How To Catch March Crappie

Crappie fishing

How To Catch March Crappie

Where To Find And Catch March Crappie During The March Migration In The South

Spring is a time for crappie fishing. With March beginning to warm and cabin fever at its peak, crappie anglers across Kentucky are preparing tackle and itching to get outdoors to enjoy the coming spring. March is a fickle month for all anglers. Cold fronts abound and sometimes old man winter refuses to let go. It’s a time for cold mornings and warm afternoons. The warm days make it tough to stay away from the fishing grounds, sending anglers out in search of crappie.

Those warm days of March will move hardcore and weekend anglers alike. The first response to these unseasonably warm days is to stalk the shallows for spring crappie. I’m to blame every year. Everyone loves catching crappie in shallow water. Fishing with a bobber and a minnow or a crappie jig is an angler’s first response to warm sunny days. However, it soon becomes evident that the crappie isn’t there.

Locating March Crappie

Locating crappie in March can be frustrating at times. Knowing where to look will shorten the search and have you catching crappie sooner rather than later. March weather will wreak havoc on crappie movement and while knowing these tricks will help you locate the schools of crappie; nothing is ever guaranteed. Cold fronts followed by high pressure can have crappie wondering just what to do. March is the transitional period for crappie in Kentucky. It is a time when they want to move up shallow to spawn, but they are often pushed back by fluctuating conditions. March crappie are often pushed back to their wintering grounds during a front. Or at least to the next drop.

Crappie can be in all depths during this time. They can even be suspended in the water column. Electronics are not a prerequisite for success, but they certainly make things easier. You can use your electronics or a map to locate creek channels that lead to and from the shallows. Many shallow spawning bays are well known and a great place to start. As you get better at locating and catching crappie in these popular areas you can venture out to lesser known or preferably unknown areas and find your own place to catch springtime crappie.

The springtime migration occurs around March in most mid-south and Southern states. Crappie migrates to spawning grounds using essentially the same route year after year. Learning this migration route will help you find and catch plenty of early spring crappie and extend your crappie season. There are plenty of crappie waters in Kentucky with a few listed on the next page. It’s time to grab some poles and get outside to enjoy the great outdoors.

Best Way To Catch Migrating March Crappie

When crappie begins migrating to their annual spawning grounds, usually sometime in March in many southern states. The best way I know of to catch them is by long lining. Long lining is an excellent way to cover a lot of water and intercept schools of crappie as you move along at a pretty good speed. Some will argue that spider rigging for March crappie is the way to go and I would definitely say that spider rigging is a great way to catch March crappie. The thing is spider rigging works any time of the year and not just in March. The reason I pick long lining for crappie in March is the ability to cover water much faster as mentioned above.

You can read about long lining in my article Tips For Longlining For Crappie the featured photo for Tips For Long lining For Crappie was caught in March on Dale Hollow Lake long lining with the jigs in the featured photo for this article. The Fin Spin jigs are excellent baits for March crappie.

Where To Long Line For Crappie In March

As crappie begin to migrate to their spawning areas each spring the weather is usually up and down in terms of cold fronts and storms with rain that affect water temperatures. Because of these varying conditions, each day can begin with a search for crappie. This could be depth or location. Here today and gone tomorrow as we sometimes say.

There is good news. When you know where these crappies are going and or where they are coming from the search can be quick. These crappies will not move far unless there’s a severe cold front or storm. This will send them back to their winter haunts temporarily. To wait out the cold front or storm. So, starting where you caught the crappie the day before is the best option and searching from there. Another great thing about the spring migration of Crappie during March is there are many schools of crappie as they don’t all hang out together. Therefore, long lining in my opinion is the best way to catch March crappie.

Why Is Long lining Effective On March Crappie

There will be what I call pods of crappie suspended and cruising at certain depths as they decide on the best time to move shallow. Because these various pods of crappie continuously moving throughout the area is the best way to effectively present your baits to as many crappies as possible.

