Crappie are one of the most popular panfish species among sportsmen. They can be caught by anyone, found anywhere, and caught year-round. But if you want big crappie you need to try the spring spawn. Let us help point you in the right direction.
The spawn has arrived
Each spring crappie move out of their deeper winter hides and into shallower waters to spawn and begin the next generation of fish. Although there are many theories about exactly when the spawn occurs experts agree it is driven by increased daylight and a rise in temperatures. Depending on whether your favorite water contains white crappie, black crappie, or both the magic numbers are between 50-60 degrees. When the water temperature consistently maintains temperatures in this range the fish will be on the move, with black crappie arriving first.
Males will arrive first, select spawning locations, and prepare the bedding area while females stay in deeper water until the area is ready. Once the beds are ready the females will move in quickly, lay their eggs, and be gone again. Meanwhile, the males will remain close by and aggressively guard the eggs and newborn fry.
Why is it important to understand what happens during the spawn? Because this information will allow you to best determine when and how to target the males and females at the times they are most likely to bite. Both males and females will feed aggressively leading up to the spawn. This is needed so they can maintain their energy during the weeks ahead.
As females move into the beds to drop their eggs they will continue to feed, but this will only last until they have dropped the eggs. Once this occurs, they will leave the beds, scatter, and be much harder to target.
Males will be very active while preparing the area. Once the females have laid their eggs the males will remain on the scene and guard the beds, Although the males will continue their aggressive behavior they will not be feeding. Instead, they will be on the hunt for possible predators and their actions will mimic those of bass during the same period – chase predators, a one or two chomp bite, followed by spitting the threat out. Once into guard mode, the bit will be hard and fast. A quick hook set will be needed or you will miss your chance.
Where will they be?
Before you can target spawning crappie you need to find them. So where are the best places to look? You need to look for cover, a firm bottom, and water clarity. Each will dictate where you will find the most fish.
Cover – crappie need cover to protect from predators and shelter for their eggs. What exactly is meant by cover depends on the water you will be fishing. In some lakes, it will mean brush piles, stumps, or downed trees. On the other, it could be a dock, rocky shoreline, or even vegetation. Regardless of what is available the shallow cover is where the crappie will be.
Bottom – like most species of fish crappie have a preferred bottom type. You want to look for a firm bottom with cover as close as possible.
Water clarity – most anglers think that water clarity only comes into play when determining what lure to use. When it comes to crappie water clarity determines at what depth they will be located. As stated earlier, spawning crappie prefers shallow areas with cover and a firm bottom. But what is the definition of shallow? In darker water, this might be a little as 1-2 feet. In clearer water, it can be as much as 20 feet. It is all determined by how far the sun’s light can penetrate. If fishing an exceptionally clear lake try to start near feeder streams, flats, and raised humps. Although the rest of the lake may be clear, forcing fish deeper, these areas will be murky and available fish will be much shallower.
Other tactics that can help you identify spawning locations include returning to previous season sites, watch for diving birds, and targeting sources of warmer water.
The good news is that crappie are a schooling species. Once you find one slab side there are likely to be many others in the immediate areas. If you do not catch another keeper after a couple of casts move slightly left or right.
Best baits and lures
When determining what baits or lures to use you need to consider two different periods, pre-spawn and spawn. During the pre-spawn, both male and female crappie will be feeding heavily. As the spawn begins you will be targeting mostly males, who will be very aggressive but protecting not feeding. This means you may need to alter your presentation for the best success during each period.
Pre-spawn – live baits are the best choice during this time. Minnows, grubs, mealworms, or wax worms are favorites. For the males who have already moved into the bed areas, a small jig will allow you to penetrate the cover while reducing the chances of getting snagged. The same presentation can be used for the females, but add a bobber or float and adjust the depth to allow for the deeper water they will be in.
Spawn – as the spawn hits its peak minnows or small lures that resemble minnows are the best bet. The goal is to imitate a possible predator and entice the male crappie into attacking. A faster cast and retrieve along the edges of cover is an effective means of locating fish. Once a school is located switch to a bait and jig set up. Make sure your jig or lure includes bright colors. You want to grab the crappie’s attention and provoke a strike.
Remember, the males will often strike fast and hard but are not feeding. Because they are guarding the beds, their goal is to crush the threat and spit it out. This will require a fast hook set to be successful.
So, there you have it, the ins and outs of crappie fishing for beginners. Now you can turn a quiet spring afternoon into a creel full of slab sides.
Good luck and good fishing!