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'.
Natural lake anglers often rely on three shallow spring 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.
6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi
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.
2 Lake Erie, Ohio
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, dnr.state.oh.us
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
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, bluebankresort.com
7 Weiss Lake, Alabama
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, markcollinsguideservice.com
8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee
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, stevemccadams.com
9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina
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.
3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma
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, toddhuckabee.net
; Guide Barry Morrow, barrymro.com
; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528.
5 Lake Fork, Texas
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, rickloomis.com
; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle, lakeforkmarina.com
1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario
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, davebennettoutdoors.com
, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, brucescanadianangling.com
10 St. Johns River, Florida
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, castawaysontheriver.com
; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861, cflfishing.com