Spring is hands down the best season to fish for crappie. They are abundant and very easy to catch, sometimes in as little as 6 inches of water. This is because Spring is spawning season for crappie. They spawn in waters of between 57 and 65 degrees. These comfortable water temperatures bring them closer to the surface, and they head out to the shallows to spawn. Their presence in the shallows is what makes them so much fun and exciting to catch, even for complete beginners. If you want to catch your limit every time you head out, here are a few spring crappie fishing tips to help you out.
1. USE LIVE MINNOWS
It is no secret that crappies can’t resist a juicy, lively minnow. They will almost always go for minnows over any other type of bait that you may choose to use. You can therefore always count on them if you want to take your fishing to the next level. Always bring a dozen or two of them with you whenever you go crappie fishing. The most important thing that you have to remember when fishing with minnows, though, is to always make sure they are alive, active and lively. You can do this by being careful when you hook them to make sure you do not kill them. Hook them through the nose, through the dorsal fin or through the tail fin. When you allow them to actively swim around when fishing for crappie in spring, you can almost always count on getting a bite.
Remember that the minnows need to be lively. If the weather is too hot, make sure that the minnows are either in a minnow bucket that is in the lake, or that you place them in an aerated, insulated minnow bucket. Check out this article I wrote on crappie minnows – it is almost TMI on minnows 🙂
2. KNOW HOW AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
The trick to locating crappie lies in having a good understanding of their behavior. Crappie are a schooling type of fish, which means where you find one you are sure to find a few more. Therefore, whenever you go out fishing, every time you catch one crappie, throw your bait right back at the same spot and wait for another bite.
A deeper understanding of their spawning behavior will also go a long way in making sure you succeed, especially during spring. When crappie spawn, they do it in three stages:
During the pre-spawn stage, the crappie gather at river outlets, near big coves or in major creek mouths as they prepare for the spawn. This is usually in early Spring, when the water is still a little cold. The temperature forces them to find points of high oxygen in the water, which is usually near drop offs. Expect to find a good number of them anywhere between 6 to 15 feet deep at this time.
If you have a boat, when fishing for them at this time, a good pro tip is to match your pace to the water temperature. Start slow, then increase your trolling speed with increasing temperature as the water gets warmer in the afternoon and the fish become more active.
Check out this early spring crappie tactics article I wrote. It has more info on the pre-spawn.
Crappies love to spawn in areas of visible cover. If you find some good structure, you will definitely get a school in and around it in as little as 3 to 7 feet. If the water is clear, deep and with no structure, they can sometimes spawn at around 12 feet. The best structure for crappie spawning includes docks, brushes, weed beds and bridge piles.
You can usually tell it is the spawning period when colder days give way to several consecutive warm days. Better temperatures allow the crappie to head on up to shallower parts of the water or to some cover. Crappie that are spawning in shallows are usually very active, and you can sometimes even notice them breaking the surface of the water with their tails. This is the best time to get them, when they are easily agitated due to the increased aggressiveness. They will strike anything that taunts them.
This is the time that crappie anglers love. that is because this tie of year is a lot of fun. If you find a good spot, you can literally catch your limit of keepers in an hour. I have had times where they were biting as soon as I was dropping my bait in the water. Jigs can be very effective at this time.
Post Spawn Stage
Immediately after the spawning, crappie move to the nearest drop off. During this time, the crappie are usually very hungry and on the hunt. The trick, therefore, is to look for their source of food and target them there. If you can find the location of a large shad school, there will be many crappie slabs around it feeding on them. Jigs tend to be less effective during this period, so make sure you have minnows on hand. You can find the crappie anywhere between 8 to 25 feet.
3. KNOW WHERE TO FISH FOR THEM
Once you understand how to locate them, you need to know which areas require more attention than others. This is very important if you want to be successful crappie fishing.
First of all, keep these two crappie behaviors that we have mentioned earlier in mind: Crappie love comfortable water temperatures, and during Spring, the water is at a comfortable temperature closer to the top. Also, Spring is spawning season for crappie, so a good understanding of how they spawn goes a long way in catching more of them.
With that in mind, these are the areas you need to prioritize when looking for them:
Crappie love structure. Anything that is submerged completely or partially, like stumps and fallen trees, makes a perfect nesting ground for them. During Spring, look for them everywhere you see some structure. The bigger the structure or pile of brush, the greater the chances are that you will find a school of crappie in and around it. You can also search for them around and under bridges, especially if the bridge has pylons that stick into the water.
