Springtime Crappie Fishing: The Essential Baits & Locations
Spring is here. You can feel it in the air. Water temperatures are rising, and fish and anglers alike have one thing on their mind: the spawn.
Depending on where you live, game fish opportunities are likely limited to a few areas or completely closed altogether. However, panfish opportunities are among the best they’ll be all year long. Springtime panfish — crappies in particular — are no secret. However, there are some factors that can really influence your success. Water temperature and daily weather conditions are among the leading influencers on fish location and temperament.
At ice out, crappies can be found in areas similar to those in the winter and fall. Depending on the lake, it’s usually a sure option to start your search in the areas where you had success at late ice. Deep basins and thick vegetation are all fair game. Spend a little time checking these areas with electronics, but if you’re not marking fish it may be necessary to move shallower.
As the season progresses, fish will continue on their pilgrimage to skinnier water. When the water temperatures are consistently less than 50 degrees, it is important to focus on transition areas which will likely hold the majority of fish. Mid-range depths between wintering locations and the shallows are often a safe bet (10-20 feet of water). Look for something specific to help congregate fish — rock piles, sharp breaks, points, cribs. I’ve personally found that this period provides some great opportunities to target giant schools of crappies staging on cribs and submerged wood in particular.
Water temperatures in the mid-50s will show signs of life as crappies make their moves. It is important to understand how a given lake warms and that specific areas of lakes tend to warm faster than others. Shallow dark bottom bays tend to soak up the most sunlight. Additionally, the northernmost portions of the lake will typically see the most direct sunlight and as a result have the warmest water. Areas adjacent to spawning grounds — less than 10 feet of water — can hold large schools of fish before they spend some time in the shallows.
When seeking out spawning grounds, it is crucial to study water temperature and structure. Do your homework — use lake maps to identify high probability areas where fish are likely to reside. Crappies tend to seek out warmest water and will generally look for some sort of protection (structure). While on the water, rely on electronics to identify the areas with the warmest water. Side imaging technology is an astounding tool for locating mass schools of crappies working their way to shallows. Crappies will typically begin to spawn when water temperatures reach 55 to 65 degrees.
The spring season is known for varying degrees of weather patterns. It may be 65 degrees and sunny one day, and 35 degrees and rainy the next. These drastic changes in weather can cause some shifting in fish patterns. Warm, sunny days will typically drive crappies to shallower water, meanwhile, cooler days will tend to have the opposite effect. Sometimes all it takes to find fish is the right wind or warming trend.
When it comes to springtime crappies, lure options are plentiful. Tubes, paddle tails, jigging baits, and crankbaits all have their place in spring crappie fishing. Depending on the stage of the season, certain lures will outperform others
During the ice out period of the spring, crappies can often be found in the deeper portions of a water body. With water temperatures are at their coldest, fish have the potential to be lethargic in nature. Jigging presentations typically rule the roost during this early season timeframe. Due to it’s design, the Fat Assassin is an ideal choice for cold water crappies. The soft body and deep ribs create a unique finesse action that will convince even the wariest of crappies into biting. The Fat Assassin pairs well will the Soft Lock Tungsten Jig, particularly those with a size 4 hook.
As water temperatures warm, crappies will make a push towards shallower water. During the pre-spawn timeframe, search baits will most commonly outproduce more stationary or slow moving presentations. Arguably the best pre-spawn presentation for crappies is the suspending jerkbait, particularly the Z-Spender. At two inches in length, the Z-Spender is an ideal choice for crappies of all sizes, but it has great drawing power for larger fish. The lure is perfect for covering large shallow flats and it’s ability to perfectly suspend allows angler to pause on the retrieve. Another great search bait for pre-spawn crappies is the Z-Cranker. This 1.5 inch crankbait is the perfect option for fish of any size. With the ability to dive five feet, the Z-Cranker has the ability to cover a wide range of water depths.
As crappies move to the shallowest waters, float fishing methods are arguably the best choice. With fish preparing to spawn or locked on beds, they’re often less willing to chase down baits like they were just a few weeks prior. Floats, or bobbers, allow anglers to present light lures very effectively and help keep baits suspended in the water column. On the business end of the float set up, soft plastics like the Eurotube are an ideal choice. This solid body tube pairs perfectly with a Size 6 Soft Lock. It’s ‘legs’ can be moved with the slightest pop making it extremely intriguing to crappies that are less interested in chasing down a lure.
Throughout the entire spring timeframe, there’s one bait that should have a place in every fishermen’s tackle box – the B-Vibe. At 2 inches, the B-Vibe is the right size for crappie both small and large. The body design and small paddle allow it to be used in all scenarios and it can be fished at variable speeds. Need a slow presentation? The B-Vibe will work. Need a fast presentation? The B-Vibe will also work. The lure was designed to pair with the Size 4 Soft Lock in varying weights. A general rule of thumb – the shallower the water, the lighter the jig.
Throughout the spring period, anglers can expect to find that certain presentations excel during different stages. Springtime crappies can offer opportunities for anglers of all skill levels. With large congregations of fish in shallow water, it’s likely that you may have some pretty impressive days as far as overall numbers and quality of fish goes
If you have interest in preserving these resources for future generations, it is important to develop a conservation mindset. Consider releasing all larger fish. Depending on the body of water, fish of that caliber are a valuable resource and are becoming increasingly less available. Also, put some thought into how many fish you plan on keeping. There’s no reason to keep a limit every time you’re out — it only takes a handful of 9 to 11 inch crappies to feed a family of four.