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How Expert Anglers Keep Up with Spring Crappie

Warming water temperatures prompt crappie migrations toward spawning areas. Learn how to find and catch spring crappie.

When crappie initiate their move toward spawning areas, anglers from Oklahoma to Connecticut head to the lake!

The primary pre-spawn and spawn trigger is water temperature. Across the country, crappie pre-spawn movements begin when water temperatures approach 50 degrees, with crappie moving to staging areas close to spawning flats and banks. When the shallows maintain a temperature close to 60 degrees for several days, bedding may begin. Nests are constructed moderately firm bottoms, generally in protected areas. This yearly ritual may begin as early as February in the Southern states or as late as early July in states along the Canadian border.

The male crappie remains on a nest for up to 12 days, but the female departs once some eggs are deposited. The entire crappie population does not spawn at the same time because shallows throughout the lake warm at different rates. Also, spawning habitat may be limited. Nesting usually wraps-up when water temperature reaches 70 degrees.  

That’s an overview. For more details, we talked with Bobby Garland Pro Staffers in different areas.

Jeff Schwieterman - Texas

spring crappie catchspring crappie catch

“The pre-spawn for white crappie in Texas kicks off when the water temperature rises into the 50s, with fish moving from creek channel edges towards spawning areas,” Jeff Schwieterman said. “These crappie are typically hanging at depths between 8 to 15 feet.

“Prior to LiveScope, we fished standing timber during the pre-spawn. It was a place we knew crappie were holding. But with LiveScope, we have discovered pre-spawn crappies roam out in the open – between the creek channel and the spawning flat. Now we simply drop out baits right in front of them.”

During the pre-spawn, Schwieterman looks for dirty water because it warms quicker. He employs a 1/4-ounce jig with a Bobby Garland 3” Slab Slay’R. Being a large bait, the Slab Slay’R garners more attention with its greater water displacement. Preferred colors include Green Lantern and Orange Chartreuse Silver.  

When water temperature at a spawning site reaches that magic number, crappie move up to beds. Beds usually are at depths from 2 to 5 feet, although in clearer water beds may be 8 to 10 feet deep.

“The earliest I’ve encountered bedding fish is 58 degrees. Bigger fish always come in the first spawning wave. But you won’t catch the large females during the day. Females wait until dark to move to a nest to deposit some eggs, then go back out a little deeper, only to return the next night to lay more eggs.”

Schwieterman said most of the crappie spawn at temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees.  

“If fun fishing, I like to throw a slip cork with a Bobby Garland Baby Shad on a jighead. I’ll cast at anything different along the bank – a little bit of cover, a stick-up, weed clump, lily pads, stumps, etc. Anything that a crappie might hold on.”

Other times he employs a long rod to dip his bait around every piece of cover. For dippin’, he switches to a 3-inch Slab Slay’R on a 1/8-ounce head.

Tim Hebert – Louisiana

Pair of black crappiePair of black crappie

Tournament angler and marine electronics educator Tim Hebert fishes South Louisiana, where black crappie are prevalent.

“LiveScope is amazing,” Hebert said. “It has taught me more about crappie in the last four years than I’ve learned my whole life. It can tell us exactly what the fish are doing, what they like and don’t like.”

Tim explained that pre-spawn crappie stage around bushy cover at the entrances of canals, sloughs or bayous. Water depth is typically 6 to 9 feet. With LiveScope, he can present a bait accurately to the level at which crappie are suspending and hold it right in front of them.

“You want a minnow-like profile bait. However, during pre-spawn you don’t want to move it much. Using LiveScope we learned that any sudden movement or change of direction of a bait will spook fish. Who would have thought popping a crappie jig would scare fish?”

When the temperature gets right, the crappie move toward the backs of these inlets. Tim pointed out that initial spawning begins with temperature between 58 and 62 degrees. Although the bottoms of these lakes are largely muck, crappie mange to bed on anything that is firm, such as bases of submerged trees, cypress knees, or tops of stumps in 1 to 3 feet of water. However, depth varies with water fluctuations from year to year since crappie return to the same spots to bed every year.

“Big females do not stay on the beds after dropping eggs; rather they move to the center of the canal and suspend, then come back again several times to deposit more eggs. Our biggest fish are usually caught in the center of the canals.”

