Crappie are known for being always on the move, with their springtime migrations sometimes being described as frantic. As crappie anglers follow these particular fish through their spawning cycle, they may become frustrated with erratic spring temperatures and the resulting shifting migration. Although a successful catch depends heavily on being in the right place at the right time, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you’ve got a better chance.
The Best Water Temperature to Go Crappie Fishing
You want to catch crappie when they’re on the move. That’s why spring is the perfect time to go crappie fishing. When the water is between 37 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the crappie enter their pre-spawn mode, which is sometimes almost a feeding frenzy. This causes them to flock to more shallow water. Consecutive days of warmer weather will bring them up to the bays and channels, where they will generally stay. A good rule of thumb is that the warmer the weather in spring, the closer to shore the crappie will be.
Conversely, in the winter months, crappie often stay in the deepest parts of the lake, where the temperature can be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the icy surface. When the water temperature gets to a comfortable 55 degrees, the crappie can begin spawning. But first, they will need to feed. As the temperature rises, crappie venture from the bays, to the flats, and finally to the shallows.
Early on, the emphasis is on feeding over cover, which causes some to believe that you actually want to catch crappie right before their spawning period. During this time, crappie are usually found in 18 inches to 3 feet of water, pretty shallow and only begin to seek shelter as the feeding frenzy dies down.
Then, the crappie tend to seek shelter among emerging bulrush because the stem cover allows for the male crappie to defend the nests while also offering protection from wind and waves. Additionally, crappie tend to stay away from submerged brush as it allows for predators to hide and raid the nests.
Another study suggested that crappie may perhaps even be creatures of habit, claiming that crappie that migrate to secondary channels in the winter months (instead of deeper main channels) can likely be found in that spot all winter, until warmer temperatures lure them into the flats and more shallow embankments. There’s no indication of why they choose the same spot repeatedly other than familiarity.
Take Advantage of Crappie Fishing at Dawn or Dusk
You want to catch crappie at dawn or dusk, as they tend to emerge from their homes to feed at low-light. They feed at shallow banks, chasing baitfish, and rest alongside the outer edges of weed beds.
In deeper water, crappie feed on chaoborus, mosquito-like creatures that burrow into the sediment. Crappie set themselves up just feet above the sediment, and when the chaoborus come out to float to the surface to feed, the crappie find themselves an easy meal without ever putting themselves in harm’s way.
Catching Crappies in the Shallows or the Flats?
You want to catch crappie when the water is between 38 and 60 degrees which includes both the spawning period and pre-spawn period. The warmer it is, the more shallow you can find them. It’s at these moderate temperatures that you can find crappie leaving the depths for the flats and shallows and settling in a spot that is between 3 and 15 feet deep. Of course, in clearer water, they will choose to settle deeper.
In the colder months though, the catch is much more fickle. Experienced anglers that may be following the habits of the white crappie follow them into deeper waters, where they are harder to pinpoint and catch.
Adapting to Nature as a Crappie Angler
A telemetry study done in a Kentucky Lake found that black crappie tended to stay in the shallows longer than white crappie, who were known to spawn and immediately retreat to deeper waters. This was important information for the anglers who had been complaining that although the lake boasted the largest population of crappie, they were catching less than ever. While the white crappie may have been harder to locate, and therefore harder to catch, the black crappie could be found in the shallows for much longer post-spawn, and that information helped anglers to refocus their search.
Some anglers point out that electronics are integral to successful crappie fishing in the wintertime. With sonar and side imaging, anglers are able to see schools of crappie on the move and set themselves on the same path, potentially following them back to their habitual winter spot. This could be useful, as it is proven that many myths concerning crappie migration is either out-of-date or obsolete.
Purists though, may argue that just as the crappie adapt their migration patterns, anglers will adjust theirs as well–and that’s the beauty of it. Rituals, habits, instructions, handed down from angler to angler, may be more valuable than the high tech new world of fishing, and not just in the ways it serves to catch crappie.
In conclusion, a general rule of thumb is that the best crappie fishing occurs in the spring and fall. In these more moderate temperatures, crappie congregate in shallow water and are easier to track and catch. If you choose to go in the summer or winter, you’ll have to navigate the deeper waters to find schools of crappie.
It helps to keep in mind that peak spawning temperature for crappie is somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees. Most anglers would say this is the best time to catch crappie, when they are spawning, although there are some proponents of the pre-spawn “feeding frenzy” catch, which happens when the water is about 50 degrees.
When you go out on the water, regardless of season or temperature, remember that crappie always choose a woody spot with protection from the elements. Crappie are careful to choose a spot without too much underwater overgrowth.
Experienced anglers will tell you that the best hours for catching crappie are at dawn and dusk, when they come out to feed. Another popular time is between midnight and 2 AM.
As it is with most things in nature, we find it hard to predict exactly when it will take its course. Especially in colder climates, it’s hard to determine the first thaw, or the first stretch of consecutive warm days, which makes pinpointing a spawning period almost impossible. While it’s definitely a learning curve, crappie are, as we humans are, creatures of habit.