Ask a fellow angler what his favorite time of year to go crappie fishing is and more than likely he would answer "Spring". There's just as many crappie in the fall as there are in the Spring, the key difference here is location, but Fall-Winter patterns will be covered in another issue. Throughout this article I will pass on my personal knowledge and experiences that will intern give you a better understanding of the life cycle of this specie from early Spring to Summer months.
There are basically two types of crappies, the black crappie known for its darker coloration and a spotty like appearance and the second being the white crappie which is lighter in color with gray bars running vertical on its side. Both species host similar feeding patterns as well as the spawning cycle. The black crappie sub-specie tends to lean towards clearer water were as the white crappie seems to adjust to muddier, off colored water much better.
Whether your planning on fishing reservoirs, natural lakes, rivers, or that favorite backyard pond honeyhole, one of the key elements to a successful crappie crop is water fluctuation. "Why you ask", through my years of crappie fishing whether it be fun fishing with the kids or tournament fishing in the heat of the battle or just when I' m out alone studying this specie, I have come to realize the many details that effect the crappie which would then effect us Anglers. As said earlier water fluctuation throughout the spawning period dictates the outcome between a successful run and not so successful run. High water levels during the spawn and post spawn will result in a stronger year class; where as lower water levels will bring on the complete opposite making for a weaker year class. I've personally witnessed this phenomenon in our own Canadian bodies of water, being natural lakes, reservoirs, ponds or rivers.
Another traumatic affect on this fun to catch specie is a quick drop in water, once the fry are hatched this will literally force tiny crappie fry to locate off the shallows to early in their young life and head for deeper water were life is quickly shortened as soon as crappie reach the age of two months old or so their instincts quickly take over were they relocate to deeper water just like their adult parents. Once relocated to open water, a crappies early young life diet will consist mostly of zoo plankton, soon crappie will begin their growth, small fish, minnows, and larger invertebrates will be their main base diet to ensure health and survival.
Spring - the beginning of new life a fresh clean season has arrived. Spring movement's fish and anglers a like.
Anglers all over flocking to tackle shops and spring fishing shows to add to their all ready don't feed me tackle boxes in search of that magic lure and dotting every open shoreline, dock, bridge, curb etc. Ok your finally in the water, bobber watching like a shorthaired canine on point then all of sudden down goes your bobber, what are you waiting for, sweep set that hook, after a brief but exciting fight to the finish you land that shiny beast, your first crappie of the year a great feeling indeed. So you have that surprised dumb look on your face, everbodies eyes are on you waiting for you to say something intelligent. So you look over to tell your fellow angler ("yep, ice is out now so the crappie are here spawning") WRONG BUDDY, why don't you try making love in 45 degree water temperature. Now listen up and listen good, get the facts straight if you so happen to be by my side and come up with a line like that, your in for an earful.
Soon after ice out, sunny days and cool to warm rains will slowly start to thaw frozen shorelines causing waters to flow through culverts into creeks and rivers, lakes, reservoirs etc. with all the new waters flowing downstream, this sends a message to thousands of small fish and minnows to re-enter once again the many above mentioned areas to feed and sun themselves and enjoy the arrival of a new spring. This downstream message is also received by yet another specie that being the crappie, with the water temperature in the high 40's and low 50's crappie begin to make what I call a forage movement, they come out of their deep winter haunt to actively chasedown, roundup and feed on bait fish. I've watched crappie close in and corral these bait fish in the backs of impoundments, only to explode all over them, it's quite the site to see. This early shallow water movement is almost always mistaken by anglers as the spawning cycle, but that is incorrect, its just a deep to shallow water feeding frenzy they go through to prepare for the real thing. This is the time of year when crappie fishing for many anglers is easy pickings.
Impoundment areas such as dead end canals, small creeks, marinas are excellent locations to start your search, these areas harbor large quantities of crappie when the conditions are right. Your other alternative is to intercept these fish as they work their way to the above, this would be my preference. It may take on more of a challenge but it sure beats standing shoulder to shoulder which could get quite annoying at times.
Shortly after crappie have gorged themselves to the fullest another movement takes place, that being back out to the lake, but not were they wintered all those ice cold months.
