Crappie fishing can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it seems as if these tasty fish can totally disappear, making them very hard to find and even harder to catch.
Knowing the best time of year to go can really increase your chances of success and time spent on the water.
I’ve been crappie fishing since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and in this article, I’m going to share the best times of year to catch a mess of big ol’ crappie.
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Table of Contents
So, what is the best time of year to catch crappie?
The best time of year to catch crappie is during the spawning season which takes place from February-May. During the spawn, both male and female crappie move from deep locations into shallow and concentrated spawning areas. This makes them very easy to target, as they are actively feeding and defending their nests.
Seasoned crappie anglers will tell you that late winter or early spring is the best time of year to catch crappie.
Anglers often try to predict when the spawn begins, as if it is some magical switch that happens overnight.
The truth is, crappie spawning is dynamic and can vary from one region to another. It can even vary in different lakes in the same area, or in different portions of a lake!
Fish biologists have confirmed, that male crappie begin to move shallow first when water temperatures reach 56-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The males will find suitable nesting habitat in 2-6 feet of water, and stage around the structure. Not long after that, the big females will move shallow and then its GAME ON!
Note: Crappie do not fan out a ‘bed’ like a bass or bluegill, instead they lay their eggs in and around structure substrate; the eggs stick to stumps, rocks, and aquatic vegetation.
Where I live in Florida, the crappie spawn happens much earlier than other parts of the country. In south Florida for example, crappie can begin spawning as early as December!
However, the fishing really gets good in February, and that’s typically when things start heating up in other parts of the country too.
So, if you want to load the cooler with crappie, learn about the spawn in your area. Chances are it takes place sometime between February and May.
And don’t be afraid to call around to some local bait and tackle shops, or your local fish biologist to get the latest report!
Fishing for Crappie during the Spawn (Spring)
The Crappie spawn is kicked off when water temperatures reach 56-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimal temperature range for female crappie to move shallow and begin to deposit eggs, with male crappie following close behind to defend nesting areas.
This time of year is when Crappie are most concentrated, often congregating in schools of hundreds of fish in a small area.
This makes them easy to target once you locate a school or spawning habitat. The fishing can be phenomenal!
Baits & Lures
During the crappie spawning season, the preferred bait is live minnows. Keep it simple, all you need is a #4 aberdeen hook, and a bucket full of minnows. Add a small split shot if it’s windy or if there is current, and a cork is optional.
Many anglers also have great luck with small crappie jigs too. My personal favorite is the Crappie Magnet on a 1/16 oz jighead.
Drop your minnow, or jig in small pockets of open water in and around the structure. You may have to move around a bit to find the fish (this is called hole-hopping and is a very popular method when speck fishing in Florida).
Other popular baits include grass shrimp and crappie bites. But, the minnow is king!
How to Find Crappie Spawning Areas
Most of the year, crappie are associated with deeper water. During the spawning season, crappie will move shallow to find spawning habitat and this is good news for fishermen because that means they are easier to find!
Unlike other species of sunfish, Crappie do not fan out a ‘bed’ in the lake bottom to deposit their eggs. Instead, they ‘free spawn’ their eggs in and around the structure.
Females will lay 10,000-50,000 eggs throughout the season on logs, stumps, roots, lily pads and other vegetation. They prefer to lay eggs in 6 feet or less (I think 2-4 feet is the sweet spot).
Start by looking for shallow areas that are adjacent to deeper areas. Chances are if these shallow areas have spawning habitat, the Crappie will begin moving into that area once the water temperature reaches 56-60 degrees.
Once you get a few bites, this should narrow your search area and allow you to utilize live bait or more subtle tactics such as hair-jigs or small tube jigs.
Crappie fishing during the spawning season is all about fishing shallow; first you need to locate the fish, then you set up and pick apart the area.
Bounce around and move, once you don’t get any bites for 15-20 mins, try a position up the grass line or closer to shore.
Repeat this process and you will begin to see patterns, learn the lake or river system you are fishing, and find popular spawning areas that will produce for years to come.
Tips for catching crappie during the Spring-spawning season:
- Focus on shallow areas during the Spring (8 feet deep or less)
- Look for water temperatures at least 56 degrees or warmer
- Use ‘search baits’ to cover water such as ultralight crankbaits, jerkbaits and small swimbaits. Or try trolling on the edge of deep/shallow transitions.
