Waiting for warmer air temps will offer you plenty of action in the shallows, but you might be surprised just how good the fishing can be both before and after the peak of the spawn. Learning the migration routes that crappie use each season will help you catch more crappie all year long.
WHEN CRAPPIE MIGRATE
Early spring is the time when crappie begin their migration into shallow water to spawn and it is a great time to catch some really nice crappie if you know where to look. Crappie instinctively know when the time to spawn is nearing and will begin to migrate slowly from deep winter haunts to shallow water spawning flats. Many anglers focus on water temperature as the trigger that starts the spawn, but science tells us that an even more important factor is the “photoperiod” or length of daylight. This photoperiod dictates the spawn and has been proven scientifically by a study done on Missouri's Table Rock Lake by fisheries biologist Dr. Fred Vasey.
My initial approach to early spring crappie fishing is to check shallow cover for spawning crappie. I will do this even when I’m sure they’re not there. I guess it’s just 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 spring weather can be unpredictable for shallow water crappie anglers, but deep water crappie anglers 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 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.
MALES MOVE SHALLOW
The males are the first to move into shallow cover to build the beds that attract the females. 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 there is also a lead and a lag when the fishing is a little slower, but you 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 smaller 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 and learning the migration routes of the crappie on the waters you fish, can prove vital for successful crappie angling all season long. The initial indication that the spawn is near is a wave of males moving into cover in shallow water. 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 in the 7 to 15 foot range. 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 the proper depth.
SPIDER RIG FOR MIGRATING SLABS
Once you have determined that the female crappie are not yet up shallow a great technique for locating those migrating slabs out deep is by spider rigging. The spider rig is several rods spread out in front of your boat by using several rod holders allowing you to search many different depths with many different colors and baits. You use your trolling motor to slowly ease out from the shallows adjusting the depth you're fishing as you go into deeper water, keeping your baits at the depths, you are seeing fish on your locator. Once you get a bite just note the depth 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.
Oftentimes there is a certain depth that hold more active crappie so marking them on your fish finder is just a starting point in locating the preferred depth in which they are 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 you’re marking fish and you can narrow down where the more active crappie are holding.
FISHING FROM SHORE
Searching for those larger females in deeper water isn’t just for those with a boat. If you are a shore angler the slip bobber is a great way to probe the deeper water. I could write an entire article on slip bobber types and techniques, but for this application just rig up your favorite slip bobber and begin to search the different depths until you locate that magical depth that are holding those bigger females. By using a couple of rods you can incrementally adjust the depths of each one to search and while jigs will work for this slip bobber technique most anglers prefer minnows when fishing from shore.
It helps to study a lake map to find deep water near spawning areas and it is 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. A great way to locate these channel swings is with the Scoutlook Fishing App. This app not only gives you contours of the lake, but also allows you to input any information gathered on you trip. These detailed logs are vital the following year to eliminate non-productive areas and fish those areas that produced. After a while you will log several areas that produce migrating crappie all season long.