Southern outdoorsmen look forward to the crappie spawn with as much anticipation as opening day of deer season. During the crappie spawn the fish come in shallow where bank-bound anglers can get at them, and while the timing isn’t set on a calendar, it happens pretty much the same time every year.
One of Oklahoma’s most-popular bank-fishing destinations for spawning crappie is Lake Eufaula. It’s the Sooner State’s biggest reservoir and offers miles and miles of productive crappie spawning water within easy casting or pitching distance from shore.
Two Eufaula Lake guides, Barry Morrow and Todd Huckabee, spend most of the spring catching big slabs by boat, but acknowledge that at this time of year the bank-bound guys have just as good of a shot of filling a limit as they do.
Here’s what these two crappie -fishing authorities had to say about how to catch spawning crappie from the bank. Their tips and rigs can help you fill your bucket!
Rigs, Jigs and Floats
Key to shoreline crappie success is a rig that can be pitched or cast to targets, and suspend at a proper depth. One of the best things about spring is that fish congregate within easy casting range of the shore. Even if you own a boat, the shore-fishing approach allows for quick stops after work and lets you lake-hop or move from spot-to-spot along a lake’s shore without long boat runs.
Shore gear is simple. Use light spinning tackle spooled with 10-pound-test, a 1/8- to ¼-ounce Watsit Jig or YUM Wooly Beavertail and a Thill Wobble Bobber or Crappie Cork matched to the size of your jighead. Casting a jig allows you to travel light, with nothing but your rod and reel, a small box of tackle and a stringer, which means you can walk the shore to search for fish. If the fish are fussy, you can fish a minnow under a float; however, a jig often will produce as many fish (or more), and you don’t have to buy minnows for each trip or carry a minnow bucket.
The Wobble Bobber lends itself nicely to the shoreline approach because it can be cast long distances and with good accuracy. As the name suggests, it also dances when it bounces in the waves, adding action to any jig that’s dangled below it.
Good shoreline areas for spring crappie fishing typically include riprap banks (especially those along bridge crossings), coves and pockets lined with downed trees, and the edges of stumpy flats.
“The most important thing is that an area is out of prevalent winds,” Huckabee said. “Crappie will spawn on all different types of banks and will use almost any kind of cover, but they won’t even try to spawn where waves crash every time the wind blows.”
Fish specific pieces of cover and the edges of the rocks or weedlines by casting or pitching beside the cover, letting the jig settle beneath the float, leaving it still for several seconds and then working the rig with alternating twitches and pauses. If that doesn’t prompt strikes, try following the initial pause with a slow, steady retrieve.
If you catch mostly males around shallow cover, try making long casts out away from the bank and working the deeper water away from the cover, but with the jig set at the same depth as when working shallow cover. According to Huckabee, for the most part, big females only move tight to the cover at night. However, during the day they will stay at the same level in the water column, suspended over deeper water just out from the bank.
Pitches & Casts
If the water in a lake is even somewhat stained, Huckabee and Morrow normally pitch float rigs instead of casting simply because it’s faster and more efficient. Both indicated that the muddier the water, the closer you can approach spawn-time crappie, and the shallower they will “do their stuff.”
Morrow commonly uses a Watsit Spin during the spring for the added flash that triggers non-aggressive crappie. For Eufaula’s chocolate-milk-colored water he pegs a Thill Crappie Cork about 2 feet up the line to keep it suspended at the proper depth. Huckabee, who favors a Wooly Beavertail or Wooly Bee, leaves the rig motionless beside the cover at first and then reels the rig slowly and steadily away to trigger fish.
Both anglers cover a lot of shoreline this time of year as they search for active fish. When fish hit, they set the hook with a flip of the wrist, swing the fish back into the boat without touching the reel, unhook the fish, and then pitch the rig back to the same spot. Bank-bound anglers should do the same – work a productive spot thoroughly before moving on.
If the water is clearer than expected, bank-bound anglers need to stay back farther from the target and cast to it, but with the same rig and presentations. The only difference may be to set the jig to ride a little deeper than in muddy water.
It's easy to tell when crappie are getting shallow -- the shorelines of Lake Eufaula and other bodies of water across the country become lined with anglers. Crappie spawning season may not be marked on the calendar, but it does occur at traditional times of year.
"I think it's more photo-period rather than water temperature," Morrow said. "That would explain why it happens at about the same time every year."
If you're not sure exactly when the crappie spawn at your local body of water, just watch for extra cars parked along the side of the road along bridges lined with riprap or at your local marina. Make up a milk run of these spots and you can spend the day hitting one after the other until you find cooperative fish.
And take a note from Huckabee's book and consider areas protected from the wind. Marinas and coves are great spawning areas as long as there is ample cover. Rig up with a slip float rig and drop it right in among the branches of laydown trees or behind boathouses. Huckabee offers a final note on lure color selection.
"If it's muddy like it is here at Eufaula much of the time," he said, "go with darker colors with more contrast, like black with a pink tail. In clearer water I'd go with more-natural colors."