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Navigating the Chaos of Spring Crappie Fishing

Spring weather can throw curveballs to crappie fishermen. Here’s how to adjust and catch crappie despite ever-changing conditions.

There’s truth to an old English Proverb that brings hope this time of year to the hearts of crappie fishermen everywhere. . . “No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”

Sure, you can catch crappie throughout the year, but there’s something extra nice about spring crappie fishing. The weather is warming, the trees are beginning to bud, and the slabs are hungry and moving up to spawn.

But it’s not all a bed of roses. Spring crappie fishing also including rising water, falling water, bizarre cold fronts and those ever-present in-like-a-lion winds that can blow even the best-planned trips up onto the bank.

But for those willing to face the challenges head on, thumps aplenty are in the waiting. To help overcome the obstacles of spring crappie fishing, we’ve asked three crappie-catching pros to share their best tips and tactics.

Andre Smith, Louisiana

slab crappie catchslab crappie catch

Andre Smith is one of the young guns of today’s crappie angling experts. His Louisiana roots have him steeped in knowledge of fishing the bayous, but he has also shown prowess on big reservoirs in tournaments. So, what is his best advice about spring crappie fishing from the massive basins and bayous of south Louisiana to reservoirs like Lake D’Arbonne and Toledo Bend to the north?

“Man, there can be a lot of things to throw you a curveball in the spring, but be patient,” Smith said. “The fish are going to bite. When things are good, they’ll bite regularly. After a front or change in the water, sometimes it isn’t so easy. If you know there are fish in a spot, don’t give up on them too quickly. You might pass through there without a bite, then come back in a couple of hours and load up. It’s the nature of the game.”

Smith said prime fishing spots in the bayou and swamp lake areas are the backs of pockets or short canals off the lakes. They spawn on the shallow banks where he said it’s lots of fun to fish with a cork over your bait on the edge of the grass. They don’t have many other places to go, despite conditions.

On the big lakes, he said fronts and temperature changes move the fish back off the bank into secondary holding areas, including grasslines and points. Some fish even stay out in the deeper water and spawn in 6 to 10 feet, where there isn’t fishing pressure and where the effects of weather changes are less severe.

One thing he has found to always be true: In clear water, fish deeper. In muddy water, fish shallower.

Smith’s favorite lures to get crappie to bite are Bobby Garland Baby Shad in Blue Ice color with a 1/16-ounce jighead. For a bigger profile, he goes to the 2-inch Slab Slay’R in Blue Ice or black and pink or black and chartreuse.

Terry Blankenship, Missouri

black and white crappieblack and white crappie

Sometimes conditions change so drastically in the spring that you’ll swear all the fish have left the lake, but Missouri Guide Terry Blankenship said to trust him: They have not.

“The biggest challenge this time of the year on places like Lake of the Ozarks is there are a lot of crappie kind of suspended out in open water,” he said. “Sometimes they can be scattered, and you have to cover a lot of water to find them. It’s a transitional phase and soon they’ll be back around more structure and eventually shallow to spawn.”

The keys to spring crappie fishing are finding the right water depth and structure, which may change after a sudden water fluctuation or temperature change. As for the wind, he said that some days you just can’t beat it. The fish out under those 3-foot waves will just have to wait for another day to be caught.

“Electronics that we have today makes it so much easier to kind of chase them around when they are on the move in the open water,” he said. “When they go shallow, we have a lot of traditional spawning banks and docks that get hit pretty hard. The fishing pressure takes out the easy ones first. Then, fishermen have to work a little bit harder.”

Blankenship said the best way to deal with that is to fish off the docks a little further or get your bait way up in there where it isn’t easy to get a bait. You have to hit the backs of the docks and the little holes between piers and boats – those kinds of places. It takes work. Most fishermen will pass by those spots – and those fish.

“Early in the morning crappie tend to be on the banks more, but sun and boat traffic can move them out,” Blankenship said. “When things are unstable, the bedding zones will move, and you just have to adjust. Learn where the fish go when they pull offshore and suspend. More than likely it will be around some sort of structure they can hold to. But it won’t be very far away.”

If he had to pick two lures to entice crappie to bite, they would be a Minnow Mind’R in Silverfish, Monkey Milk or Love Bug, and a Blue Ice Baby Shad Swim’R.

Leon Mears, Oklahoma

Leon Mears with crappieLeon Mears with crappie

When Mother Nature throws her spring acts of protection around the fish with some crazy variation on the norm and the fish move, Leon Mears has a simple, tried-and-true method for consistent spring crappie fishing catches on his Oklahoma home lakes like Skiatook and Oologah.

“Just keeping looking,” he said. “Put in the time. If the fish have moved on you: Fish shallow. Fish deep. Fish open brush. Fish the docks. You’ll find them.”

Every lake is different, he noted. At Skiatook the fish this year have seemed to suspend shallow, 8 to 10 feet down in 20 feet of water. They’ve schooled up in Oologah, 15 to 18 feet deep in much deeper water, down to 30 feet, he has observed. And the tricky part during the spawn or changing conditions is that they fish can move at any time.

“Don’t get locked into thinking that the spawn is just in shallow, shallow water,” he said. “I don’t like to get on the bank to fish because so many others do. There are fish there for sure, but there are fish spawning out 10 to 12 feet deep. I’ve caught black and white crappie there together. I like to move out and find fish on structure in that deeper water because they are more dependable. Changes don’t affect them as much. A cold front hits those fish on the bank and bam, they are out of there.”

Mears likes the wiggle and extra vibration caused by the ribs on a Garland Slab Hunt’R and he loves the 3-inch Slab Slay’R when fish want a bigger bait. Favorite colors are Green Lantern, Blue Ice, Glacier and Monkey Milk. 

He recommended starting with whatever color you caught them on last. If they aren’t hitting it again, make the change and give them options.