Most anglers know that the spawning season for crappie is a prime time to catch them.
As warming temperatures break winter’s torpor, you’ll find that the fish are hungry after a long fast and looking to pack on weight for breeding.
That’s as true for any other species as it is for crappie, and much of the trick is knowing when to expect that pre-spawn gluttony and the seasonal variation in location and behavior.
If you’d like to catch crappie all spring, you’d better understand the timing of when crappie spawn!
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Related: Crappie Fishing Tips
Crappie react to cold water by slowing down and diving deep. Cold-blooded, as are all fish, their metabolisms are slowed to a snail’s pace by winter, allowing them to conserve energy until spring.
Direct sun and a rocky shore? That’s a winning combination!
This doesn’t mean that they won’t feed in cold water, but rather that they’re sluggish, slow, and less likely to take even an attractive bait or lure.
But as the days lengthen and the sun warms, water temperatures begin to rise, and with that, so too do the energy levels of crappie. Their activity will increase, they’ll move from the deep holes they’ve sheltered in, and they’ll start feeding in earnest after a long period of cold-induced anorexia.
Driven by instinct, they’re preparing for the spawn, and they’ll all need plenty of energy for that.
Veteran slab hunters will tell you that the areas that get the most sun, and especially places with a generous heat sink like a concrete piling or a big rock, will find the crappie active the soonest.
Crappie pros--like Kent Driscoll in Tennessee--use this to their advantage. “The crappie are starting their spring migration, moving from deep water, up the creeks and near the spawning flats to prepare for the spawn,” he says. “A large number of crappie will be moving to the north ends, more specifically the northwest ends of most lakes, since these sections of the lakes often heat-up first.”
That’s a nice spring stringer!
That only stands to reason: even a few degree difference makes a huge impact on the crappie’s energy level and desire to eat. If you can find these warm spots, you’ll typically find hot fishing.
And as water temperatures rise further, into the high 50s and low 60s, the slabs will be triggered to begin the spawn. While the spawn’s peak waits for the high 60s, by the mid-50s, you’ll find the crappie staging shallow.
There’s no one-size-fits-all advice here: watch your local water like a hawk, and get ready when the water crosses the 50-degree mark.
Locally, that might mean late January to early February in southern Louisiana, or as late as April in Minnesota!
When the water reaches a tepid 60 to 65 degrees or so, male crappie will start searching for prime locations to make a nest. They prefer hard bottoms like gravel, silt, or sand and skinny water--often just a few feet deep.
As crappie generally do, they’ll also look for vertical structures like stumps, old pier pilings, trees, and even reeds, orienting their nests up among these features.
By contrast, the females will hold to the periphery of these areas until the spawn actually starts. Then, the males will herd them in and over their nests for their seasonal reproductive dance.
Much of what separates a tournament champion from your average angler is actionable knowledge. Yes, things like lure choice and technique matter, but for monster slabs, knowing when and where to look is 90% of the battle.
Watch your local water temperature carefully. When it starts to creep into the 50s, start hitting warm spots on your local lake. The northwestern side is a good place to start, but any heat sinks or areas where a shallow creek flows into the main body of water are good bets, and I wouldn’t skip a single one!
As the temperature rises further, identify likely spawning locations and start working those. Don’t just focus on the nest site itself; look for adjacent structure and cover that might hold big females waiting for their moment.
And once the water rises into the high 60s, you know the spawn is on. Armed with an insider’s understanding of crappie behavior, you’ll be ready to make the most of it!