Migrating March crappie are usually moving around feeding on baitfish in open water. They are also trying to stay in comfortable depths with the ever-changing conditions in the south. It is difficult to pinpoint where the crappie are. This makes it difficult to stay on one school of crappie to effectively fish for them. The most effective way is to move at a certain speed through the area. The “good” area can vary from day to day. You might have to search again the second day until you begin intercepting schools of crappie with your baits. If the crappie were relating to cover like a stake bed or brush pile you could sit over them and fish that cover for a group of crappie. However, in the spring, crappie is not always relating to cover. They are often scattered throughout a large area.

When March Crappie Bury Up In Thick Cover

Crappie in March is not always swimming in schools in open water. Sometimes, especially after a cold front, crappie will bury up in thick cover, like brush piles in deep water. When this happens single pole or spider rigging can be a better option over long lining. When a cold front moves through crappie will get sluggish. This is when the vertical presentation becomes the best and most efficient way to target March crappie.

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The Li’L TUFFY Swimbait at the Rambling Angler Store

Crappie Bait Swimbait

Hopefully while long lining for March crappie you were watching your graph and marking all the brush in the area. With these waypoints stored in your mapping unit, you are ready anytime the crappie decides to lock down in cover. You know they are around because you were just catching them the day before. Then a snowstorm moves in dropping the water temp by 8 degrees overnight. Call up those waypoints and start probing them with a jig or minnow. This can turn a long slow day into at least a few March crappie.

Vertical Jigging Brush For Crappie

As mentioned in the section above, crappie will retreat from open water and seek cover. This cover can be big rock, trees, stake beds and man made brush piles like sunken Christmas trees. When this happens nothing beats a little vertical jigging. Spider rigging can work if the crappie are aggressive enough to come up out of the cover. The problem is that the cold front that sent them running to the cover has also put a damper on their enthusiasm. Crappie will probably stay down in that brush unwilling to move very far to strike during a cold front.

Vertical jigging allows you to put that jig or minnow in the crappie’s face. Sometimes that is all it takes and other times you have to be patient either jiggling the jig a little or dead-sticking the jig, to get a bite. Dead-sticking a crappie jig is where you hold the rod as still as you can. Crappie like a dead sticked jig more than I ever thought. Something I learned fishing with the livescope technology where I can see what the crappie want. Keep in mind that no matter how still you think you are holding your rod there is still a little movement on the bait.

Fish Your Jig Inside the Brush

Fishing your jig inside the brush is often required to consistently catch crappie in March. When they decide to bury up in the brush. Even tapping your jighead into a tree limb lightly will entice strikes when nothing else will. You are essentially making the crappie mad and he just strikes to get the intruder out of his area. You will get hung up. That’s part of catching March crappie. When they are in the thick stuff. I have seen anglers dull their hook point a little so that they could feel the jig hit the wood without sticking it. With a little practice, you can fish an entire brush pile without hanging up and hopefully pull a few crappies out of it too.

Another great tip for catching March crappie, at least when the crappie are being picky, is to use a hair jig. Hair jigs are subtle and work great in the winter. They also work anytime that the crappie has lock jaw, like during the early spring. Rambling Angler Jigs and Rigs ties squirrel tail jigs for crappie. You can check them out our hair jigs for crappie at our Rambling Angler Store.

Locate Brush Piles In The Area For Best Success

Locating several brush piles in an area will help you catch more crappie in March. When you vertical jig in heavy cover you will inevitably get your bait hung up. Fish will also scatter fish from a brush pile when you pull it through it fighting the whole way. Having several brush piles marked in the area will let you leave that cover and fish another. This will allow the brush to settle down while you fish the others. Sometimes you will have to run down the lake to another productive brush pile if you don’t have a few in the same area.

Early Spring Migration

Spring is a time for crappie fishing. With March beginning to warm and cabin fever at its peak, crappie anglers all across Kentucky are preparing tackle and itching to get outdoors to enjoy the coming spring. March is a fickle month for all anglers. Cold fronts abound and sometimes old man winter refuses to let go. It’s a time for cold mornings and warm afternoons. The warm days make it tough to stay away from the fishing grounds, sending anglers out in search of crappie.