- Find shallow underwater structures; such as roots, timber, weeds, lilypads, docks or bridges.
- Fishi during Low-light conditions (dawn and dusk) or overcast days when Crappie are most active
Once you find a Crappie during the spawn, rest assured there are others nearby!
What About Other Times Of Year?
Just because the crappie spawning season is the best time of year to catch crappie, doesn’t mean that they can’t be caught at other times of the year too.
In fact, I know some anglers prefer the other times of the year, like winter and summer when crappie are staged deep and electronics like livescope can really be put to use.
Crappie Fishing In The Summer
During the summer months after the spawn, Crappie move back into deeper water and often scatter into smaller schools. The long days and bright overhead sun push Crappie into deep water holes and deer submerged cover.
Try focusing your fishing during the early morning and late evenings, before the sun gets directly overhead.
Also try directly after a thunderstorm when water temperatures have cooled and cloud cover remains. This will draw Crappie from deeper locations and get them feeding closer to the surface.
Another tactic is to find the thermocline on your lake, river, or pond. A thermocline is a drastic change in water temperature and gradient. For example, during the hot summer months, the water on the surface may be 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
But 15 feet deep the water may be 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This change happens at a specific depth and will very often hold Crappie. Depth finders and fish finders often have settings to find the thermocline.
Throughout the summertime, Crappie will move from shallow to the middle, to deep water depths as the weather patterns change and the thermocline changes.
It’s very important to experiment at different depths to find where the Crappie are located.
Crappie Fishing In The Fall
As the water temperature begins to cool with the onset of Fall weather, the days will shorten and this can make for fantastic Crappie fishing.
This is a period of transition for Crappie and a time when all fish are feeding heavily on baitfish and other forage from the summer months.
You may have to work a little harder this time of year to locate Crappie, as they will be transitioning from deep summer basins into mid-depth ranges.
Try focusing on points, troughs, submerged river beds and creek mouths. Crappie are on the move, feeding heavily and very active this time of year!
Keep a close eye on the weather this time of year; big storms and weather patterns can really influence fishing.
Any drop in barometric pressure or low-pressure system is great for making stubborn crappie bite. I love fishing before a big storm front or just after the rain!
Crappie Fishing In The Winter
Some Crappie fisherman will tell you that actually the winter or pre-spawn months is the best time of year to catch crappie.
They are beginning to gather up into larger schools to prepare for the spawn. They are feeding heavily, and are often the fattest that time of year before depositing their eggs.
During the Winter, a depth finder or fish finder can be a priceless tool to find large schools of Crappie in deep water.
By slowly idling your boat over the deep areas of your lake, you can find schooling crappie and what depth they are staging. I use the Humming Bird Helix 5– it’s very affordable and extremely effective.
Additionally, cloudy skies and overcast conditions are common during the winter and that tends to make Crappie more active and feed closer to the surface.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Deep Should You Fish For Crappie?
The depth to fish for crappie varies based on the time of year. During the winter and summer, crappie are associated with deep water (15-40 ft). During the spring (spawning season) crappie can be found as shallow as 2 feet deep.
What Time Of Year Do Crappie Start Biting?
Crappie bite all year long, the the fishing activity really picks up during late winter or early spring, when crappie begin to move shallow for the spawning season.
Can You Catch Crappie All Year?
Crappie can be caught all year long, you just need to adjust your tactics to locate fish. During the hottest and coldest times of year, fish deep. During the spring, fish shallow, and during the fall check transition areas.
What Is The Best Weather For Crappie Fishing?
Crappie are light sensitive, and prefer deep water or structure. Overcast, cloudy days with light wind and low pressure is the best weather for crappie fishing.
Do Crappie Like Shallow Or Deep Water?
Crappie prefer deep water, with the exception of the spawning season when they move very shallow (2-6 ft deep).
Without a doubt, the best time of year to catch crappie is during the spring spawning season. The weather is generally better for fishing, both male and female crappie are moving into shallow spawning areas, and they are feeding and defending their eggs.
Regardless of the time of year, if you want to catch crappie, go for it! Give it a try!
Nothing will teach you more about the behavior and preferences of crappie than time on the water fishing for them.
Pick your favorite lake nearby, and spend a season really learning about it and focus on catching crappie. If you do, you’ll become a much better crappie angler and even more intrigued about these awesome panfish!
Thanks for reading.
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