Back bays and shallow coves with sheltered cover typically provide the best prespawn/spawn crappie areas. Oxbow lakes or flooded river backwaters are classic examples. Crappies will hold along the edges of deep weeds or timber prior to spawning, and then move into the shallows to feed or seek nesting sites.
Large reservoirs and natural lakes usually have main lake crappie spawning, too. All of the fish don’t head for the bays or coves. Shallow, brushy humps in reservoirs, or main lake reed beds in natural lakes, often host a portion of the spawn — particularly for the big fish. Since the water in the main lake typically warms more slowly than in back bays or coves, the best activity there typically occurs a week or two after the shallows start poppin’.
In spring, natural lake anglers often rely on three shallow crappie locational patterns: canals (AREA A), bays (AREA B), and main lake reed beds (AREA C).
Canals warm quickly, and crappies may begin to use them shortly after ice out. The best canals are wind protected, have some water color, only one inlet as opposed to flow through canals with two or more, and secondary arms. Good canals also offer cover, often in the form of boat hoists or docks.
A week or so after crappies begin to use canals, they may enter shallow bays. The best bays warm quickly and offer cover. A good bay usually also has a deeper hole in it. Holes offer refuge to shallow crappies when cold front conditions strike.
Eventually, crappies begin to frequent main lake reed beds. The best reedbeds are usually the largest beds offering the most cover. Reedbed activity usually begins 2 to 3 weeks after canal activity, and a week or so after activity in bays. Use your electric motor to quietly slide through reedbeds to search for crappies.
A fourth, largely ignored pattern occurs in AREAS D-1 and D-2. Deep, 3 to 5 foot reed beds often host a portion of the crappie spawn — particularly for big fish. These are the last spawning areas to warm up and see the last spawning activity. They’re often tough to fish due to their exposure to the wind, however.
Here’s a typical, shallow spawning cove in a reservoir. The spring crappie areas may look different from those in a natural lake, but the principles are the same. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll notice many similarities in how crappies adapt to available habitat.
AREA A is a shallow, protected, brushy cut, off the back end of the cove. It’s probably the first area to warm and attract spring crappies.
AREA B is the brushy end of the cove itself. The brush lined shorelines are the next areas to attract shallow fish.
AREAS C-1 and C-2 are similar to B, but are more main lake oriented. They’ll attract fish, but usually later than A or B due to the deeper, cooler, slower warming water at the mouth of the cove.
AREA D is a shallow, brushy hump along the main river channel. It’s a big fish spot. It’s also the last spawning area to warm and will see the last flush of spawning fish.
During cold fronts, crappies may pull off the flats, shorelines, and humps and head toward deeper water. Deep trees along the channel edge, the bottoms of the outside channel bends, and deep water adjacent to the hump (D) could all draw fish during frontal conditions. The more severe the front, the farther toward the main lake fish will retreat.
Rivers aren’t all current areas. There are backwaters, bays, cuts, and so forth, where crappies can get out of the current and spawn in slackwater. Small, brushy backwaters or connected lakes like AREA A often see the first spring crappie use. Large areas like the oxbow lake shown here warm up more slowly. (The old river channel runs through the oxbow. When the river shifted course, the oxbow became a slackwater area connected to the river.)
AREAS B-1 and B-2 are brush filled cuts or small bays in the back end of the oxbow. Great spots! C-1 is a brush point on an island. It’s deeper, more exposed to the wind, and will attract crappies a bit later than AREA B. AREA C-2 is similar to C-1, except that it’s more exposed to the river current. It’s a late spawning spot, but is a good choice if backwaters are absent or they lack suitable bottom content and/or cover. AREA D, meanwhile, is a shallow, brushy hump near the old river channel. It’s also more exposed to the elements, and is a “late” spot.
During cold front conditions, crappies will pull out of the shallow cover and gather in deep timber, or lie in the bottom of the old river channel, Some fish may even school up at the intersection of the oxbow and the river if an eddy (calm-water area) forms at C-2.