Know Your Crappie Temps

Crappie fishing

Know Your Crappie Temps

The Temps You Should Know for Crappie Fishing

Spring means crappie season and anglers throughout the state hit the lakes to fill the livewell. The spawning season is by far the most popular time to fish for crappie as they move shallow and relate to visible cover along the shore. It is this time of year that anyone that locates a brush pile or stake bed can catch a few crappie using a bobber and a minnow or jig. This time of year is short-lived and eventually the crappie begin to leave the shallows and become harder to locate. Where do they go? How do you catch them? Here is a few tactics to use this spring to follow the crappie in and out of the shallows. It helps to know your crappie temps to help catch more crappie.


Early in the spring the daylight hours increases. This causes many changes in the crappie and they begin to move from their wintering grounds to their spring spawning flats and bays. Crappie, at this time, are in a feeding mode in preparation of the spawn coming up. The water temp is still too low for extreme feeding at this time, but crappie anglers can find active crappie throughout the day and enjoy some great fishing. You might have to hang in there for a long day to hit the feeding times when the water temps are breaking the 50 degree mark. If you have the patience then you can catch a few crappie.

During this time the crappie are still staying deep in relation to the spawning bay that they are migrating to. Most good spawning bays have a creek that runs into them. These creeks provide a channel as well as warmer water that increases the backs of these spawning bays quicker at this time. Look for crappie in the creek channels leading from the main river channel or main lake. Channel bends, where the creek channel turns sharply, is where crappie will stage as they wait for the water to warm to the optimum crappie spawning temps.

Probably the best way to catch these crappie early in the spring is by spider rigging. Spider rigging is a technique that presents many offerings at various depths to the migrating crappie as they suspend and travel looking for baitfish to feed on. Spider rigging offers the most efficient way to follow the creek channels and present bait to crappie as you locate them on your electronics. Keep moving until you spot baitfish or schools of fish and pause there several minutes. They may be out of there as soon as you get there but usually those fish or baitfish was there for some reason and it might not be cover, it could just be structure which is the contours of the lake’s bottom that attracts them to that spot.


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Li’L TUFFY Swimbait at the Rambling Angler Store

Crappie Bait Swimbait

I have marked spots on my GPS that had no type of cover or structure but for some reason that particular spot was a stopping point for schools of fish as they moved through the area. I could sit there and wait for fish to move through and would catch a couple as they showed up on the fish finder. It was all types of fish too. One time I would catch a couple white bass, then the next school I would catch a couple crappie so all the fish like the spot for whatever reason and it has been a waypoint on my GPS for years.

Another fun and for some the only way to catch crappie during this time. This is the single pole jigging technique. The single pole tactic is just that, a single pole with a jig is used. The single pole angler will move throughout the bay searching for cover and/or fish and drop to them with the jig. Today, with the live scope technology, this technique is landing some giant crappie because you can pick which crappie you want to try for and not waste time with smaller crappie.

When the bite is tough and it can be during this time as cold fronts come and go turning the bite off for days at a time, there is a trick to get a few bites. If you have some brush or stumps marked that you can go to and fish with your jig you can trigger reaction strikes from these reluctant crappie and salvage the otherwise fishless day. Lower your jig into the cover and tap the jig on the cover causing the crappie to react to the disturbance and strike your jig. This is a great way and often the only way to get bites during a cold front early in the spring crappie season.



When the water temps reach this temperature range it is considered the pre-spawn timeframe. Crappie use not only the water temp but also the photoperiod. The photoperiod is the length of daylight. As the days grow longer crappie know it is time to think about spawning. During cold springs crappie will begin to move toward spawning grounds even if the water temps are cooler than 51 degrees. The spawn may be a little sporadic and spread out over the spring, but the spawn will occur.   


When the water temperatures reach the 55 to 60 degree mark you can find crappie shallow. That great traditional crappie season is underway and bobbers and minnows sell out at times and the real fun begins. Crappie are at a heightened feeding frenzy at the 55 to 56 degree mark. If you find the crappie you are likely to catch them with minnows or jigs. The crappie can be scattered all over the spawning bay during these crappie temps. They are trying to locate the spot where they will lay their eggs. By this time the males are in the cover. Stake beds, stumps and laydowns offer excellent targets for catching spawning crappie. This cover will reload with fish so check back often throughout the spawning season to catch more crappie.

As the water temps rise above 56 degrees, and this means the surface temp is 56 or above starting in the morning, the bigger females will move into the cover to spawn. This is when the bigger crappie are caught in the same places you caught the smaller males the day or days before. If you can locate cover that has males when the water temp is below 57-58 degrees, and you don’t catch them out, you can return there later as the temps rise and catch some slab crappie as they move up to spawn.