Those warm days of March will move hardcore and weekend anglers alike. The first response to these unseasonably warm days is to stalk the shallows for spring crappie. I’m to blame every year. Everyone loves catching crappie in shallow water. Fishing with a bobber and a minnow or a crappie jig is an angler’s first response to warm sunny days. However, it soon becomes evident that the crappie isn’t there.

Spring Crappie Fishing March Video

How to Catch More Early Season Crappie 3 Tips to Locate and Catch Early Season Crappie

  • Check shallow cover first
  • Fish out toward the main lake following likely migration routes, like creek channels, until you find the crappie
  • Spider-rigging will be your most efficient way to find and catch early crappie by allowing you to fish slowly and methodically
  • Watch for baitfish on your fish finder, the crappie should be nearby

SHOP EARLY SEASON CRAPPIE GEAR

April is a great time to catch some really nice crappie if you know where to look. Crappie instinctively feels when the time to spawn is nearing and will begin to slowly move into crappie spawning grounds in preparation. Many anglers focus on water temperature as the trigger that starts the crappie spawn, but science tells us that an even more important factor is the “photoperiod” or length of daylight. This photo-period is the main trigger to the crappie spawn. It has been proven scientifically and some will argue that water temperature has little to do with the crappie spawn, but I know many crappie anglers, including myself, that still rely on water temperature. Maybe it’s the warmer air that triggers more crappie anglers to get on the water. In any case, regardless of when the spawn begins there’s always a few crappie spawning  even during the coldest of springs.

Initial Approach To Catching Spring Crappie

My initial approach to early spring crappie fishing is to check shallow cover for spawning crappie. I usually do this even when I’m sure they’re not up shallow yet. It’s habit because that’s where we always looked when I was a kid. We never fished deep for crappie but crappie fishing has come a long way since then and serious crappie anglers know that the deeper water holds the slabs when the water temperature is cold. Some anglers never fish shallow claiming that the big females are only shallow long enough to lay their eggs, then move back to deeper water and knowing this along with a few other tips and techniques will help you load the cooler with more slabs all year long.

Early Season Crappie Tips
Nathan Noblitt with a nice early season crappie. Rambling Angler Outdoors

Spring is always hit or miss for shallow water crappie, but crappie anglers that fish deep water have been enjoying some good crappie catches all year long. If you are a fair weather angler, as many of us are, then waiting until the crappie move into the shallow cover is normally the way to go, but if you want to add a few more weeks to your springtime crappie fishing read on.

Small Male Crappie Move Shallow First In Spring

The males are the first to move into shallow cover to build the beds that attract the female crappie. This activity is triggered by the photoperiod and can begin to happen earlier than you might expect. While there is definitely a peak spawning time when you catch crappie one after another there is also a lead and a lag when the fishing is a little slower but can easily fill a limit if you know where to look. There are little things that will let you know where the big crappie are and with a little practice you can target those bigger fish while others are catching countless little ones up shallow and here is how to do it.

The extended length of daylight, or photoperiod, triggers the instinct in crappie to spawn. The spawn is going to happen regardless of the water temperature, at least to some extent, so getting out there searching for these activities is key to extending your season. The initial indication that the spawn is near is a wave of males moving into the classic cover in the shallows. Trees, brush, rip rap, stake beds all attract spawners. Paying attention to what is going on is key to locating those elusive slabs this spring.

If you start in the shallows and are catching smaller fish this tells you that the males are up, but the females are still hanging back in deeper water. The females won’t be far from this spawning activity so look for deeper water nearby. You can locate crappie with your fish finder or just fish the deeper areas. These fish are hungry and will bite a jig or minnow dangled at their depth.

