Early spring is, for many anglers, one of the most fun times to fish for crappie. This is true for many reasons, not least of which being the fact that it is one of the most rewarding seasons to fish for crappie. Which is why most anglers get super excited as winter draws to a close and early spring sets in.
So what is the secret to successful early spring crappie fishing? What do you need to do to make sure you catch your limit every time you head out? Well, this article will cover all that and more. Let’s begin!
Before we get to the tips, tricks and tactics for successful early spring crappie fishing, let’s first take a quick look at the basics of crappie fishing. Consider this a quick refresher course if you are an expert. If you are a beginner, here is everything you need to know before you head out.
To be a successful crappie fisherman, you need to understand their behavior. A good understanding of their behavior will help you figure out how to act under different circumstances. This is the only way to know the tactics you need to employ to guarantee that you catch your limit.
So how do crappie behave? Well, for starters, spring is crappie spawning season. Crappie spawn in three stages: pre-spawn, spawn, and post spawn. Each of these stages has its own unique traits.
Early spring is the beginning of the crappie pre-spawn stage. From late February to early March, crappie start heading out and collecting in specific staging areas in preparation for spawning. These staging areas differ from lake to lake and river to river.
The male crappies are usually the first to head out because they are the ones that build the nests for the females. So during the pre-spawn stage, the males build the nests in shallower regions of the water while the females congregate some distance away from them in the deep. Often, the nest building process occurs near the banks of rivers and lakes and around brush.
Once the nests are built, the females come in and join the males. This is the spawning stage, and the crappie are at their most abundant at this time. The females, however, come in, deposit their eggs, then leave immediately. They leave the males to guard the nests.
This marks the post spawning stage. The males guard their nests aggressively, and they will violently attack anything that presents itself in front of them, including your bait.
So, what strategy can we devise from all this? Well, it is clearly very easy to catch male crappie throughout the spawning season. The entire duration of pre spawn, spawn and post spawn lasts about 10-20 days. Don’t worry, this does not occur at the same time in every lake. Depending on the size and location of each lake, the spawning will start at different intervals, with days apart even up to two weeks apart. What this means is that you don’t have to guess exactly when the 10 to 20 days will be. Just hit different lakes and you are likely to find yourself in the thick of it!
During the same period, the females are only vulnerable for one or two days when they come to the shallows to deposit their eggs. They leave soon after and retreat to the safety of the deep.
It is very easy to tell the difference between males and females especially during the spawning period. Although they both grow to relatively the same size, during the spawning period, males turn almost black at the regions around their fins and bellies.
Now that we have a good grasp on crappie behavior during early spring, let us take a look at how to catch them. Keep the behavior of the crappie in mind as you utilize these tactics, and you will always get a good catch every time you head out in early spring.
It is important to know where to start looking for crappie when you hit the water. Prioritize regions with structure and in and above these regions. Crappie love nesting within cover, so there is a very high chance that you will find at least one or two slabs around such areas.
In early spring, start your search near mouths of creeks, coves, tributaries and drop of points, then work your way inwards. Depending on the depth of the water, consider starting at about 12 feet and working your way up.
If you want to be even more effective, use a topo map and a fish locator. They will help you know exactly where to start looking and exactly how deep you need to drop your line.
If the area you are fishing happens to have a lot of brush, you are in luck! In early spring, you will encounter lots of crappie. If you have a boat, consider spider rigging with minnows. Just be sure to check with your local authorities to make sure that using multiple lines is permitted.
A great pro tip is to prioritize logs or stumps with debris lodged in them. The bigger the pile of debris, the better. This kind of trash and junk is really popular with crappie looking for nesting grounds.
I wrote this cool article about spring crappie patterns that will give you more in-depth information on locations to look out for.
When it comes to crappie fishing, minnows are the ultimate no brainer. Crappie love minnows. They are hands down their favorite food, so you can never go wrong with them. However, you need to make sure that the minnows you use are alive and lively. Crappie will mostly ignore dead minnows (notice I said mostly). Most anglers usually end up killing their minnows while hooking them. You need to do it the right way: through the nose, through the dorsal fin, or through the tail. Be sure to allow the minnow some room to wiggle around. You should also hook them carefully, making sure not to break their brittle backbones as you do.
During early spring, if you intend to jig, use small 1/16 jigs and tip them with minnows. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind as you do this is this: the colder the water, the slower the crappie. Watch your motions. The water is still a little cold in early spring, so do not jig too hard. If the water has some movement, let it naturally move your jig at its own pace. The crappie will definitely notice your jig and think it is easy prey.
The rule of thumb here is to basically match your speed with the temperature of water. Increase your speed as the water warms up in the course of the day.
For plastics, there is another basic rule you need to follow: the murkier the water, the more colorful your plastics need to be. For clear water, don’t even sweat it about the color, just use natural colors like brown and grey. You can even use transparent lures and you will still be effective.
That being said, there is another rule of thumb that you need to know. When it comes to plastics and color combos, crappie can be pretty unpredictable. What works today may not work tomorrow, so you will need to experiment a little each time till you find something that works. You can also simply ask other anglers that you find by the water for the color combinations that they have found success with and go with that.
Here is an article I wrote about crappie fishing minnows if you are interested
So how deep should you go in early spring?
In early spring and around the lakes that I fish here in Texas, 12 feet is the sweet spot. This will vary based on your location. Start searching for the crappie at the bottom and work your way up until you find where they are. However, although this is the general depth that often works, the actual depth at which you will find the fish depends on the overall temperature of the water.
The water temperature will change in the course of the day. Watch the changing temperature and oscillate with it. You should also be aware of the general weather. If you have several consecutive cold days, the crappie will probably head deeper down for warmth.
You should also do your research and find out what other types of fish your water has. If the crappie have predators, they may also be forced to do deeper, despite the general water temperature. Predators like walleyes and smallmouths are particularly notorious for making crappie do this. When you realize that predators are what may be causing the crappie to flee, simply pull out your fish finder (if you have one) and use it. You will definitely spot a school of crappie crowded somewhere down there.
FOR THE PROS
Beginners can find lots of success by simply applying the basic tips listed above. Here are a few more tips for the seasoned angler. If you already know what you are doing, combine these tips with your own knowledge and experience and you will be pleasantly surprised by the number of slabs you manage to catch every time.
1. During spawning, crappie can be found in as little as 6 inches of water. Do not go for these shallow crappie. They have already had a lot of pressure and will likely completely ignore you. Instead, go 2 to 8 feet deeper and you will realize amazing results.
2. Follow temperature gradients. Keep a close eye on water temperature and find the warmest water you can. If it feels like almost all the water is a single temperature, when you find that one section with a little warmer water, you will catch your limit in mere minutes.
3. For night fishing, use a jig with a spinner in front. Use marabou jigs with a safety spinner ahead, presented with a float and fly rod.
4. A great trick for determining starting depths is dropping your jig into the water to a depth where you lose visibility, then add three feet to that. For example, if you lose visibility at 6 feet, start fishing at 9 feet.
Early spring fishing is hands down the most fun and fulfilling crappie fishing season all year. The best part is that all it takes to be good at it is a little understanding of crappie behavior. It is the best seasons for beginners who are just getting into crappie fishing, and that means anyone can enjoy fishing for crappie in early spring.
With these tips at the back of your mind, you will be able to catch your limit every time you head out. I hope they have given you a great launching point into the wonderful world of crappie fishing.