Fishing Pre-Spawn and Spawning Crappies
Officially, fishing season is still a few weeks away (or at least what the general public considers to be the fishing season), and yet did you know that there will be hundreds of slab crappie caught by knowledgeable anglers well before the birds even consider building their spring nests. It?s true. But there is a catch. Unlike spring - when anyone with a pole and minnow can catch good numbers of crappie from around any submerged treetop ? crappies are a little more work to find in the pre-spawn period.
The first and most important ingredient to successful pre-spawn crappie fishing is locating a potential hot spot. With water level, water clarity and weather conditions all playing a part in where crappies will be located, water temperature is by far the most important element in determining a starting point in your search. To help us in our search of crappies, let?s track probable locations from early pre-spawn on through the spring spawn.
The prime location to look for crappies just prior to the pre-spawn period is along bluffs. That?s not to say that you won?t find crappie holding around others types of structure during this period, but it is to say that bluffs are one of the prime starting points. Not only are crappies fond of the extreme vertical structure that bluffs offer, but bluffs also offer some of the deepest and warmest water of the lake. But there is good news and bad news. The good news is the crappies can be expected to be concentrated in tight groups. The bad news is that leaves of a lot of unproductive water, even along bluffs themselves.
A good sonar unit is a must for the early-season crappie angler. The new models with down-imaging capability enable anglers to distinguish structure and fish more easily. At this time of the year, expect crappies to be holding in or above deep submerged treetops, or simply suspended along deeper bluffs. Later in the season when the surface temperature approaches from 50 degrees, both male and female crappies will begin to migrate from deep water and begin staging near shallow spawning areas. Key staging areas to look for are drops or points that are adjacent to shallow spawning areas.
As the temperature climbs to 60 degrees, males will move up into shallow cover to begin sweeping out nests. Spawning should be in full swing once the surface water temperature reaches 60 degrees with females moving into the male?s selected areas to deposit their eggs. Keep fishing these spawning areas until the water temperature rises above 70 degrees to take advantage of any late spawning fish.
Prime crappie spawning areas are those that are relatively calm, wind-protected, medium-hard substrate (clay, marl and gravel bottoms are best) with available cover (especially vertical structure such as stumps, reed stands and submerged timber). As a rule, crappie will spawn deeper than other members of the sunfish family; normally a foot or so below visibility. Anglers can determine the preferred depth by slowly dropping a white jig or spinnerbait down into the water until it disappears. Just as the bait goes out of sight, grasp your line at the surface and measure the distance to the bait. A foot or so below that distance will be a good starting place to begin looking for spawning crappie.
Stable water levels will insure normal spawning, while rapidly rising water will cause a surge of spawning activity and a sudden fall in water levels will disrupt spawning. Cold fronts will also disrupt spawning activities, causing crappie to suspend along deeper channels or drop-offs until weather conditions stabilize. Spawning can last up to two weeks in a body of water, but the peak usually occurs over a 10- to 14-day period. Immediately following spawning, females return to deeper structure, while males will remain to guard the nests. Eggs normally hatch in about 2 days and males will remain to guard the fry until they leave the nests (2 to 6 days after hatching).
Regardless of the time of year your after crappie, live minnows are a sure bet as a productive bait. In concentrations of crappies, anglers can use double-hook crappie rigs to catch crappie by the pairs and quickly load the livewell during productive feeding periods. Live bait isn?t the only way crappies can be taken, even in the cold winter months. Crappie anglers who prefer artificial lures over live bait have been using crappie jigs for years... some very successfully I might add. Jigs come in a variety of sizes and colors, most adorned with some type of colored hair and painted jig heads. The more popular sizes range from 1/32 to 1/4 ounce. More recently, small plastic tube jigs have become the staple of crappie anglers. These little squid-like lures seem to have increased natural action over hair jigs and crappies seem to love them. An effective way to fish the jigs or plastic tubes is to rig them on six pound test line (drop to four pound test in ultra-clear water conditions) and attach a bobber to keep the lure at productive depths. Cast the rig out and bring it in slowly, twitching it with light jerks, allowing the lure to sit motionless for a few seconds between each twitch. Loy Milam is a Coast Guard Charter Boat Captain and licensed Kentucky/Tennessee fishing guide, web site www.loymilam.webs.com