Pre-spawn Later-Winter, Early-Spring Tips for Crappie Fishing Success

Must-know tactics to get your share of sac-a-laits before the mad rush of the spring spawn

Pre-spawn Later-Winter, Early-Spring Tips for Crappie Fishing Success
Pre-spawn Later-Winter, Early-Spring Tips for Crappie Fishing Success

As the end of winter approaches, many anglers begin to think about spring crappie season.

After all, as springtime arrives in full force and water temps warm into the low-to-mid 60s, crappie will begin to move shallow and get active with their annual breeding activities.

By the time water temperatures have actually moved into the mid-60s and on up into the lower 70s, these springtime papermouths will be right up next to the bank, spawning in six-feet of water or less.

And as you might expect, that can draw an angling crowd on a good lake or reservoir.


Especially since such days are the times most crappie anglers spend all winter dreaming about.


The time of the year when a lightweight rod-and-reel and a supply of either minnows or brightly colored jigs can both work their magic and produce consistent limit catches of big and tasty slabs destined for a hot fryer bubbling with peanut oil.

But as good as the spring fishing for sac-a-laits can be, that doesn't mean that an angler should merely sit around by the fireplace and wait until spring officially gets here.

Because to do so – especially with the mild winter the Midwest is enjoying this year – could cause an angler to miss out on some superb crappie fishing.

Why is that? Because before slabs go into spawning mode, they'll first be staging in water lying next to their traditional nursery areas.


"They will generally begin to get to areas of deep water adjacent to these historical spawning areas in late winter," explains Kurt Kuklinski, a supervisor and fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Fishery Research Lab in Norman.

As crappie begin to stage near their spawning spots, they'll often do so in very tight bunches just about anywhere that an angler can find deeper water close to shallower water.

And that can be especially true where a change in bottom composition happens to occur.


"They will often suspend in 12 to 15 feet of water over 20-foot depths,” said Kuklinski.

"As the water warms, they will progressively move shallower toward the spawning flats."

The Oklahoma fisheries expert noted that either minnows or lead-headed jigs – in either 1/16- or 1/8-ounce sizes tipped with 2-inch Sassy Shads or Mister Twister curly tail grubs – will lure pre-spawn crappie to strike. And so will small crappie-size tube jigs, so keep a supply of those handy too.

According to Kuklinski, a key consideration from the pre-spawn until the end of the spawn is this: If an angler isn't finding active fish, they aren't in the right spot.

"February/March is about the time people can start seeing fish on (their) locators," said Kuklinski.

"Big schools of suspended fish (can usually be found now)," he added. "When you start catching them (at this time of the year), they are tightly schooled and really bunched up."

Meaning that where there's one willing to bite, there should be even more in close proximity.

"The more productive crappie anglers don't spend a lot of time over a school if they are not catching them," said Kuklinski. "If you don't catch anything in five or 10 minutes, then move on to find active fish.

"But if you start catching one or two fish, and they are bunched up really well, you can pull a lot of fish out if you have the right lure."

As is the case with most forms of spawn-season fishing each spring, the water temperature on a particular body of water is a prime consideration.

"The areas to key in on are areas where the water is going to warm up faster – something that gets a lot of sun exposure like the north side of some of the coves," said Kuklinski.

How important is the water temperature for staging crappie in late winter? Extremely important says the biologist, noting that even just a degree or two in temperature difference can make all of the difference in the world.

"Any area that warms up faster but has deep water adjacent to those areas, you're more likely to find these schools staging outside of those areas," said Kuklinski.

What does all of this mean?

The time to get after these tasty panfish is finally at hand.

Because while the springtime crappie spawn gets all of the headlines each year, some of the best fishing on the annual calendar is actually now and not later.

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

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

As Pure Fishing's Andrew Upshaw explains, reel making giant Abu Garcia has done it again at ICAST 2019 with a new spinning reel geared towards finesse fishermen.

Mustad

Mustad's Inkvader Octopus Live Jig

From big fish to small, just about any saltwater game fish out there will love the new Mustad Inkvader Octopus Live Jig that Mustad's Russ Whisler shows to OSG's Lynn Burkhead.

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

In the booth of one of fishing's all-time great reel makers, Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead and Andrew Wheeler of Pure Fishing discuss one of the brand new baitcasting reels from Abu Garcia being released at ICAST 2019.

Berkley

Berkley's Frittside Crankbaits

World Fishing Network show host Chad LaChance had a chance to visit with legendary crankbait master David Fritts about his new Frittside crankbaits from Berkley. LaChance, host of the Fishful Thinker on WFN, also got a few cranking tips from Fritts, the former Classic and Forrest Wood Cup champion.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the biggest pike come from Europe. Records

Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish. Records

Upon Further Review: 70-Year-Old Catfish Record Voided

Game & Fish Digital Staff - May 22, 2019

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish.

See More Trending Articles

More Fishing How-To

Catching walleye in the warm months requires some study and practice; here are five tips and tactics to help improve summer walleye-fishing success. Playbook

5 Best Tips for Catching Walleye in Summer

Keith 'Catfish' Sutton

Catching walleye in the warm months requires some study and practice; here are five tips and...

Learn from your electronics by understanding SONAR frequency strengths and weaknesses. Stories

Secrets Your Fishfinder is Trying to Reveal

Dr. Jason Halfen - May 13, 2020

Learn from your electronics by understanding SONAR frequency strengths and weaknesses.

Here's how the pros fish swimbaits in all phases of peak bass season. Bass

Bass Swimbaits Through the Spring

Ken Duke - May 15, 2020

Here's how the pros fish swimbaits in all phases of peak bass season.

See More Fishing How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

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

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