This is a little early for the big push shallow to spawn. If you want to extend your spring crappie season then start looking for those big girls that have moved up early. Like bass these early spawners can be the biggest of the bunch. You will have to work a little harder for a limit but they are there if you look. 

Begin looking for spawning crappie when the water temps reach 57 to 58 degrees. Hit all the visible cover in the spawning are but also search for cover that isn’t visible. The visible cover has been hit hard by other anglers. While just a few hours of rest can mean that this cover can fill back up with crappie you also need to look for the invisible cover in shallow water that can hold a lot of crappie that has not been fished for. This is the cover that can fill your livewell in short order so don’t overlook it. Invisible cover takes a little more work for sure but it can be a goldmine during the spawn. Keep in mind crappie will spawn in 2 to 19 foot of water depending on clarity so there is a lot of area to search source Outdoor Life

65- 75 DEGREES

When the spawn is winding down crappie tend to move off the shallow cover, especially the big females. Males will stick around to guard the nest and then the fry into late spring. Male crappie could be shallow until the water temps get into the upper 70’s and can be caught until then. The bigger crappie will take a bit more effort but can be caught throughout this time as well and often much shallower than you might think.

When bigger female crappie finishes laying eggs they move off the bed. They leave it to the smaller male crappie to attend to. Some of the bigger females will move out to deep water again. Don’t neglect to search the shallows for them as well. While these big crappie may not be in the same cover as the males and their eggs they are often found nearby especially black crappie. Black crappie tends to stay shallow longer than white crappie. They will be found on deeper wood near the same cover that they spawned in. Locating this cover can be done with electronics.

Search for these big crappie along the first break leaving the shallow spawning spots. Find cover like logs, stumps, or sunken brush piles. You can spider rig these areas as you search. But, the single-pole jigging technique might be the most efficient way as you move through the area searching for likely hideouts. These crappies can be lethargic shortly after the spawn. They will soon begin to feed aggressively recovering from the spawn. It doesn’t take long to know if the cover you have located has fish or not and you can quickly move to find more.

As mentioned above there is a lull in the migration after the spawn has occurred. As the temps go above the 65-degree mark you can safely search deeper water for those big females that migrated out to deep water. Much like the migration into the shallows crappie will use the same route to migrate out. If you found them coming in you will likely find them on the same spots moving out.

Spider rigging once again becomes a great way to catch these crappie. Spider rigging allows you to cover lots of water. This is needed to locate these post-spawn crappies as they are on the move. Much of their movement will be dictated by the baitfish. They are in their own migration. Shad spawn when the water temperatures reach high 60’s low 70’s. This is why you can find lingering post-spawn crappie in the shallows.

Shad spawn on rocks and don’t have to rely on shallow water. This is why fishing rip rap during the post-spawn will produce some giant crappie. The spawn is over and the big crappie has recovered and needs to feed. Shad, that are showing up by the thousands or maybe millions, offer these big crappie a smorgasbord to feed on. The problem is getting the crappie to find your minnow or jig among all those shad. You need to offer something different and something that can trigger reaction strikes from these big crappie. My favorite way to do this is by pulling crankbaits or long lining for summertime crappie.

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The crappie spawn is when most anglers get out and catch a few crappie. Crappie are in the shallows and they are hungry. They are also aggressive as they protect their beds from any intruders like your minnow or jig. Fish around any visible cover along the shore in shallow water and you are likely to catch a few crappie. What happens after the spawn? You can still find smaller males guarding nests and fry in the shallow cover, but you’re looking for the big slabs. Where did they go?


When the water temps get above 75 degrees most crappie are in their summer pattern. This pattern will last until the fall when the temps start back down. As water temps drop the shad begin to move shallow in search of zooplankton that is still available where creek water provides more oxygen. Knowing your crappie temps will help you locate and catch these crappie.

During the post-spawn the crappie are moving out to find more tolerable temperatures and baitfish to feed on. The baitfish move out for the same reason. They swim in huge balls feeding on the zooplankton in the water. Because these shad suspend and continuously travel in no particular pattern the crappie are scattered with them.

Crappie follow these balls of shad to feed on them when they can. These crappie will be in schools themselves. When you get one bite you often get two or three then nothing. You have to continue moving around to search for baitfish and schools of crappie. The best way to do this is by spider rigging. Spider rigging covers the most water and presents baits at various depths. This is the best way to catch these scattered crappie when they move back out to deeper water in or near the main lake.

Locating areas that have shad is key. Balls of baitfish are much easier to see than crappie on your electronics. Stay around the baitfish in areas that you know has crappie and you’ll catch some by spider rigging and staying on the move. When you see a school of shad slow down. Keep your baits in that area for a few minutes. Crappie and other fish will often be following behind waiting for the stragglers to fall behind the ball. This is how you can make your baits stand out among the thousands of shad that make a ball. As the crappie follows the bait ball they will see your baits and eat them.

