In addition to perch lying on their beds, for many of us, the annual crappie spawning is close to a holiday for fishermen. Come at the end of March and beginning of April; spawning crappies will begin swarming in the warm shallow waters as temperatures begin to rise.
Experienced crappie anglers love this time of year as there is no better time to find large numbers of aggressive crappie and spend a day of their life if you know how to properly find and fish those shallow waters. So if you’re looking to kill it on the water, it’s worth taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the best locations, methods, and equipment to increase your chances of catching large spawning slabs.
When does crappie spawn?
Actual run dates will depend on the temperature of the region where you live. In the south, spawning can start as early as March, move up to the central regions of the country, and you are looking at the beginning of April. To the north of Illinois, spawning may not begin until the end of May.
In general, as soon as the water temperature reaches about 50-52 degrees, you will see movement. Once it reaches that magic number, usually around 55 degrees, you will see the crappie begin the spawning process.
The spawning peak occurs when the water temperature reaches 61-72 degrees.
Spawning Behavior: What Crappie Does While Spawning
The spawning period for crappie can last from a few days to a few weeks, but under optimal conditions it usually lasts about a week. Here’s what the process looks like:
- Nest-building: This process lasts 2-3 days, during which time the male crappie kicks things, inflating nest-building nests while the females only hold the nest.
- Spawning: Once the nest is ready, the female will move and start spawning. The female quickly flies in and almost as quickly leaves, after leaving the nest it is difficult to find her. This stage usually lasts only 1 day.
- Egg Guard: This is where things get exciting and the male gets aggressive as hell. The male will attack anything that falls into the nest until the eggs hatch – 1 to 3 days.
- Fry Guard: The male will stay close to the nest, guarding the fry for 1 to 7 days.
Location: where to look for and catch spawning crappie.
Spawning usually takes place in very shallow water, sometimes the depth of the water they are in is only a couple of inches. In fact, it is often so shallow that you can easily spot the dorsal fins sticking out of the water. However, they can build their nests in water from inches to 10 feet deep, deeper beds are usually found in clearer water.
The surface on which they build their beds is usually soft mud, sand, or gravel.
How to find the right water
The great thing about Crappie is that they can be found in every one of the 48 states, but that doesn’t mean they can be found in every pond, lake, or river. When considering which water to choose, don’t be afraid to ask on local internet forums or check out your local bait shop. Hell, I got some good advice just by visiting the local bars in the waters where I fish.
If you can’t find a good spot or want to find a new secret fishing hole, it’s important to consider the following three things:
- Does the lake, pond or river have good underwater cover?
- Crappies, like many other small fish, prefer a lot of hiding places. Look for weed lines, brush piles, stumps, stakes, and docks.
- If it’s a river, be sure to look for slower moving water or whirlpools.
Finding the Perfect Location: This is really what you need to look for.
- Shallow places 1-3 feet with plenty of cover.
- Look for lakes and rivers with clear water and sandy bottoms.
- You can usually find topographic maps of public lakes online, look for places with shallower water to make sure your cast is in the best spot.
- Direct Sunlight: At the start of your journey, look for areas with direct sunlight on the west coast, as they tend to be warmer.
- Later on the run, look for partial shade as direct sunlight can be too hot.
- Don’t forget about your hotspots! Crappie sleeps in the same places year after year.
Best time of day to fish for crappie spawning
Crappie prefers to feed in low light, so sunrise and sunset are the best times to catch almost any type of fish during pre-spawning. I personally find that with crappie, dawn until late in the morning (e.g. 10am) is the best time to go outside. As the water warms up with sunlight, the crappies become more active and begin their pre-spawn feeding frenzy.
DAWN: At dawn, the best place to cast is right behind cover. As crappies move from their nest into shallow water, placing bait right outside of their nest or dropping it on the bed is a surefire way to get a bite. Remember to pour everything around the lid at different depths.
Later in the morning: As the day progresses, move the target areas to more open and shallow water areas. This is where the feeding frenzy will take place, if you can find this spot after sunrise you will be reeling in Crappie as fast as you can. Remember to aim for areas in direct sunlight that are about 1-3 feet deep.
Also read: Best Bass Lures: The Top Go-To Bass Lures that are Guaranteed to Catch Fish
What kind of bait to use for crappie
First of all, let’s talk about the best crappie bait. As any angler knows, there is no exact science of what bait will work. The bait that caught fish yesterday can leave you dry today. However, here are some tips to at least get you started and moving in the right direction.
Minnow is a great bait to start with and works well in most areas where crappie can be found. Fathead minnows are naturally found in most of the same lakes that crappies live in, so if your local bait shop has them, be sure to use them. Of course, if you’re a natural diehard or maybe just a little superstitious, you can always catch your own.
Although mayflies are not as popular, they are a good choice if your local lake or pond has a lot of fish – as long as they are local in your area. If not, just go ahead and use some other flying insect.
Having a mix of minnows and insects will give you multiple live bait options and increase your chances of getting a Crappy in your life.
Fishing with jigs
One of the great things about catching Crappies is the wide variety of cheap gear available. The preferred crappie fixture is whichever one works, but in general I like to use the heaviest fixtures and the largest fixtures. Sometimes these larger lures just annoy them and usually get them moving. During spawning, I also like big, bright colors; they will cause more attention and more strikes.