Before we get started, this is not a one size fits all crappie fishing guide. Your water in Florida may only be five feet deep. Your crappie in Minnesota may not know what standing timber looks like. We all live in our own little world, welcome to mine.
The calendar is slipping into middle May now and in Texas, that typically means the crappie spawn is nearly or completely over. If you will pay attention to the annual patterns that fish and wildlife follow, you can get closer to them and on occasion enjoy them on the table. This is true for all of God’s critters, but I’m zoned in on the crappie right now-zoned in for several reasons, not the least of which is dinner.
In the annual crappie chasing cycle, there are blocks of time. Predictable blocks when you know pretty much where the majority of the fish are located, and they are in that area in big numbers. There are also unpredictable blocks of time when the fish are scattered and can be tougher to find and capture. Predictable blocks of time are spring and summer. In springtime when the water temp hits 62 degrees or so, here the crappie come! They are headed for the shallows to make an investment in your grandchildren’s fishing future. The waves of crappie coming in and hanging out in shallow (10 feet or less) water can last for a month to six weeks or so. (notice all of the “or so’s…all of this can shift some from year to year) Typically, the very shallow water will hold male fish tail-fanning nests or protecting fry. Yes, the big females can be found there as well, but they move in to spawn then back out to slightly deeper cover, back in to spawn more eggs, out again deeper, five to ten foot water.
The spring spawn is a great time to impress the family with a big string of crappie and maybe even make the cover of “Wow! What a Fisherman” magazine. I fish a particular cove that features great shallow shoreline spawning cover.-reeds, brush etc. Within thirty yards of that shoreline is standing timber-two or three acres of timber. Drifting a jig or minnow just a few inches deep under a bobber in the shallows can catch a lot of fish! It’s the perfect time of year for the shore angler. Bigger fish are out there a little further, though, in those trees. Ease through the trees with a nine foot or longer pole to keep your distance and work a small jig from top to bottom and all around each tree stump. Recently, I caught all of my fish nine feet deep in ten foot water. The very next morning they were two to three feet deep in the same water. Typically, you will find a single fish on a tree, sometimes more and rarely a bunch…but it does happen.
Another predictable time is hot, hot, hot summer. A good fish finder on your boat and the knowledge to read and use it come in real handy! Side note…I know a fella that has spent many thousands of dollars on fish finders, always coveting the latest and greatest, but has never taken the time to learn how to properly use any of them. If you look at the simplest sonar units and don’t know what you’re looking at, throwing money at it will not increase your knowledge. It doesn’t take two or three thousand dollars to see fish on structure. There are great units for just a few hundred bucks out there these day: side and down imaging, sonar and gps technology for small money (small money for fish finder world anyway).
Okay, back to the fish. If you will spend your time doing homework with your fish finder, it will pay dividends in fillets! When the sun is high in the summertime, we like shade and air conditioning. Fish do too-boat docks, deep brush, timber, channel drops etc. The docks are obvious, the fish finder points out the other spots. In the midst of a Texas summer, I will usually find my crappie in eighteen to twenty five feet of water holding tightly to a brush pile or on standing timber. This time of year if you catch one crappie, drop your jig right back in the same exact spot and at the same exact depth and you're likely to catch another one, and another one and another one. When the bite slows on your jig, try a color change…sometimes that will fire em up again, or at least trick a few more. If you are concentrating on submerged brush, fish it completely. Even though the brush pile may be ten yards long, the crappie will hold in one or two small areas of the pile. If you are fishing standing timber, the shady side is key, so are limbs that produce shade. A big ol' narly limb or even better, a collection of limbs 20 feet deep in hot summer is a great find. It will also steal a lot of your jig heads. Take plenty of tackle.
In the fall, as the water temps cool and change, so does crappie activity...find and follow the baitfish because the crappie are. This is the time of year that I pull out the trolling rigs. I switch from jigs to live minnows and rig them on a weighted double minnow rig. Get up in the creeks and look for the baitfish. Set your rigs to troll at a depth towards the bottom third of where you are seeing bait. In other words, if the bait balls are averaging 5 to 8 feet deep in 12 feet of water, I will troll my minnows at 7 to 8 feet deep. Crappie feed upwards and will feed from under the ball of bait. I will either drift or use the trolling motor to slow troll my rigs. This is my least favorite way to crappie fish. My rods are in holders mounted to the boat, so I miss feeling the “thump”. You can still find large concentrations of fish but they are mobile, not “set up” on timber or brush like they were in spring and summer. You can be catching them pretty good one minute, and have absolutely no idea where they’ve gone the next. Like I said, fall is not my favorite time of year to crappie fish, but here is the good news. They taste the same!
There is a transition from spring to summer and summer to fall. These are the more unpredictable times to find and catch crappie. Big concentrations break up and individuals start making their way along the crappie trail. They are tougher to locate or catch great numbers at this time. Think about this. If you have a 20 mile commute to work, I have a good idea where you are between 8am and 5pm. I also have a pretty safe bet about your location between 6pm and 7am. However, it would be really tough to pinpoint your location from 7-8am and 5-6pm. But wait a minute…if I can do my research and find out where you like to stop for coffee, I can set up on a spot like that and intercept you during travel time. Same with crappie. They don’t leave point A with point B in mind and swim non-stop. They have waypoints along the trail that are good for resting, feeding, hanging out with other crappie and sharing the latest crappie news. These routes and stopping points remain the same year after year and generation after generation. That is unless flooding, drought or other related occurrences change that habitat. A mess of crappie may take a little longer and a little more “work” in these unpredictable windows, but it’s doable.
Winter-go deer hunting. It’s probably killed many a strong angler...trying to find crappie in the wintertime. It’s a little known fact that crappie dissolve in cold water. Crappie dust settles to the bottom of the lake and lies dormant until the first buds on the dogwoods bloom. Magically, God then calls the crappie dust to take shape and swim again. You ice fishermen are great people, but similar to duck hunters...a bit off-kilter. I’ve spent time with you. I’ve seen how you go about your crappie obsession. Dragging an auger where only weeks ago a very fast motor zipped you around in the comfort of your boat, beverage in hand. Now, you are drilling and drilling and drilling and moving and drilling and hoping and moving and drilling and hoping some more that there is a crappie under the next hole in the ice. Here’s a tip. Freeze a few in the summer and eat them in the winter. My version of ice fishing involves reaching into the garage freezer.
I hope this little outline helps you out season to season and that you become proficient at posing up for the magazine covers, websites and tv shows.
May 14, 2020