The Bobby Garland Itty Bit Slab Slay’R is Hebert’s go-to bait. He does not use a bobber. Instead, he drops the tiny bait to individual crappie he sees on LiveScope.

“With live sonar I can see crappie in 3 feet of water no matter how clear or how dirty the water. I watch my jig fall and I stop it right above the fish. If they refuse to bite, I change the color or the bait profile.”

Stokes McClellan – North Carolina

Crappie of Bobby Garland Hyper GrubCrappie of Bobby Garland Hyper Grub

On High Rock Lake, when the water temperature hits 49 degrees, the crappie will begin transitioning to the mouths of creek arms and big bays, according to veteran tournament angler Stokes McClellan.

“Crappie will suspend about 10 feet down over 18 to 20 feet of water. First, I locate them on LiveScope. Then I position the boat to enable me to flip a jig beyond the fish. I follow the jig on live sonar as to the depth of the fish.

“Crappie do not like to chase a bait during pre-spawn, so it’s just a matter of holding the bait as steady as possible,” McClellan continued. “I use a Bobby Garland Baby Shad, which has the perfect profile. I also add a couple drops of Mo’Glo Slab Jam to the jig.”   

When water in the shallows climbs to around 56 degrees, McClellan expects to see a few crappie on beds. “On High Rock Lake, spawning depth is usually 3 to 5 feet – depending on the water clarity. With dirty water, beds may be as shallow as 18 inches. In some very clear-water lakes, crappie may bed 8 to 10 feet deep – but that is not the norm.”

McClellan pointed out that once crappie hit the bank, they are more aggressive and willing to take moving bait. He switches to a Garland 2-inch Hyper Grub with a slip cork to maintain an exact depth. “I cast it, bring it up to a fish observed on LiveScope and let it rest – maybe giving it a little jiggle now and then.

“The Hyper Grub has been my go-to bait for bedding fish for years. I was pleased when Bobby Garland brought it back after a brief absence,” McClellan said. “As the water temperature rises to the upper 60s, I may switch to a Stroll’R which has more action and vibration.”

At his seminars, the most asked question is what color to use in the spring. McClellan advises anglers to experiment with color on your particular lake. “A variety of colors work for me…as long as it has a chartreuse tail!”

Darl Black – Pennsylvania

spring crappie fishingspring crappie fishing

I have fished for crappie on northwestern Pennsylvania waters for half a century, including a stint as a guide. Rather than a single species of crappie, most Pennsylvania man-made reservoirs support populations of both black and white crappie. Only PA’s natural lakes are absolutely dominated by black crappie, likely due to abundant vegetation.

While 50 degrees is a key temperature to activate both black and white crappie to pre-spawn locations, when it comes to actual spawning in lakes with populations of both, there is a noticeable differential in primetime bedding.  

Black crappie spawn first in very shallow water at the cooler end of the spawn temperature range, with 1 to 4 feet the typical bedding depth, regardless of the water clarity. White crappie spawn a little later, when the water temperature in the spawn area reaches the mid to upper 60s. Whites spawn a tad deeper (3 to 7 feet) and tend to make greater use of offshore flats, humps and flat points. White crappie continue to spawn for a period of time after black crappie have moved off beds.

Pre-spawn locations in Pennsylvania reservoirs are typical of the sites mentioned previously – mouths of bays/inlets, creek channel edges near spawning flat or the first defined break outside a spawning site. When black crappie move up to spawn, they have a strong affinity for any type of cover. Beds are rarely in the open. On the other hand, white crappie beds are less cover dependent – except whites may build beds near emerging vegetation.

However, during pre-spawn in natural lakes the black crappie suspend off deep weed edges, typically 8 to 12 feet deep. Eventually, these crappie will move into shallower water, creating nests on soft sand within a weedbed, along the inside edge of a weedbed or near dock posts.

For pre-spawn, a slip bobber presentation is extremely effective with the jig set slightly above the suspended fish. A Thill Slip Bobber or Crappie Cork with a Baby Shad on a 1/24-ounce Mo’ Glo Jighead is an excellent choice. My back-up choice is to slow-swim a 2-inch Swimming Minnow on a 1/16-ounce head.

For bedding black crappie, I like to vertical fish a jig on a long rod in and around shallow cover. But for white crappie, which are positioned deeper, I simply readjust the distance on the slip cork and fish the same Baby Shad.