Arkansas Florida Minnesota Mississippi Pennsylvania Virginia Early Spring Crappie Tactics Matt Straw March 2nd, 2017 | More From Matt Straw Share0 Tweet Email Share on Facebook.Share on Twitter.Share on Google+If you planned on following the spring crappie bite from Florida to the far frontier in southern Canada this spring, sorry, you’re too late. I’m kidding. But I’m not. All will be explained as we track prespawn crappie movements from Florida to Canada, spotlighting unique and unusual tactics along the way. Tactics morph gradually for spring crappies. The process unfolds over decades. Today, spider-rigging seems to predominate from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the southern tier of states. It’s been the primary tactic for so many and for so long it’s hard to remember things being done differently. What will the next transformation be? Some of the best crappie fishermen we know have a few suggestions. Florida Roger Bullock, retired postal worker, hunter of big fish, and longtime correspondent to In-Fisherman, sees crappies spawning in December every year. I talked to him in late November. “It’s 79°F out right now,” he laughed. “When the water finally gets around to dropping and hits 70°F, usually in December, crappies begin spawning. They stop spawning in early January and don’t pick up again for six weeks or more. The biggest spawning push takes place between late February and early March. Up by Tallahassee they start later than down here at Vero Beach.” Florida crappies don’t need to move far to reach the shallows. Most habitats are no deeper than 15 feet. But classic prespawn aggression becomes noticeable in February, when the water starts to warm again. “We have some 17-inch crappies in the Stick Marsh,” Bullock says. “You want to be there when they turn on. Most people spider-rig with minnows. Night-fishing is common in spring. I use tubes or marabou jigs, but I put a safety-pin spinner ahead of them a lot and present the package with a float-and-fly rod. They really like jigs with a spinner in front during the Prespawn Period. They’re aggressive at that point. When they’re actually spawning you can move it even faster, as they get even more aggressive in the warming water. Most of our lakes are tannic-stained with maidencane on the edges. Some have flooded timber, and most are very shallow. They spawn in shallow brush.” Bullock uses a Northland Tackle Mimic Minnow Spin or a Strike King Minnow Spin to increase the range of attraction. “My Bass Pro Shops 9½-foot float-and-fly rod is long enough that I can put an angle on it and lift big crappies over the brush,” he says. “It’s great for crappies all year. I use 8-pound mono to negotiate weeds and brush. I use it for tubes, grubs, suspending baits, and cranks later in the year.” relatedCrappies, Barometric Pressure And Weather - North To SouthA gray world closed in around us in the narrow canal. Hills rose up steeply on both sides. The water was 1 to 2 feet deep... Mississippi The chief of police in Derma, Mississippi, moonlights as a crappie guide. “I’ve been guiding for 9 years,” says John Harrison of JH Guide Service. “I’ve fished Grenada for over 40 years. I guide 12 months for crappies on Sardis, Enid, Arkabutla, and Grenada lakes. “The earliest shallow movements in these lakes happen around the first of March,” Harrison reports. “The best prespawn fishing occurs mid-March, depending on weather. When the water hits the upper-50°F range, males flock to the banks. When it hits 63°F, the females begin to arrive. The timing is similar on all four lakes.” Harrison’s technique may not be new, but where he applies it is rather unique. “In March, I go as far up a creek channel as the boat can go, where the water is the warmest,” he says. “I typically start in about 3 feet. As the water warms, I may move into 1½ feet of water, jigging vertically. Even in 8 or 10 inches, I vertically jig. I look for stumps with branches and piles of trash on them. I call them drifts. A log floats down in high water and lodges on a stump. Once something hangs up there, it begins catching everything that drifts down. The biggest pile of debris is what we’re looking for.” Harrison doesn’t jig right under the boat, but reaches out with a 10-foot B&M BBUL (Bug’s Best Ultralight), with 8- or 10-pound test in that heavy cover, jigging with a Southern Pro or Mister Twister 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs. “A heavier jig sometimes shakes loose better than a 1/16-ounce one,” he notes. “I tip it with a Mister Twister 2-inch Sassy Shad or 2-inch Southern Pro tube and fish all the way around the drift. There’s usually a sweet spot and crappies hold around it; males pack in tight to small areas. “They back into the cover and quit biting during cold fronts, but it has to get really cold for a week to pull them out of a good drift. They spawn in those leaves, sticks, and limbs beginning in the mid-60°F range, usually in the last week of March to the first week in April.” Arkansas Mitch Looper, a PRADCO pro staffer and native of Arkansas, starts crappie fishing in spring