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Early Season Slabs: How To Catch Crappie In The Spring

As the water warms and the days grow longer, crappie move to the shallows to spawn, giving anglers a perfect opportunity to catch these speckled devils. In fact, spring is prime slab season, and if you’re crappie savvy, it’s perhaps one of the most exciting times to fish all year long.

Whether you’re new to chasing papermouths or a veteran with decades of know-how, it’s worth considering a few tips to keep you on top of your game. Once you’ve sorted out your rod, reel, and line, and have a few basic techniques under your belt, it’s time to think about a few early season strategies to improve your catch.

We’d like to help, so keep reading! Below, you’ll find a few of our most trusted spring slab tips.

More tips:

Spring Crappie Fishing Tips

Spring means shallow

In the colder months, crappie will hold in deeper water, waiting for spring. And as the water temperature rises, the males will move to spawning sites and prepare their beds for the ladies. Initially, the female of the species will wait in transitional areas, a bit deeper than the spawning sites but not as deep as the winter holes. But once the spawn has begun in earnest, they’ll move up into the shallows as well.

As a general rule, the farther north you travel from the Gulf Coast, the later this migration will happen. In southern Florida and Louisiana, this may be as early as January; in Ohio, this may be late February or early March.

The key is more sunlight and warmer water temperatures, and when the lilacs start blooming where you fish, you can be pretty sure the crappie are moving.

There’s no one spawning season across the US. That’s because winter water temps in Thibodaux, Louisiana are pretty much summer conditions in Baudette, Minnesota--and as you’d expect, the spawn isn’t happening in the same months in these two crappie hotspots.

However, expect the spawn when the water reaches 56 to 60 degrees.

For crappie anglers, warmer weather signals that it’s time to concentrate on likely spawning sites and shallow water.

In cooler climates, crappie will move into tributaries, channels, and shallow backwaters, looking for warmer water and the habitat they need to spawn. In warmer regions, they’ll move into five or six feet of water, clustering near the cover they crave.

When Do Crappie Spawn - and How You Can Make the Most of It!

where do crappie spawn in the North?

crappie fishing in spring in Louisiana

Look for submerged brush and vertical cover

Crappie love cover--that’s something every papermouth enthusiast knows.

But what you may not realize is that new fish will quickly move in to replace those you catch, allowing you to target the same locations day in and day out. Indeed, as the spawn continues, competition over shallow cover can be fierce. You can often return day after day to the same spot and catch new fish who’ve moved into a prime location after the previous denizens were pulled out.

We recommend you look for submerged brush piles in shallow water, as well as vertical cover like stumps, old pilings, and docks. Using a slip or fixed float like the excellent Thill Crappie Cork to set the depth of your lines, and a crappie rig running a Maribou jig, a curly-tailed soft bait like a Zoom Bait Fat Albert Grub, or a live minnow, you can fish over or beside these structures with no fear that you’ll empty them out.

Zoom Bait 011045 Fat A-Poundert Curly Tail Grub, 3-Inch, 10-Pack, White Pearl

But remember, crappie “feed up,” and they typically ambush their prey from below. It’s important to err on the side of caution when selecting your depth and leave your terminal tackle where they can see it silhouetted against the surface.

Sun means surface

On sunny days, the top few feet of water will be a lot warmer than the depths. In the spring, this often means that you’ll find crappie clustered there to soak up the heat, even if they’ve been pushed into deeper water by active predators.

As winter gives way to spring, sac-a-lait are trying to shed their cold-induced torpor. Since they’re cold-blooded, the only way they can do this is by moving to warm water, allowing the heat to penetrate their bodies much like you do in a hot shower.

All that warmth will increase their activity, too, making them more aggressive.

One way we like to target these energetic fish is with spinning lures. Whether you reach for a beetle spin or a rooster tail, spring slabs are hungry and trying to put on weight for the spawn. We find them a bit more willing to bite during springtime, but as always, keep your retrieves methodical and slow.

Crappie are ambush predators, and they usually won’t chase a lure you’re ripping through the water. It’s also important that you run these lures over them, rather than below them, to trigger a strike.

In cool weather, or when predators are around, crappie back down

Not every spring day is nice and warm, and when you have a front pushing the temps down, expect the crappie to back off their spawning beds and return to transitional areas.

They usually won’t go back to their winter holding areas, but they will look for slightly deeper water. Much the same is true if they’re being hunted by predators of their own like walleye.

In these conditions, we look for relatively shallow water with live weed beds where the crappie can hide. Once we’ve located these, we’ll run our spinners over the weeds, letting them fall into the tops before lifting them with our retrieve.

The trick here is to find weed beds that offer a buffer zone of water above them. That creates a space for your lures to do their thing, attract interest, and generate a strike.

Just watch these gentlemen tearing them up:

Final Thoughts

Spring is the most productive season for crappie, and the excitement of early-season slabs is as addictive as it gets!

But to preserve fishing opportunities for the future, always release pregnant females. Doing so sustains the spawn, guaranteeing a bountiful harvest of crappie next year.

Do you have any tips to add? Have we forgotten one of your favorites?

Let us know, and please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.