Subtle Tricks and Tips to Catch a Limit of Prespawn Crappie
Follow these fishing-guide proven strategies to catch your fair share of early-season crappie
An angler who consistently catches crappie must possess many positive attributes. He must have an in-depth knowledge of crappie behavior. He must know where crappie are likely to be found throughout the seasons and under a wide variety of weather and water conditions. He must know the best baits and lures for enticing his quarry in each body of water he fishes, and the right ways to present those enticements so crappie want to eat them.
When your vocation is crappie fishing, it’s even more important to be in tune with the ways of these popular panfish. In addition, you must be able to quickly adapt to changing or unfamiliar conditions. Because your livelihood depends on your ability to put fish in the boat, you need enough tricks up your sleeve to make this happen even under the worse circumstances. In other words, you need to be flexible and innovative—ready to try something new or different when “regular” fishing tactics won’t produce.
This latter group of anglers includes tournament pros and fishing guides, and in a few rare instances, people like Todd Huckabee of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (www.toddhuckabee.com) who make their living doing both. I’ve been fortunate to fish with several such individuals, but I can say without reservation, none comes close to Huckabee when it comes to flexibility and innovation. This crappie expert is always thinking “outside the box,” and has developed several slab-hooking techniques that are out-of-the-ordinary, yet astoundingly productive for heavyweight fish.
I asked Huckabee to share some techniques for catching crappie during the prespawn period, a time in late winter and early spring when slabs can be especially difficult to find and catch. He immediately noted that, “During the prespawn period, you’ll catch more crappie if you focus on subtle seasonal variations that are easily overlooked.”
Prespawn is the season when crappie start moving and feeding more in most regions. One clue this is about to start is when the water warms up 10 degrees from winter’s coldest point. Most states have a few warm days in toward winter’s end. These days tend to be calm, and crappie move up in the water column to start sunning, so to speak. According to Huckabee, this temperature change also causes crappie to start feeding heavily.
“Prespawn fish relate to breaklines more than brushpiles,” he says. “That’s not to say brushpiles will not produce crappie, but the right breaklines will produce more.
“Start your search where there are bends in creek channels leading back into spawning coves. If you remember where you caught crappie last spring, work backward from there. Any clay, rock or gravel bank will hold fish where the biggest breakline is—not the main channel break but the breakline closest to this channel.”
Warm rain really triggers crappie feeding, but don’t fish right in the runoff, which crappie and crappie forage avoid.
“The best areas are where muddy water meets clearer water because this is where shad are feeding on zooplankton,” Huckabee says. “Watch your graph and you’ll have no trouble finding crappie in these spots.”
While early-morning fishing often is best during much of the year, during prespawn there’s no need to rise at daybreak. The best bite often is in the middle of the afternoon as the water warms up.
“Watch for signs that crappie activity is cresting,” says Huckabee. “For example, as winter turns to spring, you’ll notice shad, white bass and gar moving on the surface. This is an indication crappie are starting to feed more actively.
“As the water continues warming, the females’ eggs start developing. The bigger females go on a feeding binge when this happens, and males start investigating shallows. Keep in mind, however, crappie may move to shallows only thirty minutes each day.
“Around this same time, something awesome happens,” Huckabee continues. “Crawfish emerge from their deep holes, and hungry crappie somehow instantly know it. As the panfish gorge on this seasonal feast, you can find them gathered by thousands on banks that often have no cover whatsoever.”
Huckabee prefers to catch these fish by slow trolling. Some anglers spider rig, others like long lining, and still others hold a pole in each hand. All are deadly. But Huckabee says his clients usually catch more fish by holding the rods. They feel the bite and enjoy it more.
“We use two jigs per rod: a 1/8-ounce Lindy Max Gap jig head with a 2-inch Yum Wooly Beavertail on top and a 1/4-ounce Max Gap jig head with a 2-inch Beavertail on bottom,” he says. “It’s amazing how important these bigger lures are this time of the year. Crappie are eating 3- to 4-inch-long baitfish and crawfish, so lures of similar size entice more bites.”
The biggest mistake many anglers make is not knowing where their lures are.
“If you see a breakline on your graph, and it goes from 8 to 10 feet, you need to be fishing the 8- to 10-foot zone,” says Huckabee. “But if your boat is directly above the breakline and you fish the bank side with a 10-foot rod, your lures are 10 feet from the breakline, outside the strike zone. Be aware of situations like this and always position your boat and rods so your lures stay in the crappie zone.
“Speed also is important,” he adds. “When crappie are eating crawfish, for example, a slow approach is best. If they are feeding on shad, however, you’ll catch more by speeding up and lengthening your line. When fishing 10 feet of water, for example, you may need 14 feet of line out.
Sometimes you will fish down a bank and catch 10 fish, then reverse your course and catch 25 on the next pass. This means current is present, and crappie are facing into the current as they look for food. This points out the need for persistence. Don’t give up on an area after just one pass.”
The lesson in all this is simple: during prespawn, pay attention to subtle variations—variations in water and weather conditions, variations in locale and variations in your presentations. There’s no better way to make your catch rate soar.