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Spider Rigging For Transition Crappie

Once you have determined that the female crappie are not yet up shallow a great technique for locating those transitioning slabs out deep is the spider rig. The spider rig is several rods spread out in front of your boat by using several rod holders. This allows you to search many different depths, colors or baits. Use your trolling motor to slowly ease out from the shallows adjusting the depth you’re fishing as you go into deeper water. This technique allows you to keep your baits at the optimum depths where you are seeing fish on your locator. Once you get a bite just note the depth you had your bait and set the other baits at that depth. If you continue to catch fish on one certain bait or color, then use that on all your rods and have fun.

If you don’t have a spider rig set up you can set a couple rods over the side. Tie on the double jig rig to increase your search range. By tying two baits to each rod you can probe four different depths with just two rods. This will help you locate the crappie that wants to bite. Oftentimes there’s a certain depth that hold feeding crappie.

Seeing schools of crappie on your sonar is just a starting point. It’s important to locate the depth in which they’re feeding. Many times anglers will fish the depth where they see large numbers and fail to get bites. There are times when the depth you see one fish here two fish there is the depth that you need to fish to get your limit. Be sure to fish all the depths that you’re seeing fish and you can narrow down where the more aggressive crappie are holding.

Spring Crappie From The Bank

Searching for larger females in deep water isn’t just for those with boats. If you’re a shore angler the slip bobber is a great way to probe the deeper water near shore. I could write an entire article on slip bobber types and techniques, but for this application just rig up your favorite slip bobber and search the different depths until you locate the depth that’s holding bigger females. By using a couple of rods you can incrementally adjust the depths of each one to search. While jigs will work for this slip bobber technique most anglers prefer minnows. It helps to study a lake map to find deep water near spawning areas.

It’s important to set up on the shore where a creek or river channel swings in next to a spawning cove. This gives you plenty of deep staging water to fish within casting distance. I hear so many anglers complaining about the long winter and how long it will be before they can go fishing but remember that the photoperiod really sets the spawn into motion and the crappie will begin to feed a lot earlier than you might think, even in cold water.

Crappie fishing can be great during both pre-spawn and post-spawn periods. During a gradual spawn the bite will be spread out over time you just have to find the fish that are biting. By learning to read the signals of the winter to spring transition you can enjoy more fishing time this spring and more fillets in the freezer this winter. Break out the windbreaker and stocking cap and get out there and shake those cabin fever blues with a day on the water catching our favorite panfish this spring and extend your spring crappie season.

How Do You Catch March Crappie

It’s springtime, you have cabin fever and you’ve been waiting to go fishing all winter long. Snow isn’t in the forecast and warm sunny days tease you into thinking it’s time. The tackle box finally receives a little attention. You sort and organize the jigs, sinkers, bobbers and hooks in preparation of spring crappie fishing. You lube the reels and spool them with new line in preparation for the trip. Ah, the smells of springtime crappie season, dandelions and dogwood blooms mixed with a little WD-40 and salted grubs. 

Those warm sunny days will trick the most seasoned angler into thinking it’s time. Most veteran crappie anglers know that the bite will be slow, but they go anyway to escape the house. Going fishing feels good and it’s a great time to work out the bugs in your equipment and put a few crappie in the basket while you’re at it.

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Crappie in Moderation 

I can remember launching the 16-foot v-hull and the smell of the old Evinrude as it sputtered to life after a few hard pulls. My grandfather never used an anchor. We just eased into the middle of a brush pile and he would hold onto a limb. We would dip our marabou jigs, the only bait my grandfather used, into every hole we could fit them. Most of the time we caught a couple slabs, moved on to the next brush pile, and repeated the process. 

I remember how boring it was, but we almost always went home with a few crappies and I don’t recall ever catching a small one this way. My grandfather always said “everything in moderation”. I guess that meant crappie too, because we stopped when we had 8 or 10 slabs in the cooler. No matter how long it took.

