Crappies typically lay their eggs in shallow protected areas, on harder bottoms where males can dig and defend a nest. Once water temperatures rise into the 70F range, however, the spawn is over, a faster process than for bass or bluegills.
Mitch Looper of Barling, Arkansas, is an astute multispecies angler who understands the seasonal movements of fish and how best to intercept and catch them. He’s particularly interested in working patterns that escape most anglers.
One of these involves the positioning of crappie in reservoirs, beginning when they first school offshore to feed on shad, and continuing well into fall. He’s been following this tack for 15 years, honing locational and presentation variables with each new season and different body of water.
Timing the Offshore Bite: “In flatland and hill-land reservoirs, I start seeing schools of crappie holding offshore in June, when water temperatures bump 80F,” Looper says. “The baitfish seem to relate to the edges of submerged creek channels. In these types of reservoirs, the edge of the drop may be 10 to 20 feet deep, with the channel dropping into 30 feet or more. The crappies tend to hold along channel bends, high spots in the creek bank, creek junctions, and other major structural features.
“In early summer, crappies typically hold from 6 to 15 feet down, with 12 the most common depth. I rely on sonar to locate them, since the precise depth may vary with time of year and resulting water temperature and thermocline conditions, as well as immediate weather considerations, particularly wind or bright sun, and time of day.
“As June gives way to July, you’ll start catching largemouths on the spots where crappie had been holding. As bass take over the prime structure locations, crappies shift to deeper flats, 10 to 25 feet deep, but still holding at the magic depth of 6 to 15 feet below the surface. Some days, the bass seem less aggressive and crappies may move back to the channel edges to join them. But when bass start feeding, the crappies move away. Interestingly enough, cloudy days seem to make the offshore bass less active and competitive, but crappie feed actively in those conditions.
“The offshore bite builds as summer progresses, and September offers the most dependable bite here in Arkansas. There’s a tendency for crappie to shift to the lower end of the reservoirs as you move into August, when water temperatures may push 90F. But they do not alter their preferred depth.
“In early September, when the first cooling fronts arrive, many large shad schools begin shifting uplake toward feeder creeks. The crappies follow. In this case, too, if bass are using the channel edges, crappies move to the flats. The baitfish and crappies are mobile at this time of year, and you’ll rarely catch them where they were a couple days ago. Search carefully with sonar before you start fishing. It’s not uncommon for the fish to move half a mile from one day to the next.
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