Crappie are an abundant panfish that fight well on light tackle. They also taste great. It is no wonder that crappie are a popular fish for anglers to target. I am one of many who likes to fish for crappie. I always do best in the first two quarters of the year. In this entry I’ll tell you how I catch crappies in the spring. Following these general guidelines should work for you too.
Spring is pretty much the easiest time of the year to catch crappie. You might be able to rival springtime success when ice fishing, but only if you’re in the right place at the right time. And that also depends more on the weather since you have to find good ice. Overall spring is the best time to catch crappie.
Of course spring is a season with a definite beginning and end marked on the calendar. But the best crappie fishing doesn’t necessarily start on the vernal equinox. It depends on where you are fishing, the weather, water temperatures and more. Generally speaking when the trees start to produce new leaves you can bet it is a good time to go fishing for crappie.
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Where to find crappies in the spring
As the water warms crappie start moving towards the shallows. Throughout much of the spring you can find them in and around cover. So you’re looking for things like trees, bushes or other cover in the water. Sometimes the cover can be right up against the bank. But if you can find it out in the water you are more likely to find crappie.
As time goes on, the crappie will eventually come right up into the shallows to spawn. You will often see them right on the nests. This is without a doubt the easiest time to catch the fish. You can basically drag any reasonably sized lure through or near spawning beds and catch crappie. Just remember that crappie need to successfully spawn to make more crappie. Don’t wipe a place out of fish.
Before and after the actual spawn, crappie can still be pretty easy to catch as long as you can find them. Look for things like standing timber, submerged logs and other cover. These areas attract baitfish and insects that crappie feed on. Crappie can also use them to hide from predators. If you don’t see any cover you might want to consult maps that show where cover might be in a given body of water. In some lakes people or fishery managers will sink structure like pine trees or porcupine cribs exactly for this reason. Some maps (like this example) will tell you where those things are.
If you’re fishing moving water like streams or big river systems that hold crappies you want to look for slower moving shallow water. Sometimes crappies will swim up into tributaries if they warm faster or have an easier current. You still want to look for cover in the water and shallower areas that warm before the deeper water.
Rods and reels
In my opinion, light gear is the way to go for crappie. I normally use a 8’6″ to 10’6″ ultralight spinning rod like an Okuma Celio and a small reel like an Okuma Ceymar C-10. This holds 110 yards of 4 pound test and that is plenty. And sort of clear monofilament line will work.
In some places like Mississippi where the crappie get huge people might use much bigger gear. People also sometimes use heavy gear when they are fishing real heavy cover. That way they can pull their line out when they get a snag. I have fished all over the Unites States and I never saw a reason to go much bigger than 6 pound test for crappie.
I am not saying that you can’t catch crappie on a medium rod spooled with 20 pound neon yellow braided line. I am sure people can and do. I am just telling you how I go about it.
The only real plus to using heavy gear is that you might be able to pull a snag free. If you end up fishing clear water or small lures the light gear is an advantage. I am still able to fish heavy cover too. I manipulate my gear to keep it away from snags. If I do snag up, it’s not the end of the world.
Baits and lures for spring crappie
What about baits and lures? Small minnows like fatheads are so popular for crappie that they are sometimes referred to as “crappie minnows.” There is no question that they work. I don’t really use them though. I never see the need.
I stick to an arsenal of small artificial lures that works very well. I stick to jig heads in the 1/80 to 1/32 oz range, depending on how fast I want the lure to fall. In the coldest water I go smaller. In warmer water I go bigger and faster.
My favorite lures for spring crappies include custom soft scuds, custom mayfly nymphs, Little Nippers and Berkley Power Nymphs. As the season progresses and the crappie finish spawning I go to a bigger and use lures like 2″ Power Grubs and crappie carrots. Colors like pink, chartreuse, black and white seem to work best. But don’t be afraid to try others.
If the bite is slow or difficult you can always attach a few maggots, a waxworm or even some PowerBait Crappie Nibbles on the hook to add a little scent and flavor. These baits can also work on their own.
Fishing any of these lures is easy. With the smaller soft plastics or jigs you just suspend them under a small bobber like an EZ Float. Cast out near cover and let the lure fall and settle. Watch out for a subtle bite. If you don’t get a bite you can twitch your line then let it fall again. If that doesn’t work try to pull it in a foot or two before letting the lure settle again. Crappie often bite the lure as it falls or as it sits still. In really cold water you might want to let it sit still for a longer amount of time.
When the water warms up you can cast out and either reel straight in or jig your lure. This is when stuff like the crappie carrots and twister tail grubs come into play. Crappie are hungry and on the hunt after the spawn. This is a good time to catch big aggressive fish on larger lures. It can be a lot of fun.