When Crappie Aren’t in the Brush

When the crappie wasn’t holding in the brush or tree-tops along the bank my grandfather wasted no time switching gears. If the first couple of brush piles didn’t produce he grabbed an old Styrofoam minnow bucket and a broomstick with something attached to the end and a wire wrapped around it, spiraling up to the other end. He attached the wire inside the minnow bucket and stuck the end of the broomstick in the water. He steered the tiller motor with one hand and held the broomstick with the other focusing intently into the Styrofoam minnow bucket. My grandfather explained to me what he was doing, but it would be years later before I understood. He was searching for the migrating schools of deep water crappie heading to their spawning grounds. My grandfather was ahead of his time, without a doubt.

Early Crappie Fishing with my Grandfather

I can see my grandfather staring into the crystal minnow bucket (my name for it). His look was serious and only left the bucket to get his bearings on the creek channel. His eyes squinted to read the contraption inside the bucket while he chewed on the Red Man in his jaw. “Ok Ken. Right here,” he would finally say, but not before a spit of Red Man stained the water next to the boat.

I was ready before he even said OK. The spit was my cue. He never spit while he searched the crystal minnow bucket, only after he found the brush below. Again, I know he explained, but like so many lessons he taught me in my youth I only truly began to listen long after he was gone. This lesson was no exception. It even took applying the technique before realizing that my grandfather, who was very old school even in the ’70s, was actually using electronics to locate brush piles along a creek channel. A flasher unit was inside that minnow bucket. It was used to shade the orange bars that flashed around the unit. The styrofoam protected also protected it when stored in the barn.

Early Season Crappie Movement Patterns

I remember him telling me that the crappie would move from the creek channel to shallow water to spawn. They always travel from one form of cover to the next as they travel to their spawning grounds. Even if the journey is longer. This came back to me when I decided one day to search for early crappie in a little deeper water and discovered stake beds lined up in a neat row leading straight from the creek channel to a shallow spawning area. I began jigging a white marabou jig and finally found them in 17 feet of water suspended in a huge manmade stake bed. The aha moment, 30 years later, hit me like a ton of bricks.

This early season crappie tactic isn’t new to many crappie anglers. Personally, I only searched for deep water crappie along creek channels. That is until I realized the importance of this cover. Not to say the creek channel won’t produce but finding brush that leads from the creeks into shallow water will help you concentrate your efforts on spots that are more likely to hold a few fish.

Locating these travel routes are not always easy. It may take some extra time searching the fish finder for these crappie magnets. The cover, more times than not, will not be in a continuous line. Look for stake beds and brush piles along the creek channel. Work your way to shallower water searching for another brush pile. In the early season, when the days are warm and the water is still cold, crappie will use these travel routes to move from shallow to deep depending on the water temp as it fluctuates throughout the day. Hit each spot of cover until you find some fish and then move with them. If you know of a good spawning area for crappie at your lake you can create your own travel route, where legal, by sinking stake beds or brush in a straight line from shallow to deep water.

How to Locate Brushpiles for Early Season Crappie

Another great tip is to use the winter pool on your lake to locate key cover for the spring. Winter pool is the low water level maintained throughout the winter on most crappie lakes. There is a lot of cover visible when the water is low and marking these either physically with a piece of cane or electronically with your fish finder or GPS unit. Make sure the cane will be visible at summer pool, when the water rises, if this is your method. Locating this cover in the winter will be a gold mine when the water covers them in the spring. It will provide you with your very own brush pile or stake beds that other anglers will pass up leaving all those crappies undisturbed.

A note worth mentioning. Black crappie will be shallow earlier than white crappie. Be sure to keep those shallow brush piles and stake beds honest by checking them out periodically. Oftentimes a single black crappie will occupy a brush pile. They are more territorial than white crappie. If you catch a black crappie from a brush pile be sure to fish it later. A lot of times another crappie will quickly move in and occupy the same, now safe to enter, brush pile. Use these tips this spring and catch a few more crappies and locate your own spots away from the crowds using your own crystal minnow bucket. 

Try my Crappie Balls a great crappie recipe for spring crappie season

Early Spring Crappie Fishing Video

Check Out Early Season Crappie Tips

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.