Few game fish can be said to be as popular among anglers as crappie. As winter draws to a close and early spring sets in, you can almost feel the excitement rising in die hard anglers. It is hands down the best and most rewarding time to fish for crappie. Here is a collection of some of the best early spring crappie tactics to make you even more successful, to make sure that you will always catch your limit every time you head out this season.
So grab your gear and let’s go!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Before we dive into the tactics, a good understanding of crappie behavior is essential if you want to be successful. Learning how they act under different circumstances will help you use the best tactics that will guarantee you catch your limit.
Spring is spawning season for crappie, and the season is broken up into three stages: the pre-spawn stage, the spawn stage, and the post-spawn stage. They behave differently during each of these stages. Early spring marks the beginning of the crappie pre-spawn stage.
In late February and Early March, the crappie usually instinctively start heading out and congregating in specific staging areas, which vary from lake to lake and river to river. Male crappie take the lead because they are responsible for building the nests for the females.
As the males build the nests during the spawning period, the females congregate in slightly deeper waters some distance from them. In lakes, the males usually favor building their nests closer to the banks as the females wait a short distance away from them. When the nests are ready, the females come in, deposit the eggs, then leave immediately. The males are then left guarding the nest.
What this means is that it is much easier to catch male crappie during this spawning period, because they remain in relatively the same spots for about 10 days guarding their nests. The females, on the other hand, can only be easily caught within only a day during the same period, because they leave soon after depositing their eggs. Telling males from females is relatively easy. Although males and females grow to relatively the same size, you can tell them apart during this time by looking at the color of their fins and bellies. Males turn almost black around these regions during the spawning period.
When you have a few consecutive warm days, you may notice that some crappie may go right up to the banks of the lake. Catching them in these shallows is extremely easy, and you may be tempted to think that you are witnessing an early spring spawn. However, this is a common mistake that many anglers make. The crappie only get to the bank once in a while during this time because their bodies are still readjusting to the new water conditions. They have not started spawning, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you go back to the same spot the next day and find no fish.
Now that we have gone over the behavior of the crappie during spring, use the following tips and tactics to ensure that you are always successful every time you fish in early spring.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Prioritize fishing in and above structure during the pre-spawn period. You will find crappie within the cover or somewhere above it.
Start your search near mouths of creeks, coves, tributary mouths and drop off points. Depending on the depth of the lake, begin at least at a 13-foot depth and work your way up. If you can get your hands on a topo map and a fish finder, you will have a higher success rate. You will know exactly where to look and the exact depth to drop your line.
If you are fishing in an area with a lot of brush, you are likely to encounter a lot of crappie in early spring. Maximize your efficiency by spider rigging with minnows. Be sure to check with your local authorities if the setup is legal first before you rig.
When you jig, do not jig under your boat. Reach out from your position with a 10-foot pole and test any heavy cover you see. Fish all the way around the drift.
If you are fishing from the banks, look for logs or stumps with piles of debris lodged on them. You want the biggest pile of debris you can find. These occur when a log gets lodged on a stump as it is floating by, creating a kind of filter that catches all kinds of branches that are floating down. You will find a lot of crappie in these areas. This is also a good place to use a long pole. You will be able to drop your bait with pinpoint accuracy that you cannot always achieve when casting out. It will also save you a lot of terminal tackle. Casting and retrieving into and around heavy cover is frustrating because you will get snagged a lot! Use a long pole, It will be worth it 🙂
Crappies love minnows. You cannot go wrong with using live minnow baits. The most important thing here, though is to make sure they are alive and lively, and they stay that way. You can do this by hooking them carefully to avoid killing them. Hook the minnows through the nose, at the dorsal fin or through the tail fin. Use an Aberdeen hook and go to town! It is the easiest way of fishing for crappie.
When jigging during early spring, use small 1/16 jigs tipped with small plastics. Remember, the colder the water, the slower the crappie. Since it is still a little cold, do not jig up and down too hard. Sometimes, the natural movement of the water alone is enough to move your jig to an extent that the crappie will notice it.
Attract more attention to your presentation by only periodically moving the rod up and down slowly. The most important thing to remember here is to always match your speed and aggressiveness to the temperature of the water. The warmer it is, the more aggressive you can be. You can also move faster when they start to spawn.
When using plastics, remember this rule of thumb: The murkier the water, the more colorful your plastics will have to be. If you are fishing in clear water, you may only need transparent lures to be effective. However, this is only a rule of thumb. Crappie can be very unpredictable, so try to find a color combination that works for you in the situation you find yourself in. Experimentation is great, but you can also ask other anglers for the color combinations they are having the most success with, saving yourself a lot of time.
HOW DEEP SHOULD YOU GO?
In February and early March, begin searching for crappie at a depth of at least 13 feet going up. The depth at which the crappie will be located depends on the overall temperature of the water. Crappie tend to oscillate between going deep and coming to the shallows in early spring. Keep track of the weather. If you have several consecutive cold, overcast days, they will likely be forced to go deep. If you experience several warm days in a row, chances are they will be in the shallows. Track the weather and success will follow.
Sometimes, unpredictable conditions can drive crappie deeper. These include anything from the weather to predators. Predators like walleyes and smallmouths notoriously chase crappie from the shallows and force them deeper into the water. When this happens do not worry, they will be back. If you are on a boat just use your fish finder and you will see the crappie lighting up like a Christmas tree anywhere between 12 to 25 feet. Once you spot them, just use these tactics to fish for them like you normally would.
If you are a more experienced angler, here is a set of little-known tactics that can help you take your fishing game to a whole other level. Try these tricks out the nest time you head out. When you combine them with the skills you already have, you might even surprise yourself by the number of slabs you take home with you.
When fishing during the spawning season, it is tempting to go for the crappie you see at extremely shallow depths, in as little as 6 inches of water. What most beginner anglers do not realize is that the crappie at these depths have had a lot of fishing pressure from other anglers targeting them, making them a lot more likely to ignore your presentation altogether. Simply walking 2 to 8 feet into the water often solves this problem and yields amazing results.
If you want to find fish fast, follow the temperature gradients. For temperatures below 60 degrees, every single unit change is important, and it can tilt things to your favor in a huge way. Keep a close eye on the water temperature and try to find the warmest water you can. Sometimes it almost feels like the entire lake is at one constant temperature. If most of the water is at 50 degrees and you find a 52-degree spot, you will be able to catch you limit in mere minutes from that one spot alone. Look for areas that have gravel and stone at the bottom. They tend to warm up faster than sandy areas of the lake.
If you want to night fish, consider using tubes or marabou jigs. Put a safety pin spinner ahead of them, then present with a float and fly rod. Because they are aggressive during the pre-spawn period, they will not hesitate to attack a jig with a spinner in front.
Here is a great trick that experienced anglers use to determine their starting depths. You drop your jig into the water and try to see for how long it stays visible. Try to determine the depth at which you lose visibility. Once you figure that depth out, add another 3 feet and start fishing. For example, if you lose visibility at 3 feet, start fishing at 6 feet. If you lose visibility at 7 feet, start fishing at 10 feet.
Early spring crappie fishing can be fun and fulfilling if you know what you are doing. Sometimes, all it takes is a good understanding of the behavior of the fish to guarantee success. As long as you pay close attention to the sun and the overall temperature of the water, finding the best depth to start fishing from shouldn’t be hard. Finally, use the right color plastics for the right type of water, and you will be well on your way to catching your limit every time you head out.
These early spring crappie tactics should get you some excellent results the next time you go out to the lake. Try them out and let me know how you did. Do you have more tips to share? Leave them in the comments section below!
Good fishin’ to you,