Most anglers enjoy spring crappie because they tend to migrate to shallower
water and this alone cuts down on your search time. Instead of holding on hidden cover, crappie will tend to move to shallow
treetops and stump fields, riprap banks and docks, many of which are visible, often in the backs of creeks or coves and usually
fairly close to a lake’s banks. Besides the fact that they are shallow, spring crappie tend to stack up, so where you
hook into one big fish, the chances are extremely good that you are going to catch a bunch of them. Overall, finding crappie
and catching a big bag of slabs are at their best this time of year.
One thing you need to remember. You must present what the crappie wants to
eat. Don’t be fooled into thinking that catching springtime crappie is like pulling fish from a bucket. The shallower
flats and shoreline areas of most lakes still constitute a lot of water. Even if you find the right bank to work, it is necessary
to observe the surrounding environment and make the most educated pattern presentation possible. Crappie are still a bit lethargic
this time of year, so your bait must be presented at the proper depth and as close to the fish as possible, since they are
not in the mood to go chasing anything around as of yet.
The spring migration to the spawning areas is gradual and the crappie will
tend to migrate gradually into the shallows and back out over the course of a few months. The exact timing of their moves
varies from lake to lake and even from year to year within the same lake, depending on winter and spring weather conditions.
In other words, if we have an early spring with nice warm days in March, you can expect to catch crappie in the conditions
described above. Crappie will begin moving from their deep main lake winter holding areas sometime very early in the spring.
They use structures like channel ledges, humps and long points as staging areas, keying on any brush or stumps. Bass tend
to have the same behavior during the pre-spawn period when they are starting to line up around cover that is usually adjacent
to their spawning areas. They gradually move shallower and shallower and typically work toward the backs of creeks, coves
and narrow lake arms.Throughout this migration pattern, both to and from their spawning grounds, crappie will move extra shallow
with a string of sunny days and move deeper with each late season cold front. Regardless of water depth they almost always
find rocks, brush or some kind of cover to hold around. That cover provides protection, and it attracts the minnows which
a crappie likes to eat. Usually you need to have a few nice warm days strung together for the shallow water action to fully
take place, but the air temperature does not have to actually warm up as much as you might think. As long as the sun shines
brightly it will warm shallow areas, especially those that are surrounded by riprap or natural rocks. Water that is slightly
stained and filled with wood and rocks to soak up the suns rays will heat up much quicker. When those first warm days occur,
the crappie will still be holding on fairly deep structure and they will not move far just to feed. At this point, if the
water temperature continues to increase, they will start chasing down their food within a few more weeks.
Typically, shallow hotspots that lie quite close to deep water will draw fish.
Bridges or structures that run across major channels and the shallow ends of long points provide easy travel routes for the
crappie from the depths to good shallow cover. Because areas that offer the necessary range of depth, along with good cover,
and the required quality for the water to warm slightly are obviously limited in numbers, those spots can be golden in early
spring. At this time crappie tend to feed more on minnows than on jigs and they won’t chase anything. Most of the best
spots during this part of the season are limited in number and size, so the majority of the searching will be through different
depths. A basic cork rig, with a float, split shot, No. 4 or 6 hook and live minnow, is tough to beat. Just flip the bait
out and let it settle, and then experiment with different depths until you start getting bites. If you purchase a second rod
stamp, you might want to try two poles at the same time at various depths. This method will tend to cut your search time down
As spring progresses and temperatures continue to warm, crappie will move
to the tops of ledges and begin pushing into the creeks. They move shallow to feed more frequently, and the shallow areas
they use on the warm spring days become much more widespread. Finding at least a few fish becomes somewhat less of a challenge,
but they often aren’t quite as concentrated as those first wonderful days of spring. The best cover is still fairly
close to deep water. Flats that are dissected by major channels and banks near the mouths of creeks will always hold a lot
of crappie, especially on warm days when the fish have just begun their migration toward the spawning grounds. Warmer weather
and sunrise are still the keys to finding crappie in the shallows, but such days are quickly becoming the norm instead of
the exception.Floats or bobbers still come into play for finding crappie at this time of the year, but some of the best angling
approaches are a little more active. The fish can be spread out, calling for searching type tactics. By now the water will
have warmed enough so that the fish will chase a minnow or jig, as long as it is not moving too quickly. When I speak of a
jig, I am talking about small 1 ½ to 2” plastic tube or small plastic curly tail on a jighead that is weighted. A float
offers two major advantages at this time of year, whether you are fishing with jigs or minnows. It allows you to control and
track depths, making it easy to identify the productive zone and keep baits in it, and allows you to move the lure or bait
slowly, even stopping it along the way, which can be essential for getting crappie to strike early in the year. When the crappie
are spread across shallow flats and could be holding on any of hundreds of stumps or brushpiles, provided you have a water
vessel of some type, trolling comes into play.
For shallow flats, corks remain part of the equation, and setting different
lines at different depths will again help identify patterns much more quickly. Keep a marker buoy handy any time you troll
and toss it out any time you get more than one strike in a small area. If you find a real hotspot don’t anchor right
over it especially if the water is shallow. Try to anchor a good cast away from the area so the fish won’t feel invaded
As spring warms even more, crappie will move farther up the creeks. Now is
when they will spend most of their time close to the banks or on cover along shallow flats. This would be a great time to
try a lure like the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap in the 1/4oz and 1/8oz sizes. Because all fish don’t move at the same time,
crappie will be widespread by mid-spring. The creeks will hold the most fish, by far, with concentrations well up them, but
some crappie will show up around any shoreline tree, dock or riprap.
Eventually the crappie will spawn and then they will start to move back toward
deeper water. The journey out is gradual and some of the early season’s patterns and hotspots will turn on once again
as spring gives way to summer. Fish are much more aggressive throughout late spring as their body temperatures have risen.
They are much more willing to take a bait as it is moving, and they will typically grab a jig as readily as a minnow or small
Throughout the crappie run a few things will help you catch more fish. First,
the best spring spots are much more distinguishable on a map than on the water. If you can find a good topographical map,
spend time studying it before your first trip and identify some potentially good areas to hit as spring progresses. Next,
pay attention to the water color, as crappie will hold much shallower when the water is stained than when the water is clear.
Also as I have mentioned in previous articles, stained water warms faster than clear water.
Finally, crappies of the same size tend to hang out together. If the fish
that keep taking your baits are smaller than the legal limit size, move on. If you catch a nice large crappie, pay close attention
to the conditions and work this pattern over and over again. This should produce great results. Springtime, with its constantly
changing temperatures, brings the best opportunity for most fishermen to catch a limit of slab crappie. Using these patterns
will hopefully help you catch your limit. One important item to remember is that a crappie’s mouth is paper thin and
a hard hookset could severely damage the fish, and disturb their eating habits, if you are practicing catch and release. Have
fun guys and gals and I truly hope you catch a bunch of crappies this season!