How Do You Catch Crappies in the Spring
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.
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.
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 and 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. It was a flasher unit inside that minnow bucket and it shaded the orange bars that flashed around the unit and protected it when stored in the barn.
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, but I only searched for deep water crappie along creek channels 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 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
Spring Crappie Fishing Video