Fill your creel with a spawning crappie

Crappies 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.

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 rising 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 will stay in deeper water until the area is ready. Once the beds are prepared, 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? This information will allow you to determine when and how to target the males and females when 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 continue to feed, which 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 hunting for possible predators, and their actions will mimic those of bass during the same period — chase predators, a one- or two-chomp bite, and then spit 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.

Before you can target spawning crappie, you need to find them. So, where are the best places to look? You must look for cover, a firm bottom, and water clarity. Each will dictate where you will find the most fish.

Cover: crappie needs a cover to protect them from predators and shelter for their eggs. What is meant by cover depends on the water you will be fishing. It will mean brush piles, stumps, or downed trees in some lakes. Conversely, it could be a dock, rocky shoreline, or vegetation. Regardless of what is available, the crappie will be in the shallow cover.

Bottom: like most fish species, crappie has a preferred bottom type. You want to look for a firm bottom with a cover that is 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, it 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? This might be as little as 1-2 feet in darker water. In more transparent 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 apparent lake, try to start near feeder streams, flats, and raised humps. Although the rest of the lake may be straightforward, 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, watching for diving birds, and targeting sources of warmer water.

The good news is that crappie is a schooling species. Once you find one slab side, many others will likely be in the immediate areas.

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 primarily target males, who are aggressive but protecting, not feeding. You may need to alter your presentation for 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 the cover is an effective means of locating fish. Once a school is located, switch to a bait and jig setup. Make sure your jig or lure includes bright colors. You want to grab the crappie’s attention and provoke a strike.

Remember, the males often strike fast and hard but are not feeding. Because they guard the beds, they aim to crush the threat and spit it out. This will require a fast hook set to be successful.

Good luck and good fishing.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today