Now is the time to hit your local lake or pond as slab crappies transition from their winter quarters to pre-spawn structure.
Open-water anglers look forward to that wonderful time of year when the ice disappears and the days get longer and warmer. After that, as water temperatures rise, fish become more active and fishing success improves. Spring weather can be very fickle – wintery one day and spring-like the next. Once the weather becomes more consistent, fishing for one of my favorite freshwater species, the crappie, improves dramatically.
Initially, you’ll find crappie in deeper basin areas, but as water temps begin to rise the fish transition to the edge of weedy flats and drop-offs. From there it’s time to target shallow adjacent areas such as bays or coves. Bathymetric maps are a wonderful tool when planning your trips. Those shallow areas warm up quicker than deeper water, especially if they have a dark colored bottom. Warming temperatures and a lot of sunshine are favorable for all fish, and it bring the crappie in as they stage and chase bait, gorging themselves before the spawn.
Action will become steadier as the days go on and certain patterns will begin to develop. This almost always seems to happen just in time for a cold front to come through and shut things down, but that’s part of the game this time of year. A lot of people like to throw out shiners under a float. For others, a vertical approach to jigging is favored. You can also fish a jig under a float, and pop it along.
One of my favorite ways to target crappie this time of year is with micro-sized baits. Everyone knows that jerkbaits are a cold water killer. Using the right size is important when targeting crappie as they prefer smaller offerings and a 2-inch bait is just about perfect for these fish. Eurotackle makes an outstanding bait called the Z-spender and it is killer when it comes to early spring crappie that are hanging suspended in transition. A bit of a twitch-twitch-pause action and your bait will get blasted. I like to do this until water temperatures reach the 50s. By then fish will be extremely active and more likely to give chase, so this is when I switch things up a bit.
Another bait I do extremely well on in the spring is a swimbait. Paddle tails are ever popular and a lot of companies have their own version of things, Keitechs being some of the most popular. However, everyone has their own preference. For me, smaller is better and the 2-inch B-Vibe soft plastic from Eurotackle is a go-to bait. Paired with their soft lock tungsten jig heads (tungsten is smaller and heavier for its size compared to lead), allows you to obtain the right drop and swing rate, while matching up the appropriate sized jig head to your lure. I like a nice slow swing because it allows that tiny little tail to tick side to side perfectly.
I like to target weedy flats and any nearby structure. Docks on lakes can hold huge crappie, and the bigger the dock the better. I’ve found that with little structure to hunt/ambush their prey, crappie will tend to roam more in the early spring. At times, this can make it hard to pin them down for consistent action.
Keep in mind that water temperatures vary from one waterbody to the next, with larger and deeper lakes and ponds taking longer to warm. This means that fish spawn earlier in smaller and shallower places, so don’t overlook those little ponds. Once temperatures get into the mid-50s, the spawn is on, and this is when you will see those Kings of Spring show up in their dark spawning colors. And don’t neglect targeting them at night, since I’ve caught some of my biggest crappie after the sun goes down.