Skip to main content

How to Coax a Strike from Tight-Lipped Pre-Spawn Crappie

How to Coax a Strike from Tight-Lipped Pre-Spawn Crappie
Photo by Keith Sutton

pre-spawn crappie
When you need something different when pre-spawn don't cooperate, consider these often-overlooked enticements. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Enticements for pre-spawn crappie: Just when you think you've figured out what they want, crappie slam their mouths shut. Here are some openers. 

Pre-spawn crappie can be easy or difficult, everywhere or nowhere.

They often tear up one lure one day and won't look at it the next. It is possible, nevertheless, to get them to open those big mouths and take what you offer — if you serve a buffet instead of a single entrée.


Certainly, jigs make great enticements. And live shiners — well, a crappie wouldn't be likely to turn its nose up at those!


There are occasions when these popular goodies just won't buy you a bite, however, and you need to pull something different from your tackle box to coax a strike from tight-lipped fish.


When that's the challenge you confront, consider using one of these often-overlooked enticements. A different action, flash, shape or size may be just what the doctor prescribed for crappie with a bad case of lockjaw.

SPOONS

Few crappie anglers use spoons, but these metal lures are great for catching crappie in deep water. The best are jigging spoons, such as Cotton Cordell's Little Mickey and the Hopkins Shorty, which can work wonders on finicky late-winter slabs. 


Stick to smaller spoons — 1/4- to 1/6-ounce. Position your boat over target structure, then lower the lure until it hits bottom. Engage your reel and take up slack, sweep your rod tip upward 1 to 3 feet, then slowly drop the rod tip, letting the lure free-fall. Maneuver your boat along the structure, jigging the spoon this way. Most strikes come as the spoon falls and feel like faint taps or a "heaviness" on the line. 

Braids and other low-stretch lines are especially good for this type of fishing because of their high sensitivity, which telegraphs each strike. And a fast-action rod may work better than the medium- or slow-action rods typically used for crappie fishing. That's because a too-limber rod decreases sensitivity and makes strike detection and hook-setting more difficult.

BLADE BAITS

In late winter and early spring, when water is still cold and crappie are deep, blade baits — sometimes called vibrators — are hot crappie lures, too. Popular models include the Heddon Sonar, Cotton Cordell Gay Blade, Luhr Jensen's Rat'lin Rippletail and the ReefRunner Cicada.

Snapped upward, these lures swim through the water and create a pulsating vibration that mimics an injured or escaping baitfish. That attracts crappie and allows the fish to home in on the lure, especially when water is murky. 

You can vertically jig a blade bait to create a subtle swimming and fluttering motion, effective at attracting skittish, light-biting crappie, or retrieve it with occasional rips and runs to produce a dynamic, erratic action that might interest a slab in need of a wake-up call.

Blade baits also are effective when targeting transition crappie on dropoffs and humps. When fishing dropoffs, keep your boat directly over the drop and cast to the top of the breakline, hopping the lure back to the boat. When fishing humps, position the boat off the hump and cast to the rise, working the bait on top first, then down the sides into deep water.

Most blade bait strikes occur on the fall. Watch your line closely and keep it tight during the retrieve.

Smaller blade baits, 1/4- to 1/2-ounce, generally work best for crappie, but bigger models can produce where slabs in the 2-pound range are expected.

Some blade baits have two or three holes on the top edge for line connection. Each placement allows for a different vibrating action so read the manufacturer's instructions detailing which hole is most suitable for those applications. If there are two holes, generally the front one, with its tighter wiggling action and less vibration, is the best bet for vertical jigging. When three holes are available, choose the center one.

Never tie your line directly to a blade bait. One good smack from a crappie and the thin metal body will shear monofilament like thread. Use a round-bend snap or a split ring to make the connection.

CRANKBAITS

As pre-spawn crappie start moving into shallow water to prepare their nests, small baitfish-imitating crankbaits become very effective lures. Crappie are very protective of their spawning grounds and will hit these lures for that reason alone. 

Small floating/diving lures such as Rebel's Super Teeny-R and 1/4-ounce Humpback work especially well during that time. Those lures float up away from snags when the retrieve is stopped, a necessity when fishing the thick cover where crappie like to bed.

If you want to move even further toward eliminating hangups, fish crankbaits for crappie near bridge pilings, riprap, rock outcroppings, boat docks, underwater points and humps where snags are less of a problem. In oxbow lakes, crappie often hold near the bases of big trees where crankbaits also are very effective and hangups less of a problem.

During periods when the weather is still erratic — relatively warm one day, cold the next — you might find crappie holding on long points sloping toward bottom channels. Here again, crankbaits are top enticements, but it's often difficult to keep those lures at favored depths and still move them slowly enough to entice lethargic slabs. Using a neutral buoyancy or sinking crankbait eliminates these problems. 

