Everything You NEED to Know About the Crappie Spawn!
Spring is one of the very best times of the year to target crappie. Not only does shallow water and dark colors make catching them this time of year unique; it also allows shore stuck anglers a chance at nonstop action. However, most people don’t understand why.
A few questions I am going to address include:
Why do they turn black?
When do they push shallow?
What’s the best way to target them?
Is the spawn actually the easiest time to catch these fish?
Below I breakdown the spawn, pre-spawn, post spawn behavior of crappie, and explain just what causes them to sport their tuxedos.
The spawn, like with most species, correlates heavily with water temperatures. However, unlike walleye and pike, who spawn with temperatures in the 40’s (in F), crappies don’t spawn until temperatures are nearing (and many times well into) the 60’s. In the north country, this means crappie generally don’t spawn until mid-May and into June, and of course varying by latitude (in the south, water temperatures warm up earlier).
Keep in mind, not all parts of a lake warm at the same time. In addition, not all lakes warm up at the same rate. Shallow, smaller lakes warm well before their deep counterparts, even if only a few miles away.
That’s why it’s important to remember that fish spawn at different times on different lakes and even different times within the same lakes. The number one key here is to do your research: monitor the water temperature.
One of the best indicators of when this is occurring isn’t by a certain date, but rather by water temperature.
The other, and more pronounced way to find out when they are spawning is if the males are wearing their tuxedos.
WHY THEY TURN BLACK
As the water warms and the spawn approaches, crappie (both black and white species) change colors. In fact, male black crappie will turn nearly all black when they are preparing their nesting areas.
During the spawn, males take a dominant role in assuring there is a suitable habitat for the eggs (often referred to as creating a nest – but not quite the same as bass). It’s during this period where they start to change colors. As water temperatures change, and the days lengthen, their hormones begin to change, as a signal that they are ready for the spawn.
This is why we say they put on their “tuxedos”.
HOW THEY SPAWN
Males will create nests for the female to lay eggs. They will then perform their courtship (rub against each other to release eggs and sperm), and when finished, the male crappie will stay and guard the eggs, even fanning them from time to time. Females can lay eggs in multiple nests, and vacate the area when she is spawned out.
After the eggs hatch, the male will continue to stay to guard the fry for a few days or so.
Just like with pretty much every species, trying to actually catch crappie during the actual spawn is quite difficult. It’s the one time of year when food isn’t on their mind – however, throw it in front of a guarding male and you might get lucky.
It’s the time before and after this period where anglers need to capitalize.
Finding spring crappie can be broken down into two main ideas;
Even if they push off of their spawning or early spring shallow patterns, the odds are they aren’t going to be to far away.
Although you can find them suspended over deep basins during the majority of winter, most crappies congregate to shallow water areas right after ice out (and sometimes you can even find them in these areas during late ice). However, they aren’t yet spawning. This type of early migration in the shallows seem to confuse people on just when they spawn. At this temperature they won’t spawn, they are simply looking for vegetation and food.
During winter in cold states, deep basins will run out of sufficient oxygen to support vegetation and food. Therefore crappie, constantly in search of resources, will push into the shallows well before they stage for the spawn. Because they also spawn in the shallows, don’t be surprised to find them in these same areas throughout this time.
It’s no secret that crappie love cover. When they are in the shallows, you’ll find them in brush and weeds. Look for pencil weeds, cattails, and fallen trees along the shoreline. Most importantly, during this time of year, look for warm water.
Often times, you can find them along the shore – in back bays and channels, where warm water and adequate cover is almost always located. In these areas, search for crappie along big weed beds and brush on the banks. Throw next to shore and go shallow.
HOW TO TARGET THEM
It’s hard to go wrong with a jig, especially when you are searching for fish. When you find them, then try a bobber.
Slip bobbers with crappie minnows or worms are a great way to target a large school of fish, especially this time of year. With the crappies tight against shorelines and in extremely weedy and brushy conditions, casting and jigging can lead to a lot of snags and breaks. Slip Bobbers reduce the wasted time involved with all of that. That’s why when you are on a school of fish – don’t be afraid to throw a bobber with a minnow on the end.
Smaller fish (including crappie) are often in abundance. Nature works that way. Certain species will have a lot of offspring frequently because many of those offspring will die. Crappie reproduce at a young age, often keeping the population inflated in bodies of water that lack sufficient predation. This leads to stunted growth.
In many lakes there are limited resources for a large portion of the population. Limited resources stunt growth. Stunted growth means your odds of catching those 14” and greater crappies are greatly reduced (and in many bodies of water, not possible).
When there is a lack of food there is a lack of size.
That’s why it’s important to keep (your legal limit only) of smaller fish and let the trophy fish go. These fish likely have better genetics while also producing the largest percentage of eggs to support the population. The more big fish you let go, the bigger the fish you have to catch again.
So therefore, the number one way to catch bigger crappie during any season is to release the bigger crappie. So let the big fish go.