I mostly fish barges and docks. Over time, I have learned where the barge owners or individual anglers have submerged christmas trees, creating artificial structure that the crappie are attracted to.. Look for the tell tale signs by paying attention over the sides of barges and docks. You will usually see some thick rope, or yellow rope going down into the lake for no apparent good reason. Chances are those roles are attached to christmas trees that are weighed down with cinder blocks. That’s where you want to fish for crappie! Id there are other anglers around, ask if they know where the sunken structures are. It will save you a lot of time!
If you are fishing in a lake, consider trying to find the crappie near drop offs. As mentioned earlier, they converge here during the pre-spawn phase, go to the shallows to spawn, then head back during the post spawn phase. The logic behind this is simple: since the crappie are heading up from the deep during the Spring, they are more likely to be found in shallow areas that are right next to deep drop offs. They come back to the same drop offs as they head back to the deep when the temperatures at the surface starts getting too hot during post-spawn. If you can locate these drop offs, you can count on finding a school or two right there. It is very easy to find such drop offs if you are fishing from a boat and using a fish finder.
4. GO FOR ULTRA LIGHT GEAR
Ultra-Light gear is popular among anglers who specialize in pan fishing. The light rods combined with the light lines makes it extremely easy to feel the fish tugging under the water. It also makes it easier for the hook to set faster. This is why they come very highly recommended for crappie fishing. As a bonus, it makes the fight super exciting once you hook a crappie! If you have kids that don’t enjoy fishing that much, let them hook a crappie on ultra-light gear! They will have such a great time that they may just fall in love!
I have some ultra light gear that I use but I have another favorite rod. Check out my St Croix Triumph rod review here
5. USE A SPLIT SHOT AND BOBBER (CORK) RIG
This is an old school technique that is often overlooked and that has proven very effective for me. Corks float really well in water. When you use a cork bobber especially in Spring, you are bound to experience a much higher success rate. This rig is probably the first rig you used when you went fishing. It is the first setup my father put together for me when I was a kid. The beauty of it is that you can set the exact depth and present the bait at the same depth everytime. This is extremely helpful once you located a school of crappie since they tend to hang out in bunches. It is also super exciting to see that bobber sink down into the water when the crappies take your bait!
Learn more about crappie fishing jigs here.
6. WATCH THE SUN
Sunshine goes hand in hand with water temperature, and it is a good indicator of the depth at which you will most likely find a school of crappie. Earl in the morning when the surface is still cold, crappie tend to be deeper in the water column. As the sun rises and starts to warm up the surface, they move higher up to soak in the heat. This is the main reason why you will find them very shallow on warm Spring afternoons. Look for rocky or gravely areas neer the shores. These tend to warm up faster than sandy floors. Crappies will favor these warmer spots!
7. STRATEGIC USE OF PLASTICS
As mentioned earlier, nothing beats using minnows in my humble opinion. They are the best way to catch massive slabs. However, many swear by their jigs. Who knows, maybe they are better at jigging than I am! The truth is that they are way ore patient than me. Having said that I often jig and find great success. I too love to “Feel The Thump”.
Plastics are great because they can withstand more torture than live bait. The way fishing for crappie in Spring works is, you cast your jig then reel it back in slowly, twitching it now and then as you go. Furthermore, colorful plastics are also easier for the crappie to spot, especially when fishing in murky waters.
8. USING TUNGSTEN LINES
Full disclosure, I have not used this technique yet but it looks like this is a little cheat that most crappie anglers are only just discovering. Tungsten lines are a lot heavier than traditional lead lines, and this yields a ton of advantages. The higher weight means that the line sinks faster, so it gets to the right depth sooner, and if you are using a slip bobber, it will get pulled through it a lot faster. I will update you all when I try this. If you try it, or have tried it, please leave some more info and thoughts in the comments section below.
9. BONUS TRICK FOR FISHING CLEAR WATER (If you have a boat)
In early spring in some water bodies, the low temperature tends to make the water ultra-clear. Although this is great with visibility, meaning you can easily see the schools of crappie, it also means that the fish can see you. Often, you can spook them by simply casting towards them. Which makes things a little tricky.
A great workaround for this is to spot the fish, mark the locations, then stir up the water there. You can do this by driving your boat over the spot with the big motor on and low. Move stuff around with your prop and get the water a bit murky. The fish will be spooked and move away. Come back to the same spot around 20 minutes later and start fishing before the water clears up.
Crappie fishing is a fun, all-American pass-time. You get to enjoy the wild outdoors and eat what you catch, and nothing beats that. Although it can be done throughout the year, crappie fishing is particularly fun in Spring, when the fish are numerous, close to the surface and easy to catch. This is why it is the best time for beginners to take up crappie fishing. If you want to improve your chances at catching your limit every time you head out, these few tips will really help you achieve that goal.
Hopefully you enjoyed this post. Leave me your questions and comments below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Good fishin’ to you,