By Mark Fike
Spring is just around the corner and for our southernmost region of the country, the crappie bite is likely already taking off. While most crappie start spawning in late February or early March down South, the spawn ripples later as it moves north.
The prespawn is an excellent time to get on the fish though as they are staging to do their business this month in many states south of the Mason Dixon.
When fishing for crappie that are prespawn, anglers will do very well to have a fish finder, or at the very least, a very good knowledge of where the ledges and structure are in a pond or lake. Prespawn fish are often found right where the deeper water meets the shallow water. They are waiting for the temperature to spur them to procreate.
Various professionals state that crappie will most likely spawn when water temperatures near 60 degrees and the peak of the spawn will occur in the mid 60s. However, the prespawn is said to occur at 48-60 degrees.
So, when the water starts to warm up, start looking in water 10 feet or less. Knowing where the fish typically spawn helps. Shallow bays, inlets and coves with emerging vegetation or brush piles are good places to look.
Using your fish finder to locate schools of fish will be very helpful though. The key is to use an electric motor and drift into shallow areas to avoid spooking the whole school. Once you find them, you may want to ease off after marking the spot and scout another spot and then return. This allows them to settle back down after you scattered them with your motor.
When the prespawn is occurring, the male fish are often making nests and are very territorial. Catching these males is much easier than the females and keeping some of the males is not as tough on the population as keeping an egg-laden female either.
So, once you locate a good school of crappie, use an ultralight rod/reel and toss tiny crappie jigs into the area. Move the jigs slow or reel them straight in at a crawl. Stop and go retrieving if done slowly will work well too.
I fished with Chris Craft, who guided me on Virginia’a Lake Anna, a few years ago. He taught me a lot about the crappie spawn and bite there. I was amazed how the fish did not seem to care if you used a fancy little jig or a plain lead head jig. Craft did have a favorite color grub he used. It was John Deere Green. A curly tail or fluttering skirted jig will likely get more attention than a straight grub.
However, that said, I think anglers should change up colors and jig heads until they find what works the best. The one thing I learned was to target the banks and work the bait back out to the boat. Position the boat parallel to the bank and keep quiet as you drift down the bank using the trolling motor only when necessary.
The bites that you will get will sometimes be so subtle. The fish may just latch on and hold and feel heavy or you may only get a slight twitch. A sensitive graphite rod is great for this type of fishing. Pay close attention to your line as you fish.
When you find one fish, there are more. However, you may have to cast left and right of where you caught the fish first. Pay attention and look for a pattern to your success. Pay close attention to the depth you are catching fish. But, don’t expect the fish to be at that depth the next day. They may be but they may move deeper if it cools off or they may go shallower if it heats up. Cloudy days and sunny days can really impact where the fish are too.
Look for a primer on catching spawning fish later this month.