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How To Locate Crappie

Tips on how to find fish on a lake new to you

How To Locate Crappie
A little research can help you locate crappie.

One of the most-frequently-asked questions of guides and professional crappie fishermen at this time of the year is, "How do you find crappie on a new lake?"

Although there are many answers, we have selected the best answers from John E. Phillips' new Kindle Book, "Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer," which is available at

Pro crappie angler Stokes McClellan of Huntersville, N.C., travels the nation fishing crappie tournaments and explains how he does it.

"First, my son Adam and I buy a topographical map of the lake,” he said. “From the topo map, we can see where the creek channels and the drop-offs are located, and where rivers and creeks enter the lake. We use this information to develop a game plan about where we should try to find crappie on the lake, why the crappie should be there, and in what part of the lake we'll spend most of our practice time.”

He does say that on most new lakes he will try to fish the top section of the lake.

“The upper third always seems to be the most-fertile section, and the point where the most nutrients enter the lake,” he said. “In this section of the lake, you'll find better concentrations of baitfish and crappie.

Once on the water, McClelland will check out the spots he’s picked from the map and begin the visual search for bait and crappie.

"We're trying to identify at what depth the baitfish are holding, and in what type of structure they're holding. A classic example will be a creek channel with plenty of stumps and brush in it that runs from 1- to 1-1/2-miles long,” he said. “Along that edge, we'll want to see schools of baitfish. We know that if the baitfish are there, they're related to the edge of the creek channel. If we spot crappie related to those baitfish, then we'll be sure that's a region we want to troll.”

With those types of areas in mind, one must also consider the time of year and where the crappie will be along their seasonal migration routes.

"You need to learn all you can about crappie and their migration routes because during the hot summer months or the cold winter months, you'll find crappie on deep-water structures, like underwater points, creek channels, ledges, humps and bridge pilings you've located,” McClelland said.

When fishing the prespawn or the postspawn, search for crappie in staging areas, including the brush in front of piers, around marinas and boat docks and on humps, creek channels close to spawning flats and edges of creek channels in flooded-timber regions. If you fish the spawn, fish those hidden areas where other anglers won't fish. Cross the sandbars and the mud flats to reach the backs of bays and creeks cut off from the main river channel. When fishing relatively clear water during the spawn, concentrate on the humps and the points out in the lake. Many times crappie will spawn in deeper water, if the water's clear.

And don’t be afraid to ask around. One great source is a state fisheries biologist familiar with the lake. Sometimes it’s even the people manning the park entrance, marina or boat ramp, of course those latter folks might not give up their spot.

"The state fisheries' biologist responsible for the lake you plan to fish provides one of the best places to gain information about a new lake,” McClelland said. “Obtain this biologist's name by calling your state fish and wildlife service. When you talk with the fisheries biologist, tell him where you want to fish. Ask him to suggest areas where his lake surveys indicate fishermen have caught the most crappie. Also question him about specific fishing sites, the depth of the water the crappie usually hold in at the time of year you want to fish and the kind of structure where the fish will hold. Too, inquire about parts of the lake where he's seen crappie during his electrofishing surveys, although most anglers may not fish these areas.

"Your state fisheries biologist studies the lakes in his district throughout the year to try and determine the size, the number and the growth rate of the crappie as well as the water conditions. He has a vast amount of information that can help you learn how to fish a new lake."

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