Crappie Questions Answered!
September 28, 2010
Can't make up your mind on the best ways to fish for slabs this month? This information should help.
One certainty greets crappie anglers this month: There are plenty of slabs to be caught. Catching them, however, often means answering questions about locations, baits and presentations that can leave even the most able crappie catchers scratching their heads. Fishing options abound.
Where should you fish? How should you fish? How deep should you fish? Is there an advantage to staying on the move instead of anchoring over a known hotspot?
For decades, competitive bass anglers have faced similar questions at just about every tournament they've fished. Using their approach -- slightly modified to accommodate crappie -- is a single formula that can help you quickly answer those questions. You'll be catching fish sooner, and you'll be catching more slabs when you take a problem-solving approach to every trip.
One of the most important pieces of information you need is the surface temperature of the water you're fishing. There are about as many thoughts on the temperatures that trigger slabs to move shallow for the spawn as there are anglers to ask. However, the truly magic number is 60 degrees.
Ideal spawning temperatures are slightly warmer, and you could see some movement while surface temps are still in the 50s. At 60 degrees, however, there is little doubt that you should begin your fishing in traditional shallow spawning areas.
The best approach is to begin fishing shallow and move out to deeper water, if necessary, until you start catching fish. If you arrive at your favorite fishing spot and find temperatures still in the 50- to 60-degree range, start out deeper, then move shallower until you catch fish.
You've started catching fish, and some nice ones. Should you stay or should you move? Some anglers will park themselves and fish one spot until (A) they've caught all the crappie they desire on that given outing, or (B) the action starts to slow down.
Another approach to consider -- and this relates to the bass tournament philosophy -- is to take a few fish from a given spot, then move along and start looking for similar areas nearby. Covering water like that will help you learn more about all of the good fishing spots on your favorite waters, and that can help you avoid going home with a big zero.
Pattern the crappie. Let's say on one outing, the water temperature is in the high 50s. You catch a few small ones in the brushy, shallow cover crappie prefer for spawning. However, when you backed out and started fishing around deeper structure like creek channels or submerged brushpiles, you started picking up some nice females.
Males move shallow first to prepare spawning beds. The big females follow when water temps are just right for the spawn. In this case, you've discovered that the big females are still staging deeper.
For the rest of the trip, it's a good bet that any submerged structure that is similar will be holding slabs. In this case, "similar" means that the structure is at roughly the same depth range and relates about the same to nearby shallow spawning areas. That is a pattern you can use with success.
If you start catching slabs in shallow water right off the bat, it's time to move around the lake fishing every likely spawning area you can find. Doing so will improve your chances of consistent action because you won't be applying all your fishing pressure to one area. Catch a few nice slabs here, and then move over there. Catch some there, and then move somewhere else. Re-visit spots if you start running out of action.
Experience suggests you'll do best by focusing on the shallow-water areas (when the females have moved up) that are most protected from the wind. Spring is a time when it's impossible to totally avoid windy conditions, but just about every lake has some bays and coves that are more protected from wind action than others. Spawning crappie are most catchable in those calmer areas.
Of course, if you show up at the lake and there's just no escaping the wind, you should expect that the big females likely have moved off the beds and back into deeper staging areas to await the return of calm conditions. Those same staging areas you fished in cooler water temperatures will be good bets now.
You have a number of options for baits and presentations, regardless of whether the big crappie are staging or on the shallow spawning beds. Many anglers wouldn't think of using anything but a minnow under a bobber, and live bait is hard to argue as a great choice for catching big crappie.
Lures, however, also will be productive. Soft-plastic jigs, small spoons and crankbaits all catch crappie now -- and they are good bets if you decide to cover water during your outing, as described above.
Let's say you have a good idea that slabs are staging for the spawn. A great approach to take involves covering any area with good submerged structure (brush, a creek-channel bend, etc.) with a small crankbait. My preference is for ultralight crawdad imitations because they have proved so effective for me over the years. Tiny baitfish imitations also are good choices, but I hedge my bets with them by having some in shades of baitfish and crawfish. The latter -- a minnow-shaped lure with a crawfish finish -- accounted for the largest black crappie I've ever taken.
I was fishing around a point at the mouth of a cove with some great spawning habitat, and the big black attacked the little crankbait. I made another pass around the point and didn't pick up another fish, so I switched to a small plastic jig.
Casting it to within inches of the bank, I kept as tight a line as possible while letting the bait freefall to the bottom. That technique produced several more crappie in short order. What I'd done was adapt the tournament bass angler's concept of using a fast-moving bait to cover water until I caught a fish, then switching to something that allowed me to fish a spot slowly and more thoroughly.
Don't rule out trolling as an option, either -- especially if you're on a lake with long flats in slightly deeper water. Slow-trolling ultralight crankbaits is a super way of picking up nice crappie from spots like those. What is slow-trolling? I define it as moving the boat only fast enough to see and/or feel the underwater action of the crankbaits I'm using.
This approach is really hard to beat on windy days. Trolling into the wind will give you the best ability to control the speed of your crankbaits, and it actually will enable you to cover those flats thoroughly. My approach when fishing into the wind is to troll the leng
th of the flat in the depth range I expect to pick up crappie; for me, that has been 10 to 12 feet. Instead of firing up the outboard and running back to the far end of the flat for another pass, I simply let the wind "troll" me back, which gives my lures a slightly different look because they'll be moving a little faster and, as a result, with a little more action. That sometimes can trigger strikes.
"That's just not for me," you say. "I like fishing bait under a bobber, and that's what I'm going to do."
No problem; crappie virtually never turn down live minnows! You might try changing up a little bit, though, and replacing the live minnow with a small jig under your bobber.
Finally, when you know slabs are on spawning beds, fish a small jig under a bobber. Suspend the jig a foot or so under the bobber and impart action by using quick, short jerks of your rod tip. Spawning crappie can't seem to avoid hitting jigs fished this way.