Crappie will begin their staging cycle, which relocates them to river mouths, points; big creek mouths, and out in front of back bays and deeper flats. The next move is solely dependent on Mother Nature's powerful weather forces to dictate the order of events to come. Sunny days and mild rains are now setting the stage for spawning. Once water temperature nears the mid 50 degrees and low to mid 60's crappie begin their shallow water crusade in search of the perfect structure consisting of firmer type bottom where they will lay their eggs beside roots in grass and rocks, and solid upright vegetation etc…. Although conditions may be perfect, weather cold fronts can just as fast send crappie deep into stageing areas again, strategy is very important here, don't waste your time shallow, go fish staging areas first thing in the morning and as the sun rises and temperatures begin to climb go work your way towards shallow water, this system has saved my neck one to many times. Water clarity is something to consider, stained to off colored water will bring crappie to spawn shallower, light penetration warms the colored water sooner which in turn enhances the hatching of the fry. In many of the clearer lakes I've noticed crappie spawning in deeper water ranging from 7 to 12 feet providing bottom structure is adequate, like other species crappie spawn in waves, so vary your approach, try deep some days and shallow on others. The male crappie is normally the first to arrive, while the females stay staged waiting for the appropriate situation to arrive. A dark purpley coloration will indicate at what stage the spawning period is at, once the females move in and are ready to spawn the two pair up and nature takes its course. The females will then work their way back out to deeper water while the male will stay back to guard the nest. And yet another spring has come and gone, try fishing for the post spawn females on the flats or first drop type scenarios and river channel edges.
Shortly after crappie have gone through all the vigorous spring cycles they migrate back to deeper water far from those shallow shorelines, I have personally tracked down post spawn crappie so much as 3 miles away on bigger bodies of water so forget that shallow stuff, the fish are long gone, at this stage crappie are just following their forage and take on a more normal everyday type of living in comparison to the vigorous spring movements and spawning period they just experienced. Ok anglers lets back it up and head for the deep. Lakes, reservoirs, rivers will all relocate crappie to a variety of structures and cover, when summer river patterns are at hand concentrate your efforts on outside deeper weed edges that collide with the main river basin, v shaped weedbeds leading to deeper river sections seem to always hold crappie, small underwater points or fingers with some type of rock and weed formation is a sure bet, and deep lay downs, wood with root systems work very well. The down current side of eddies is a classic holding zone for crappie due to the fact that crappie are a lazy fish and would sit there motionless until the current would wash down some form of food source.
If your fortunate enough to fish reservoirs like myself then you must learn to key in on all the changes that happen in a reservoir environment. Water levels fluctuate from time to time through man made dams, try to place a measuring stick of some sort away from high traffic areas were you can keep tabs on water fluctuations. When fishing reservoirs a 3" to 4"inch drop in water will relocate your fish significantly. If fishing 12 feet of water and water drops a few inches, in a few days those crappie could have relocated to 16' to 21' deep. Reservoirs may host a variety of structures considering most are just flooded parcels of land. Look for main channels, or sunken road beds they use this structure like a highway almost like man did before it was flooded, sunken standing timber this makes for a great day of fishing although not always available, sandbars joining or leading to natural cover. Most likely the reservoir you fish has a main stream or channel that can or cannot be seen until the winter draw down. This is prime time to check out all the characteristics of the lake you fish. Take plenty of pictures, look for high spots or rocks and wood in deeper parts of the lake, depressions in the sand I found are like magnets to crappie take full advantage of this drawndown period.
On large natural lakes crappie can be very frustrating to locate. More than likely the crappie will be related to some form of structure and tightly schooled up. Try working deeper bays in depths of 20 to 35 or more feet of water. Deep weed lines, shoals with some lead in cover or finger like weed beds in 20 to 35 feet of water or deeper are excellent places to start. Backs of islands nearby back bays with good deep-water access are all places worth looking into. In weeks to come a variety of new life flourishes throughout the lake. One being the mayfly, it's a this time that I find it most difficult to catch crappie with all of the food chain at its peak you may have to fine tune your presentation.
