Crappie are a popular sport fish for many reasons. They can be caught all year round, they are always fun to fish for, and they are one of the tastiest pan fish you’ll ever eat. One of the best times to fish for them is during spring during their spawning season. At this time, the crappie are very close to the water surface, and they aggressively attack any bait you put in front of them. Which is why spring crappie fishing is a favorite among beginners and experienced anglers alike. Here are a few spring crappie fishing techniques to help you catch your limit every time you head out.
CRAPPIE’S BEHAVIOR DURING SPRING
Before we get to the techniques, let’s first take a quick look at basic crappie behavior during spring. Understanding crappie behavior is essential if you want to be effective in catching them. Being able to predict their location and movement will go a long way in helping you hit your targets each time. Learning crappie behavior is also important in determining the type of technique you will need to employ to get them.
During spring, crappie spawn in three distinct stages: the pre-spawning stage, spawning stage, and the post-spawning stage. Each of these stages affects their behavior differently. Here is a quick breakdown of each one of them.
The onset of spring marks the beginning of these three stages. It all happens from the end of February to early March. At this time the fish start migrating towards the spawning locations. These spawning areas usually vary from water body to water body, but they are all generally areas of shallow waters and warm temperatures.
The pre-spawning stage is usually marked by the male crappie heading out ahead of the females. They do this because it is the responsibility of the males to build the nests where the females will lay their eggs. The males will move to the shallows closer to the banks to build the nests, and as they do this, the females wait some distance back in the deep. Which means over this period, it is much easier to catch the males than it is to get the females.
After the pre-spawning stage comes the spawning stage. Once the nests are complete, the female crappie come in to deposit the eggs. This spawning stage is marked by increased activity and aggression among the crappie. A huge number of crappies pile up near the shallows, and you can even see them break the water surface. This is when they are most abundant and when they are easiest to catch. Both males and females can easily be caught during this period, but you only have a one-day window.
Once the females deposit their eggs, they immediately move out and head to the deep once more. This is the post-spawning stage. The males are left to guard the nests, and although the crappie numbers are reduced, the males become even more aggressive. It is very easy to get them when they are vulnerable near the banks of the lake. They stay at the same spot for close to 10 days while they guard the eggs in the nests.
During this spring spawning season, it is very easy to tell the difference between the males and the females. All you have to do is look at their features around the bellies and fins. During the spawning period, the males turn dark around the fins and bellies. When it comes to crappie, this is the easiest way to tell the difference between males and females because both males and females grow to the same size in adulthood.
Quick Tip: Sometimes as the weather gradually changes from cold to warm or vice versa, you may have several consecutive warm days. When this happens, you may notice that the crappie head out en-masse and pile up near the banks. When beginner anglers see this, they often get confused and think that the spawning season has started. Be careful not to confuse these activities with those of early spring spawn because the following day there might be no fish at all.
SPRING CRAPPIE FISHING TECHNIQUES
Now that you have some idea of how the crappie behave in spring, let us focus on the techniques you can use to catch your limit every time you head out.
1. Locating them
Being able to locate them as soon as possible will go a long way in ensuring you have the most fun fishing experience. When you head out to fish for crappie, your search should always begin near creeks especially at the mouth, around tributary mouths, at drop off points and within coves.
Also, consider starting with a depth of around 15 feet and working your way up during spring. However, this will totally depend on the depth of the lake or river that you are fishing in.
Locating the fish can also be aided by the use of a topo map and a fish locator. With the help of such equipment, finding the crappie becomes way faster and easier.
You should also look for them in areas with a lot of brush, lodged stumps, a lot of debris and generally areas with any kind of structure. Crappie love to school and build nests in areas that are covered or places that have some structure. So, if you can find an area where a log is lodged on a stump filtering all kinds of junk floating on the water, crappie fish are very likely to be somewhere underneath that.
If you are going to jig for them, be sure not to do it under your boat. What you need to do is reach out with a ten-foot pole away from your position and test any heavy cover you see. Make sure you fish all around the structure before moving on elsewhere.
You can also maximize your efficiency by spider rigging with minnows. However, before attempting this technique, make sure you get approved by your local authority before you rig because it is illegal in some states.
