Most crappie are caught in the spring when mature fish move into the shallows to spawn.
The average date for fishing crappie spawns is generally around April 15. Most fisherman can fill a spawning-season fish sack, but finding pre-spawn crappie in big numbers is a different story.
Crappie move from the shallow to deeper water when winter temperatures take over. Submerged standing timber found on deep flats becomes a favorite crappie haunt. They have food and a safe place to live.
Determining fish productivity around a tree is easy with sonar. Circle the tree while making sure your transducer – the submerged part that sends signals back to your screen – passes within a few feet of the trunk. This will allow you to find where branches are thickest and where fishing will be the best. Then anchor off close to the tree and continue watching your screen.
Next, let your jig rub down the tree trunk and on the branches. Crappie may hit that jig, but pass on one a couple inches off the wood, depending on their feeding desires. You will likely lose more jigs, but more crappie will be caught.
Crappie occasionally locate close to cliffs and submerged rock islands. Small pockets of brush around these long, rocky formations attract crappie and are easily located by sonar. I discovered this years ago when the air temperature was about 30 degrees. Crappie disappeared from the beds and a friend’s depth finder found fish scattered in groups along a long, rocky flat. We cruised back and forth, watching the depth finder and catching a crappie every time we stopped or paused over a spot that showed fish on his screen.
Open water crappie usually school in big numbers and are easily found on a sonar screen, especially today’s modern versions that can almost count the spots on a fish.
Crappie, too, suspend around giant bridge pillars or suspended bridges over lakes and rivers. Pillars illuminated from bridge lights attract insects and small fish. These sound structures, with or without illumination, attract various species of game fish.
Anchor close to pillars throughout the day and cast a 1/16-ounce plastic jig just past the concrete. Retrieve slowly after the jig sinks a few feet and rub against the pillar where predator fish are waiting to ambush unsuspecting minnows. Not rubbing the pillar may mean no strikes when the bite is slow or it may not matter if the bite is aggressive.
One night a 12-pound walleye took my bridge pillar jig and fought a savage fight to the net before being released. Fortunately, we were fishing murky water and using 6-pound test line. I doubt 2-pound test would have held her, although it has been done – but not by me. Chances are the walleye were feeding on suspended crappie. That was the only “eye” we hooked that night, but there were likely more.
Finding early-spring crappie feeding areas requires electronic aids. Sonar units are important for navigating at night, a common time to fish for hot-weather crappie.
A sonar unit’s depth perception remains near perfect on the darkest night by tracing the bottom contour and displaying fish and structure with normal accuracy.
Be warned that different types of sonar are never equal in performance, especially after sundown. The newer versions with adequate backlighting and controls work great, while models with poor lighting systems are useless.
Trolling is another great crappie fishing technique in early spring. Many troll under structures like bridges and along submerged creek channels. Suspended crappie sometimes hit passing jigs or minnows lightly, so move your bait slowly
Minnows, jigs – tipped or not tipped – and small lures work best. Try heavier jigs when fishing depths. Tip jigs with minnows, generally hooked behind the head, euro larva, mealworms, small pieces of nightcrawler, commercial baits and some use crickets for early spring crappie. The key is an extra incentive for the crappie to bite your jig.
Scents are used for two reasons – to smell like natural bait or to cover human scent. Many fishermen do not realize the importance of camouflaging odors on their hands.
Have you ever noticed that some fishermen catch fish while the person sitting next to them using the same bait and technique are skunked? I smoke cigars and use scent to cover up tobacco odor on my hands. Others might fill their vehicle up with gasoline, a strong smell. Odors that we take for granted can be transmitted to lures or baits. Crappie don’t like foreign smells and will shy away.
Most tournament professionals use commercial scents on jigs or lures. But when none are available, he will literally wipe a small bit of slime from crappie sides on his lure or bait. He only uses slime off fish he keeps to avoid damaging released crappie.
The second phase of cover scents are odors that imitate shad or other live prey. Crappie is well acquainted with the strong odor of shad that they follow in large schools throughout the year. Fruit flavored scents used mainly by bass fishermen will occasionally give crappie a sweet flavor they are not used to. This may or may not be productive, depending on what the fish want or don’t want.
Early spring crappie fishing success is possible with a combination of finding productive feeding spots and sometimes using sonar. The key is staying out long periods of time while finding active fish.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.