fishing, our fisheries and our fishing tackle to improve, we have little choice. The alternative is to settle for more of the same — the same gear, the same fishing, the same support.

If the first step is to recognize that we have a problem, consider yourself on notice.

(Author's note: I want to thank the American Sportfishing Association and their "Today's Angler" report for these statistics on crappie fishing in the U.S.)