2. The kind of bait to use
The best bait to use for crappie is minnows. Crappie go crazy for minnows. But you have to make sure that the minnows are alive and lively. How can you achieve this? Simple. All you have to do is hook them in a way that keeps them alive while allowing them to still move about. You can do this by hooking them through the nose, through the dorsal fin, or through the tail fin. Make sure you do it gently because it is very easy to kill or paralyze them as you hook them.
So I found a good video to show you how to hook a minnow the right way. The guy in the video is NOT me. The video shows exactly the ways that I hook a minnow. Look at my crappie minnows article to see close up pictures
You can take things up a notch by using 1/16 jigs tipped with minnows. But you need to understand crappie behavior for this method to be effective. Cold water slows crappie down. They become less aggressive and will not attack what doesn’t look like an easy meal. Early spring is a little cold, therefore do not jig up and down too hard. Often, the movement in the water itself is good enough to make the crappie notice your jig.
The basic rule of thumb here is to always match your speed or aggressiveness with the water temperature. When the water is warm, be more aggressive. When the water is cold, take things down a notch. You can move as fast as you want when the crappie are spawning because then they are at their most aggressive.
If you are using plastics, the simple rule to remember is this: the darker the water, the brighter your plastics should be. When you are in clear waters, you can even use transparent lures and you will still find success. However, this rule does not always apply because crappie can be very unpredictable. What works today may not yield the same results tomorrow. So, you have to experiment and find a color combination that works for you. Alternatively, you can simply ask other anglers at your location for the combinations that have yielded success for them. This will save you a lot of time.
3. How deep into the waters should you get?
The level at which you need to start looking for fish varies with time and water temperature. In spring, always start fishing in places with the warmest water you can find. As for the fishing depth, generally, from late February to early March, start looking for crappie at a depth of 13 feet and above. You should also keep track of the weather: when you have a number of consecutive cold days, crappie will go deep into the lake. When it is warm for a number of days, they will come back towards the bank.
Predators could also affect the depth of the crappie. When they are constantly being hunted or chased, they tend to migrate to the deeper end of the lake for safety. Some of their greatest predators are smallmouths and walleyes. They usually force them to move deeper into the lake to hide. When this happens, do not stop fishing. When crappie go deep, simply use your fish finder to locate them. Fishfinders work perfectly especially for crappie at around 12-25 feet deep.
Here are a few more pro tips to help you be even more successful every time you head out.
1. Crappies in spring have had a lot of pressure because many anglers target them. They are pretty slick ! what you need to do is to go for crappie fish that are about 2-8 feet into the lake. Here the fish are more comfortable and are way easier to get compared to the ones at extremely shallow depths. The ones closer to shore will ignore your bait because of the pressure.
2. An easy strategy that many expert anglers use to determine their starting depth is by dropping their jig and waiting to see how long it stays visible. They determine the depth where visibility is lost and add another 3 feet before they start fishing. So, for example, if your jig loses visibility at 9 feet, you can start fishing at 12 feet.
3. Following temperature gradients will guarantee you an easy catch. When it comes to crappie fishing, every unit of temperature counts, so keep a close eye on your temperature gauge. This is especially true for temperatures below 60°, which are very sensitive for crappie. For instance, when most of the lake is 55° and you find a spot that is 57°, you are likely to catch your limit at this spot in mere minutes.
4. If you choose to night fish, tubes or marabou jigs will yield great results for you. Always put a safety pin spinner in front of them, then present with a fly rod and float. Crappie fish are aggressive during pre-spawn so they will not hesitate to attack a jig which has a spinner at the front.
Crappie fishing can be a lot of fun, especially during spring. All you need to do is have some basic understanding of their behavior, and you will be able to easily predict their locations and every move they make. Know how they adjust and react to external factors like temperature or predators and when they choose to move deeper into the lake or head into the shallows.
Knowing the right fishing techniques to employ is only a small part of crappie fishing. It is also essential that you understand how to identify where to start fishing and the right depth to start at depending on the season, the type of baits and plastics you need to use and how to use them, and how to use a few special additional equipments like fish finders and topo maps.
The beauty of crappie fishing lies in its simplicity. If you understand them, you are almost guaranteed to catch them. Having all this information at the back of your mind will make you a formidable crappie angler, even giving the best fishermen a run for their money. I hope these tips have helped start you off on your spring crappie fishing journey. Happy fishing!
I hope you spend a little time looking through my site for more information on crappie fishing. If you have any question, please let me know! Leave them below and I will answer as best I can.
Good Fishin’ to you,