Using light line — 4- to 6-pound-test — crank the lure down to the proper depth then slowly crawl it across the bottom, retrieving the lure from shallow water to deep, or working across the point toward the deepest side. Crank your lure hard and fast several turns to get it near bottom before slowing to an effective pace. If possible, bump the lure against stumps, logs, boulders, etc. to elicit strikes.

pre-spawn crappie
Photo by Keith Sutton

THE TINY TRAP

Bill Lewis Lures' 1/8-ounce Tiny Trap, a miniature version of the Rat-L-Trap, works great on deep pre-spawn crappie.

Lower the lure to the target structure. Reel up slack, and then begin a delicate upward sweep of the rod tip to activate the lure.

Move the rod tip as little as 12 inches or as much as 36 inches, experimenting to determine if crappie have a preference.

Then slowly drop the rod tip, letting the lure free-fall back down. Dynamite!

MINNOWS

Many crappie anglers prefer fishing with live minnows, which are hard-to-beat enticements any time of year. What many don't know, however, is that some types of minnows may outshine others at this time of year.

The two species of minnows most used by crappie anglers are the golden shiner and fathead minnow, both produced by the tons on commercial fish farms and widely available at bait shops around the country. Of the two, fatheads, which include rosy-red or pink minnows, are by far the hardiest. Unlike shiners, these baitfish can thrive for long periods in cold or muddy water and can withstand low oxygen levels and bait-bucket crowding. As a result, if you can find them, fatheads should be your bait of choice. They'll stay much livelier on the hook and coax more finicky pre-spawn slabs to bite.

When using minnows, stick with a fine-wired, long-shanked hook that won't injure the minnow as much as a heavier hook. Such a hook also is more easily removed from the crappie's mouth. My favorites are size 6 Carlisle cricket hooks. These may seem small compared to the Aberdeen hooks used by many anglers, but the thin wire results in many more hookups with light-biting pre-spawn slabs.

Because pre-spawn crappie can be shallow, deep or somewhere in between, you'll be best served by using a slip-cork rig for fishing minnows. Put a bobber-stop on your main line, add a small slip-cork beneath it, and then tie your hook to the line's end and pinch on a couple of split shot just above the hook. By sliding the bobber-stop up or down your line, you can easily fish different depths as you move from one area to another, staying in the strike zone wherever you find crappie.

Small fatheads also make great additions to jigs and other lures when crappie seem exceptionally persnickety. The added taste and smell will garner bites when plain lures just won't work.

When you're all rigged up, all that's left is the catching. Drop your minnow beside crappie cover and watch your bobber until you see the fish's subtle bite. Set the hook, reel 'em in, and you're on your way to a delicious meal of fried crappie! Good luck.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Safely Transport Kayak, Canoe with Malone Auto Racks

Safely Transport Kayak, Canoe with Malone Auto Racks

Mike Carney highlights three products deigned to get you there and back; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

New G. Loomis IMX Pro Rod Series

New G. Loomis IMX Pro Rod Series

David Brinkerhoff of G. Loomis shares his knowledge of the new IMX Pro rod series. The IMX Pro rod series comes in 10 new models and will cover five technique-specific categories. Available Fall 2020. MSRP $345-355.

MLF Pro Tips: How to Fish a New Lake

MLF Pro Tips: How to Fish a New Lake

Major League Fishing pros Alton Jones, Jeff Sprague, Anthony Gagliardi and James Watson share their thoughts on how to approach fishing a new lake for bass.

New from Old Town: Sportsman Autopilot 136 and Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman

New from Old Town: Sportsman Autopilot 136 and Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman

Brand ambassador Ryan Lilly highlights the features of the Old Town AutoPilot 136 motorized kayak and the Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman canoe.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Anglers can find catfish in practically any freshwater system in the South, but some waters really stand out for monsters.The South's Best Waters for Trophy Catfish Catfish

The South's Best Waters for Trophy Catfish

John N. Felsher - August 21, 2020

Anglers can find catfish in practically any freshwater system in the South, but some waters...

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews of smelly ingredients often used to catch catfish. How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait Catfish

How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing.Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

See More Trending Articles

More Other Freshwater

It's the fourth alternative-method record this year in Missouri.Another Missouri Bowfishing Record Set Records

Another Missouri Bowfishing Record Set

Game & Fish Staff - June 01, 2020

It's the fourth alternative-method record this year in Missouri.

Advancements in anchor systems, electronics and trolling motors have made fishing boat control easier than ever.Boat Control at the Push of a Button Boats

Boat Control at the Push of a Button

Dr. Jason A. Halfen - June 04, 2020

Advancements in anchor systems, electronics and trolling motors have made fishing boat control...

Summertime on a river might be the best time and place to hook into a monster musky.Go With the Flow for Muskies Other Freshwater

Go With the Flow for Muskies

Jeff Knapp - July 15, 2020

Summertime on a river might be the best time and place to hook into a monster musky.

The new Oklahoma record measured 76 inches long and weighed 143 pounds.Man-Sized Paddlefish Almost a World Record Records

Man-Sized Paddlefish Almost a World Record

Game & Fish Staff - May 28, 2020

The new Oklahoma record measured 76 inches long and weighed 143 pounds.

See More Other Freshwater

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now