Get hooked on crappies this spring

There is no doubt that the species of fish that can send the most anglers to the banks during the spring outbreak of fishing fever is the crappies.

Everyone loves to sit on the shoreline on a warm afternoon and experience a good bite of crappie. What can an angler do to maximize the number of spring days catching crappies?

Crappies love warm areas; they also love bays, coves, nooks and similar areas that are sheltered from wind, especially cold north and north-west winds. Seek shelter in those areas that get hot (emergent vegetation, stems from last summer’s submerged vegetation, brush piles, downed trees, or beaver dens) and you’re likely to find some spring crappies. Rocks and rocky habitats also support fish, but, in many Nebraska reservoirs, these support more crappie later in the spring, after the water has warmed further.

Where did they go?

Fish for crappie on a beautiful spring afternoon and everything can be great. Come back the next day when the wind blows and you’ll be lucky to dry out a Crappie. In some cases, those crappies may be in the same spot, just tucked deeper into the deck, but it’s more likely they were headed for deeper water.

Depending on where they started, how shallow they were, and the severity of the climate change, the crappie may not have moved very far. Or they may have moved hundreds of meters back to the relative stability of deeper water.

If those crappies came out of the shallows with the change in weather, they probably won’t be as active or easy to catch. Upright presentations will probably be the best way to catch some fish.

As spring progresses, the water warms and the weather stabilizes, wild changes in crappie location and feeding attitude will subside. Pick your days and fish when the crappies are most likely to be shallow and catchable or go through the motions and fish even when the weather changes.

keep it simple

Presentations for spring crappies should be relatively simple.

Crappies will chase their prey and can be quite aggressive at times. Most of the time, however, they are much more relaxed. Although their intent is as deadly as a flathead or muskellunge catfish, their feeding strategy is entirely different. Remember that and you will catch more crappies at all times of the year.

Slow and steady, nothing fancy, nothing too aggressive is usually best for crappies, especially in cold early spring water. Put a bait in your neighborhood, keep it there, and give them a chance to move in and eat it.

Where allowed, nothing is simpler than a bobber, split shot, a light wire hook, and a lively minnow. Touch that in front of a Crappie at any time and they’ll eat; that’s the predator/prey dynamic at its simplest and crudest.

I like light wire hooks because they keep minnows alive. Even with an 8 pound test line, you can usually straighten the hook when it hooks on woody cover that you’re likely to fish. Hooks minnows from behind, just below the dorsal fin.

Use floats only large enough to suspend the bait. Bobbers that are too large inhibit bite detection and result in fewer fish being caught.

Crappie templates are a popular option. A selection of jig heads from 1/64 to 1/8 ounce and a variety of plastic bodies will give you the tools you need and an endless variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Other options include tube bodies, imitation minnows, marabou hooks, and wax worms.

Jigs are meant to be cast and retrieved, but remember that slow and steady is usually best for crappies, especially in the spring. Bobbers are not just for live bait fishing. Put a cork on your line at the depth you want to fish and you will be able to fish a jig more slowly.

the spawn

The spring crappie bite can be good weeks before the fish are planning to nest and spawn. That means when the fish are shallow, they can be in some of the same areas for a couple of months. As they get closer to spawning, the crappies, especially the males, will become darker in color. Expect the bite to lessen as the fish get closer to spawning. Males select small territories, then build and defend their nests, which are often next to shallow water cover objects.

When spawning behavior begins, males stay close to their nests and will not go far to catch baits. Fish slowly and bait right at the crappies so they bite during spawning. Females may act nearby until ready to move to a nest and lay eggs; they also tend to have something else on their mind to feed on during spawning.

Once spawning is over, the crappies tend to disperse and head for more open water. Depending on the water body, available habitat, and prey, they may venture onto emergent beds of aquatic vegetation, wander mid-lake, or use some other type of deeper-water habitat.

Some crappies will remain in shallow cover year-round, but most crappies become more difficult to catch as they disperse and roam open water feeding on abundant prey during the summer.

You can still fish for crappie during the summer, but fishing is generally not as easy as it was during those warm spring days when everyone wants to fish for crappie.

Daryl Bauer is the manager of the Nebraska Game and Park Commission’s fisheries extension program.