Most lifelong anglers have memories from their younger years of fishing for crappie. It could be a hot evening bite off the dock that led to a few 15-inchers or a secret hole their dad knew of on their home lake. Not only are they delicious, but they also put up a great fight. It’s possible to fish for crappie in numerous ways during several times of the year.
However, the best and most entertaining time to fish for crappie is during the spring spawn. Like many types of fish, they head for the banks and shallower water when spawning. There will be a massive amount of fish in a concentrated area. You’ll likely even see their dorsal fins popping out of the water due to how shallow they truly are. This scene makes every angler’s eyes pop. Peruse the banks and look for crappie beds.
To back up the timeline, crappie spend the few weeks before the spawn going on a feeding frenzy. They’re feasting due to the changes in their reproductive systems. Also, they need extra energy because of how active they are during the spawn. If you can find crappie during this stage, you’ll catch more than your fair share of fish. They’re looking to eat anything and everything so pay attention to the fish activity and as soon as you find a school, you’re in for a treat.
When fish are in the true heart of the spawn, they aren’t striking out of hunger. They’re striking out of aggression. All fish do this. Whenever they’re spawning, they’re doing their best to protect their eggs. The males will protect the fry and go after anything near the nest. Up until a week or so after the spawn, the males will continue to strike.
As soon as the females lay their eggs, it’s extremely difficult to catch them. They’ll go to the nest, drop their eggs and take off. They’ll hang out in the deeper waters away from the nest and be more difficult to pinpoint.
Identifying the Spring Spawn
To be successful when fishing the spawn, you must know the conditions that lead up to the spawn. Whenever the water is hovering near 56-59 degrees, crappies start spawning. They’ll be migrating closer and closer to the banks as the temperature rises and officially begin when the water temperatures reach the mid-50’s.
Where to Look During the Spawn
Again, similar to many other fish, the crappies head towards cover during the spawn. Also, they need somewhere with a firm bottom. Anything from a brush pile to a rock would work for crappie. Do your best to find these covers in the shallower waters and crappie will be there.
Crappies are also habitual fish. They like to spawn in similar areas each year. However, if there were major changes in the water levels or quality of the water, the crappie will move their spawning placement.
Water clarity also matters when it comes to the spawn. If you’re fishing a crystal clear lake, crappie can spawn in water up to 15 feet deep. Be sure to wear your polarized sunglasses to identify beds deep in the water. The glare from the sun or clouds can force you to miss quite a few fish. Whenever you’re fishing muddy water, the fish will be closer to the banks.
Bait to Use in the Spawn
Similar to the tackle during the spawn, crappie will feed on jigs with some sort of bait attached to it. Whether it’s a minnow head or a soft-plastic, be sure you know the tendencies of the body of water. What sort of bait is available in the lake and what has worked in the past?
Also, like many other fish, the brighter and more aggressive baits are going to work during the spawn. Salmon need obnoxious colors and patterns to get them to strike. Crappies are similar. You need bright and vibrant lures. A pink lure lurking near their bed is going to draw a strike from a male protecting the bed. You don’t necessarily need a loud lure. A small rattle is okay, but you don’t need something like a chatter bait.
Also, don’t rip your baits quickly along the bed. Be sure to fish them slowly. It’ll be tempting to fish a large amount of water, but if you’re too aggressive or quick with your baits, you won’t find fish. You want to entice the males. Almost taunt them with your bait to get them angry enough to strike. Work all angles of the bed.
Tactics and Tackle to Use During the Spawn
There are a couple ways to fish for crappie during the spawn and all may be successful at different points. The first option is the traditional vertical jigging. Using a long pole straight over the heavy brush or cover allows you to meet them right where they’re at. Crappies may not want to leave cover so jigging is a solid choice. It’s almost like you’re ice fishing for them in the middle of the summer. Let your jig drop and twitch it up and down at a decent rate.
Hit the shallows. Especially if the water is dirty, hang close to the bank and cast your jig to the bank. Let it bounce up-and-down off of the bottom and it’ll get fish frustrated and want to strike. If you’d like, you can use some sort of bobber or float to make sure you stay at the same depth. Pay close attention. Remember that fish during the spawn aren’t eating because they’re hungry. They want to protect their beds so they’ll nip at the bait and may not put all of their effort into striking it.
Another technique that you can use both in the spawn as well as out of the spawn is trolling. Trolling is going to work in the spring, fall, winter (without ice) and summer. Some call the technique “long-lining”. It’s similar to traditional trolling, but it’s slow. You’re letting the boat do the work. Only troll at about 1.5 mph and use smaller jigs ranging from 1/32 to ¼ ounce. You don’t need to get extremely deep, but you need to get deep enough to meet the crappies.
To long line in the winter, remember to be slow. Fish in the winters aren’t as active so they don’t want to chase the bait. Use a smaller jig because it won’t be as intimidating to strike as a larger jig would be. In the summer, they’ll hit larger jigs, but they aren’t as willing to go after a large bait in the cold.
In the spring, long-lining for crappie is going to move you to the lower depths. You can’t get all the way up on shore, but you can find success in 5-10 feet of water. Again, don’t be too intimidating with your presentation. Use a three or four pound test and be slow. You can increase the size of your jigs and use something along the lines of 1/16 to ⅛ ounce jig. If the water is stained, use a brighter color.
The summer is the beginning of the prime time for trolling. You can increase both your boat speed and size of your lures. Increase to an ⅛ ounce to a ¼ ounce jig. The fish are going to chase after the baits and you’ll receive some large strikes.
The fall is the absolute best time of year to troll for crappie. They’re going to be feeding quite aggressively during September, October and early November.
Location for Trolling
When you troll, don’t start yourself in the middle of the lake and start going. You have to be intentional with the location of your boat. Be sure to read a map of the lake before you begin. Know where the ledges, flats and main channels are in the lake. You want to hit those drop-offs and other portions where the lake changes depths. These are where the fish will be in the fall.
Also, cover is still going to be important. Don’t shy away from trolling past it. Fish will venture away from protection if the bait is tempting enough.
Know Your Water
Like any type of fishing, the most important thing to understand is the water condition. What are the water temperatures? How is the clarity? Where are the main channels? Do any streams or rivers flow in or out of the lake?
It’s necessary to know the answers to these questions. At times, it’s impossible to know the answers without going to the lake or river. However, some more popular bodies of water are going to have online forums that people will regularly update after a day of fishing.
If these aren’t available, don’t be afraid of trial and error. It’s not easy to learn a body of water. It takes several seasons of fishing to learn the tendencies of the fish and the quality of the water itself.
There’s a personal feeling of pride when you master a body of water and all of its perks. It can seem insurmountable, but don’t quit. Talk to locals and spend as much time on the water as you can.
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