This method may seem like a slow bite, but after several hours you find that you caught more than you thought. When you catch two or three at a time the numbers add up over time even though there is long pauses between bites.


Once May rolls around crappie are usually finished spawning for most of the country. They have rested and recovered. Now they are feeding heavily to keep up with their increased metabolism from warming water. Minnows is hard to beat anytime you’re chasing crappie. The post-spawn is no different. The double minnow rig or the Capps & Coleman rigs which are pre-rigged double minnow rigs made famous and named after pro crappie tournament anglers Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman winner of many National Championships and tournaments using the rig.

Know your crappie temps for great crappie like this. Ken McBroom
Know your crappie temps for great crappie like this. Ken McBroom

Minnows are synonymous with crappie fishing and for good reason. Minnows match the hatch very well and will consistently catch crappie no matter what the technique might be. Even when you use jigs in place of the hooks on the double minnow rig you can tip those with minnows. The added color and profile can trigger more strikes than just a minnow. Another great way to make your bait stand out from the natural baitfish in the area is to add colored swivels to your line above the hook and minnow. A small plastic grub put on your hook with your minnow can also get a crappie’s attention over a plain minnow. Experiment with colors and profiles to see what the crappie prefer that day. It is amazing how a certain color can get you a lot more bites.

The tackle needed when spider rigging open water post-spawn crappie consists of your crappie rod holders, long crappie rods. Long rods help get your baits away from the boat. Some crappie anglers use up to 16-foot rods for spider rigging. In open water, when the crappie are often deeper than 10 feet, you can get away with shorter rods. Getting your baits 16 feet away from the boat is optimum but not as important in deep water as the crappie don’t spook as easy as when they are in 3 to 5 feet of water.

Light line in the 6 to 8-pound test range is great for spider rigging post-spawn crappie. Crappie is not as line shy as other fish. However, when chasing schools of crappie you often need to move quickly to search the area. With a heavier line, the drag from the water will create a bow in the line causing your bait to rise in the water column. This can slow down your baits to get down to the depth you locate fish on your electronics. Light line lets you zip from one spot to another quickly and keeps your bait where you have determined the fish to be that day.


At the end of those dog days of summer the cold fronts begin to move in dropping the water temps. As water temps fall crappie will begin to worry about putting on fat for the winter months. Crappie will gorge on baitfish during this time. When the water temp drops into the low 70’s and cooler locating the baitfish is the ticket to catching the crappie that follow and feed on them. Baitfish will migrate to shallow bays in the fall. Some say the shad are moving there to feed while others say it is the more oxygen rich environment which happens as the waters cool.

I believe that baitfish will move shallow in the fall for the oxygen and the food. As the length of daylight diminishes so do the plankton that the long days help to flourish. Shallow bays have fresh water emptying into them from creeks and rivers providing baitfish with more nutrients. When this happens you will find crappie in the shallows as well. Some of the same places you caught crappie in the spring just might be holding crappie in the fall.

Oftentimes crappie will suspend and cruise around following schools of baitfish. You can pick these fish off using forward facing sonar, spider-rigging or longlining. The fall can be a great time of year for casting swimbaits like the Li’L TUFFY or even small crankbaits to visible cover along the shoreline. Big crappie are territorial and will setup on a stump or rock waiting for unsuspecting baitfish to swim by so that they can ambush them. Casting a small crankbait or swimbait at this cover can make for an exciting day of crappie fishing. Again as I’ve mentioned before, the numbers might not be great but the size will make up for it.


When water temps begin to drop crappie will head back out to deeper water to spend the winter. They will stay there to feed on shad and other baitfish throughout the winter. The deep brush can be key. However, structure like ledges and creek channels that dump into the main river channel will hold large schools of crappie. All of this will be underwater and to locate these creek channels you will need your electronics. You can use a good map or APP that will guide you to these spots to look for wintertime crappie. Knowing when the crappie temps quickly drop 10 degrees will give you an idea of when to target deeper water to catch wintertime crappie.


You can use mapping software for fishing to find creek channels. Today’s marine mapping is super accurate. You will be able to find excellent spots to fish even without expensive fishfinder mapping. Follow the APP that shows the contours and points of interest to navigate to likely crappie holding areas. Fish the area thoroughly to see if there is crappie are around.


Post spawn crappie can be hard to locate. There is a lull after the spawn as crappie recover but not all crappie spawn at the same time. Keep moving and you will find some active crappie looking for a meal. Learning these techniques can help you extend your crappie season and enjoy the outdoors this spring.

Check Out Winter Crappie Fishing

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.

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