with a 41⁄2-inch Smithwick Rogue. “The biggest fish eat it,” he says. “I never know what I’m fishing for until the first fish hits. When bass move in, crappies move out, and you have to move out with them to the creek channels. It’s a week-to-week thing. This little dance between bass and crappies extends from 40°F water in January to 65°F water in March. Sometimes bass push the shad right out of a cove, and the crappies leave. The timing of the crappie Spawn Period illustrates the region-by-region progression of the calendar periods. Region (latitude), water temperature, weather trends, length of daylight, and competition for habitat are just a few of the factors influencing the exact timing of the spawn. Not all crappies spawn at the same time even in the same body of water. While the bulk of the adult fish may spawn during a few days of ideal conditions, some spawn early and some late. Regionally, the onset of crappie spawning may begin in early March in the South and as late as June in southern Canada. “It happens 2 or 3 times every winter,” he adds. “Bass crash in like bulls in a China shop and eventually chase all the shad out. That’s why crappies are the ultimate predators, in my mind. They hang around the edges and don’t disperse the school. It might take 2 or 3 days for shad to regroup after bass crash into them in a cove. The bass spawn first, and crappies hold in the adjacent channel, moving back in as bass slip into a postspawn mode.” Looper likes Lake Hinkle these days, a 964-acre slab factory that also offers fine bass fishing. “Crappies first move up in January, setting up in depths of 5 or 6 feet,” Looper says. “They remain as long as the bait’s there. If the shad are in cover, crappies are in cover. If shad are in the open, crappies move there, too. February and March are good months.” A key location is a cove extending off a creek channel. “They go where the main river or creek channel runs close to a cove,” he says. “It’s even better if the creek channel makes a bend toward the cove. Water is generally 6 feet deep. They hold wherever the shad are in that cove, so you have to find them. “A Rogue on 8-pound mono always seems to attract the biggest crappies in the group, many over 2 pounds. I fish it with a snap-snap cadence followed by a long pause. Once I find fish, I begin downsizing—first to a Rebel Tracdown Minnow. At 2¼ inches, it weighs 1/8 ounce. I tie it on 4-pound mono and fish it with a medium-light 6½-foot rod with a size 40 Quantum spinning reel. That wide spool provides better casting distance. “I switch to a 4-inch Kalin’s Grub on a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce head,” he continues. “I swim it along at a slow, steady pace, just like I would for smallmouth bass. Then I drop to a 3-inch Yum Tube on a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce head. It seems the shad always relate to a corner or inside turn. It could be the corner of a weedbed, the edge of a channel, an inside turn on a brushline, or merely a bend in contours between 4 and 6 feet. “Shad and crappies find the warmest water in that cove, when there’s a temperature difference,” Looper adds. “I pay attention to the wind. The earliest spawning activity takes place as the water reaches 68°F, usually during a full or new moon. They move back in to spawn in those same coves.” Virginia-Pennsylvania Famous angler and outdoor writer Jim Gronaw lives on the Mason-Dixon line. “Mid-Atlantic prespawn crappie activity starts as early as mid-February and as late as the last week of March,” he says. “By the first of April, crappies are in prespawn phase from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. In Delaware, where winters are mild, February is good, with many fish shallow and spawning by the first week of April. Throughout the Mid-Atlantic, water temps in the upper-50°F to mid-60°F range mean consistent action.” relatedGiant Southern Crappies A slab crappie has different connotations in various parts of the country. Anglers in some regions classify ... Gronaw covers a lot of ground. In Virginia, he likes Kerr Reservoir and Lake Anna, where crappies move shallow around mid-March and stay through April. In Delaware, he fishes tidal flows on the Broadkill, Marshyhope, and Christiana rivers north of Richmond. “Maryland’s most overlooked crappie fishing takes place in the many tidal rivers and tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay system, including the Pocomoke River, on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore.” In Pennsylvania, Pinchot Lake in Pinchot State Park, near Lewisberry, is a favorite haunt. “Every year some 16- to 18-inch giants show up and the lake record stands at 4 pounds. It’s a good spot for trophy hunters.” Tactics are similar wherever he travels in this region. “Jig-minnow combos, taking advantage of the local species, are as effective as everywhere else in the country,” he says. “In Delaware, we use small tidal minnows, known as killifish or ‘bull minnows.’ Because active crappies are always shallow in these waters, we use my 1/32- to 1/16-ounce River Critter jigs under fixed floats. In other areas, we use slipfloats to fish brush that’s a little deeper, but a fixed float works best for active, shallow crappies.” Minnesota-Canada In central Minnesota, where I live, ice generally leaves the lakes between early and mid-April, sometimes not until May. You can find big fish on Leech and Red lakes, and on the backwaters of the Mississippi River. Crappies are already shallow, under the ice, before ice-out in many lakes, though spawning doesn’t take place until late May in most cases. A 5-hour drive north takes us to the crappie frontier. In the bays of Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, Ontario, ice-out occurs around the end of April most years, and spawning doesn’t take place until early to mid-June. Like Looper, I want to find fish fast. The areas we hunt are huge. The tactical key has nothing to do with rods, reels, lines, or lures. The key is on the console. Following temperature gradients leads you to the hottest prespawn bites fastest. Until water temperatures rise over 60°F, a 1°F temperature change can be pivotal. You need to watch the temp gauge and find the warmest water in northern bays or secluded basins that warm fastest. If the entire bay is 49°F, a spot the size of a dump truck that’s 51°F could hold seemingly every crappie in the area, likely the most dense concentration found all year. And, like Looper, I use hardbaits to find crappies quickly, then I swim grubs to work them over. Once they’ve decided to move into areas less than 8 feet deep, they’re aggressive enough to catch with lures most of the time. I scale back a bit, using G. Loomis’ new TSR 791, rated for 4-pound PowerPro braid that throws a little #4 Rapala X-Rap out of sight. I reel it down to depth then barely twitch it between long pauses. I make one more little snap, followed by another pause, then reel in while stepping on the trolling motor. Looking for aggressive northern crappies against rocky banks and old reed beds, the lure doesn’t need to stay in a spot for long. Every expert quoted here mentioned how unstable conditions or predators can drive crappies to deeper water. When walleyes and smallmouths chase them from the shallows, you find crappies, marking like Christmas trees on sonar, in 12 to 25 feet of water. We employ the same tactics we use to catch them under the ice. Using the 7-foot 9-inch Loomis outfit, I vertically jig a Northland Forage Minnow, PK Spoon, or Lindy Rattlin’ Flyer. Crappies stage on the closest inside turn of deeper water bending toward a shallow bay. If you missed that December bite in Florida, or the January bite in Arkansas, no worries. The prespawn crappie train is rolling through town almost everywhere on the continent right now. *Matt Straw is an In-Fisherman field editor and dedicated year-round panfish angler. GALLERY: 10 Top Crappie Adventures 1 of 10 <h2>1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario</h2>The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett, <a href="http://www.davebennettoutdoors.com"target="_blank">davebennettoutdoors.com</a>, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, <a href="http://www.brucescanadianangling.com"target="_blank">brucescanadianangling.com</a>, 807/466-7134. <h2>1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario</h2>The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett, <a href="http://www.davebennettoutdoors.com"target="_blank">davebennettoutdoors.com</a>, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, <a href="http://www.brucescanadianangling.com"target="_blank">brucescanadianangling.com</a>, 807/466-7134. <h2>2 Lake Erie, Ohio</h2>The best opportunities are between Port Clinton and Vermilion, says Ohio fishery biologist Travis Hartman. Many marinas and backwaters have excellent crappie fishing in the spring, peaking in late April to early May, and occasionally in the fall. Good open-water spots are East and West harbors and Sandusky Bay. Check connected rivers, too. Lots of fish to 12 inches, with 14-inchers not uncommon, Hartman says. Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters says Lake Erie is a surprisingly overlooked crappie fishery, considering the numbers of fish caught, up to 18 inches, as big as any in the state. Contact: Erie Outfitters, 440/949-8934; Ohio DNR, <a href="http://www.dnr.state.oh.us"target="_blank">dnr.state.oh.us</a>. <h2>3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma</h2>This shallow reservoir boasts numbers of crappies in the 2- to 3-pound range, with 37-fish limits common. In spring, the action is shallow, doodlesocking flooded buckbrush in high water, or working rocky banks and brush cover in low water, says guide Todd Huckabee. Crappies move to deeper brush later in spring. Contact: Guide Todd Huckabee, <a href="http://www.toddhuckabee.net"target="_blank">toddhuckabee.net</a>; Guide Barry Morrow, <a href="http://www.barrymro.com"target="_blank">barrymro.com</a>; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528. <h2>4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee</h2>Guide Billy Blakley says the