Now that you've been briefed on crappie movement along with locations lets cover some of the tackle your going to need for a successful harvest. I can't begin to tell how many anglers I have run into while fishing for crappie using these long 8' to 12' rods, this is totally unacceptable, there's nothing but disadvantages to using rods in these lengths. All I ever see is one hook set after another with nothing but the bait dangling from their line. Long rods for crappie fishing makes for so many lost fish, long rods mean slower hook sets, along with slower reaction time and of course your sensitivity is greatly reduced not to mention those big gorilla hook sets that practically knock you out of your own boat and anybody within a 30 foot radius You want to use long rods go fish the Notty The ideal rod length for crappie fishing would consist of a 5 ½' to 6' rod with a medium to medium light action, a sensitive tip and a firm butt section, ultra light rods seem to be to wimpy and make for a bad hook set and lost fish. Fenwick 5'3 to 6' HMG series has all the bases covered. Berkley's series one rods in 6'0 medium or medium light are also high on the hit list in my books. I can't over emphasize the importance of a smooth running reel, I like to match the above rods with, Abu Garcias cardinal series, these ultra light reels are fitted with three stainless steel bearing with instant anti reverse a one piece graphite body and carry the weight of only 6.3 ounces and matched with a more than reasonable price tag that would fit anyone's budget. I like to spool my reels with Berkleys smooth handling Fireline in 6 to 4 pound test with a 2 to 4 pound vanish fluorocarbon leader. The reason I use the Fireline as my main line is simply for strength and sensitivity. The vanish fluorocarbon leader is there for invisibility purposes which is a must when jigging deep clear water or bobber fishing clear shallow flats and docks. There are hundreds of bobber types on the market today and after several years of experimentation I've come to choose Carousels Gold pull-n-locks style European Balsa floats or the Thill series, they certainly are a pleasure to work with. Most floats are a fixed type set up that can't be removed without cutting the line and then having to rethread the bobber all over again, with Carousels pull-n-lock system your very versatile in removing the float at a single pull of the lock. This makes for fast and easy float changes when adjusting float to bait balances. Your choice of fixed float or slip float fishing comes real easy at a simple pull of lock without ever having to cut your line. When it comes to choosing bait for crappie fishing, our selection is plentiful and made very simple. With all the different types of minnows, worms, insects that crappie feed on lure choice is quite easy. Berkleys Micro power baits series supplies an array of products, my personal favorites include the micro power craw, power wiggler, power tube and of course the power grub. These baits are a must have for any serious crappie fisherman. All the above baits are very light weight and need to be accompanied by some source of weight or jig head, Lindy little Joe's system tackle provides us with a wide variety of jig head styles to compliment our Berkley micros as mentioned earlier. The Dave Genz Series seem to be the ticket for me. With all the different sizes and shapes that are available your sure to have a successful harvest this year. Some of my more favored baits being the genz worm, fat boy, pounder and rattl'n hooker. I prefer to thread my micro baits onto these jigs and glue them down for longer use, try preparing these baits the night before so your not freezing your fingers off or gluing them stuck together on those cold spring mornings.
Your approach or your plan of attack if shore fishing needs to take into account your every step as you make your way towards the bank, softer slower steps are ideal, as this will prevent any crappie from detecting your presence therefore allowing you to hook into those first few shallower fish, anglers that march down the bank in a military fashion alert fish and tend to put them in a defensive mood before the first cast is even taken. Prepare rods, reels, and bait combinations away from the bank or at your vehicle, which will allow for less fumbling when the time counts, Always cast ahead of yourself first and then off to the sides when walking down a shoreline scenario, this will definitely put the odds in your favor and make for a pleasant days fishing.
For those of you who prefer offshore fishing, boat positioning through the use of an anchor or with the use of your trolling motor will dictate the day's success factor. When fishing shallow water docks, stumps, brush etc… try slowing down the trolling motor speed well in advance of your target and fish your way towards it with a stalking like approach, This will definitely improve your catch ratio. If open deep water is your game, anchoring is one of the key tools needed here the other being your electronics. Deep-water crappies are normally suspended therefore anchoring over their heads and vertical jigging is appropriate in this situation. I generally double anchor my boat having one in front while the other at the back of the boat, this prevents any chance of the boat swinging from side to side. Deep water structure I use my liquid crystal to find my structure and my Vexilar FL18 flasher to stay on top of them, which enables me to see my bait and fish with this easy to read unit. The Vexlar flasher unit indicates depth along with bottom content identifies large fish as well as small fish such as zooplankton. This state of the art technology design indicates a color-coded signal for fish in relation to how near the fish is to your bait. This toy is a must have for us bigger type kids.
There are many more details we can cover, but the basic outline I have chosen to share with you will kickstart your crappie fishing crusade in the right direction until next time good luck and smart fishing.