There are two things that absolutely get my heart pumping more than anything else in the outdoors, the whitetail rut and the crappie spawn. The Lord clearly knew that most stand-up, logical outdoorsmen would prefer crappie and deer over all other fish and game, so he put these two glorious seasons at opposite times of the year, so that we mighty outdoorsmen might also be able to enjoy a happy marriage! Now is the time my friends, the moon is full, we’ve had plenty of warm days, and stringers of male crappie are already starting to appear on my Facebook feed. Here are some tips and tactics that will help you be more successful during the spawn.
The crappie spawn attracts more anglers to the water than any other time of year. The opportunity to locate large numbers of aggressive crappie in close quarters, along with the hand-to-hand combat that ensues between shallow fish and ultra-light tackle, is just too much to pass up.
Most successful spawn fishing is spent plucking males from their nest. Male crappie fan the nests and essentially make the bed while the females stage out from the nest. Depending on the lake and progression of the spawn, females may be farther out and much deeper than the males, or within 6 feet and at the same depth, but both sexes will be feeding aggressively up to the last stages of the female moving in and dropping her eggs. Females are then in and out rather briefly, and once they’ve dropped all of their eggs are very difficult to pinpoint and catch.
Male crappie are emphatic guards of their up and coming fry, which is why the spawn bite is the best “thump” most anglers feel all year. However it’s important to remember that the males are not actively feeding after the females have left, they are merely trying to run off any predator of the tender eggs. While the initial bite is ferocious, male crappie are only trying to kill or wound baitfish that pose a threat, and will “chomp” once or twice and then spit the bait. They are genetically geared to feed heavily prior to the spawn to prepare for the fasting that accompanies it. A quick hook-set is key, otherwise your bait will be outside of the crappie’s mouth in a matter of seconds.
Crappie move shallow to spawn and do so on firm bottoms, which can range from rocks to logs, but is usually performed on the lake floor surrounded by cover, which is primarily for protection against predators and mother nature’s wrath. Any shallow cover over a hard bottom is an excellent place to look for spawning crappie.
Crappie are creatures of habit, and will return to spawn in the same areas that yielded success in the past given similar water levels. Keeping track of previous spawns can prove very effective in targeting the next year’s crappie. It’s also important to note that an unsuccessful spawn will often result in a change of habitat during the next year’s spawn. Water levels dropping quickly during the spawn can wreak havoc on eggs, and crappie will in turn find safer areas to make beds for the next year.
When dealing with heavy cover such as brush, standing timber, and thick vegetation, vertical jigging is the best method to effectively fish an area. A long, light jig pole allows anglers to reach into, above, or around cover and drop a bait right in the crappie’s home. Active males rarely require much action from a bait, and even color can be a non-issue as long as the crappie can see the bait. A moderately slow fall and bit of up and down jigging will usually do the trick if the fish are there.
Lakes with gravel or riprap banks will often hold spawning fish extremely shallow and without much cover. Casting a jig to the bank and dragging it back, staying just off or bouncing the bottom will trigger strikes from these fish. Utilizing a float above the jig will allow you to maintain exact control of lure depth, but an eagle-eye and lightning fast reflexes, along with a stiff 6 or 7-foot rod is necessary to make quick, strong hook-sets on fish that have no intention of eating the bait.
Regardless of your preferred method or tactic, now is the time to get out and fish the crappie spawn!