crappie forecast for the “Earthquake Lake” is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11⁄4 pounds and catches up to 23⁄4 pounds. The lake contains both black and white crappies. From March through May, spider-rig and jig around underwater wood, and jig around exposed cypress stumps. The bite picks up again in the fall. Top-notch lodging and food at Blue Bank Resort. Contact: Guide Billy Blakley at Blue Bank Resort 877/258-3226, <a href="http://www.bluebankresort.com"target="_blank">bluebankresort.com</a>. <h2>5 Lake Fork, Texas</h2>Numbers of slabs from 11⁄4 to 21⁄2 pounds tend to get overlooked in this lake famous for lunker bass. Mid-May through June is guide Terri Moon’s favorite time for crappies, when the fish head to brushpiles and bridge abutments in 20 to 24 feet of water. Pitching Fork Tackle’s Live Baby Shads on 1/16-ounce jigs is a top option. Ivan Martin and Rick Loomis also guide clients to Fork’s crappies in November and December, when fish are on points and in deeper brush. Contact: Guide Terri Moon, 903/383-7773; Guide Ivan Martin, 918/260-7743; Guide Rick Loomis, <a href="http://www.rickloomis.com"target="_blank">rickloomis.com</a>; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle, <a href="http://www.lakeforkmarina.com"target="_blank">lakeforkmarina.com</a>. <h2>6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi</h2>Like the Bordeaux region grows world-class wine grapes, the Arc of Slabs is famous for producing giant crappies. Grenada, Sardis, Enid, and Arkabutla—it’s a tossup which of these reservoirs might be best for giant white crappies during March and April. Jigging in brush and spider-rigging are the best bets. Wading, too, at times. Contact: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999. <h2>7 Weiss Lake, Alabama</h2>The crappie outlook is very good for 2013, reports Alabama district fisheries supervisor Dan Catchings. Samples indicate one, and possibly two, strong year-classes of crappies in 2010 and 2011. Expect good numbers of harvestable-size fish from the 2010 spawn this spring, with the 2011 year-class contributing to the fishing in mid- to late 2013. Fishing picks up in February as crappies move shallow. March through early May is best, with April being the peak. Contact: Guide Richard Green, 859/983-0673, or book through Little River Marina and Lodge (256/779-6461); Guide Mark Collins, <a href="http://www.markcollinsguideservice.com"target="_blank">markcollinsguideservice.com</a>, 256/779-3387. <h2>8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee </h2>Anglers look forward to the “Crappie Capital” living up to its name in 2013, says guide Steve McCadams. Expect numbers of quality fish with a shot at slabs over 2 pounds. While action during the spawn in late March into April is outstanding, don’t overlook May and June, when stable lake levels and weather patterns find crappies concentrating around fish attractors at midrange depths, he says. Contact: Guide Steve McCadams, <a href="http://www.stevemccadams.com"target="_blank">stevemccadams.com</a>. <h2>9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina</h2>Numbers of crappies from 1 to 13⁄4 pounds with a chance for 2- to 3-pounders. Once the spider-rigging bite wanes in shallower creek channels by April, action turns to jigging deeper brushpiles. Contact: Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381. <h2>10 St. Johns River, Florida</h2>The stretch of the St. Johns River south of Lake George offers outstanding fishing. Crappies from 2 to 3 pounds are caught regularly, with average catches well over a pound. This was the scene of an In-Fisherman television episode that airs this spring. Weedflats hold fish that can’t resist tubes fished under a float. Or troll channel edges using jigs or minnows. Contact: Lodging at Castaways on the River, 352/759-4522, <a href="http://www.castawaysontheriver.com"target="_blank">castawaysontheriver.com</a>; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861, <a href="http://www.cflfishing.com"target="_blank">cflfishing.com</a>. relatedTHE PERFECT CRAPPIE BOATCompetitive fishing has honed todays specialized bass and walleye boats. Lately, the growing popularity of crappie tourn... relatedWhere Crappies RoamCrappies migrate between winter, spring, and summer habitats. Seasonal locational shifts are common information to most... relatedOpen Water CrappiesCrappies typically lay their eggs in shallow protected areas, on harder bottoms where males can dig and defend a nest... relatedThe Clear Connection for Panfish LuresEver wondered how fish truly perceive fluorocarbon, a line advocated for its invisible qualities? Share on Facebook.Share on Twitter.Share on Google+ Share0 Tweet Email Load Comments ( ) Don’t forget to sign up! Get the Top Stories from In-Fisherman Delivered to Your Inbox Every Week Even More Panfish Show More Get the In-Fisherman Newsletter FREE! Get the top stories delivered right to your inbox every week. Best Fishing Times: Solunar CalendarRead Now! Advertisement LIKE WHAT YOU'RE READING? Get 8 issues for the low price of just $8! Subscribe!