Crappie Basics

By Dale Helgeson - June 1, 2004
I cast into a fallen tree along the shore of a small bay and out from under the brush a feel the line get limp. I set the hook and the fight begins. After a short struggle I land a nice crappie. Your line going slack is one of the characteristics of a standard crappie hit.

What are some of the triggers for crappies movements and triggering bites? The biggest factors to crappie movements are water temperature, levels, clarity, and cold fronts.

Let's start with the first one, water temperature. This is one of the biggest factors for crappie movements. From the research I have seen and personal experiences these are the basic temperatures that control crappie movements in area lakes and rivers.

Coming out of their wintering areas crappies seem to start becoming more active when the water temps start pushing into the 45-50 degree range. They will start moving into the shallow waters and start feeding more aggressively. I tend to use live bait for this time of year as they are still a little finicky. I will use a plain or bleeding hook and minnow under a slip bobber as my primary technique.

Once the water temps reach 50-55 degrees they will move into shallower water congregating near creek channels and shallow bays with weeds or fallen timber. Live bait rigs with minnows and wax worm work well but I will start using more jigs and plastics at this time.

When the water temps climb to 55-60 degree range the males will start to fan beds in shallow water. These fish can be easily caught and will provide a lot of action for anglers. These fish can be targeted using the standard slip bobber rigs with minnows or jigs tipped with bait or plastic. Small minnow imitating plastics or small tubes and twister tail grubs work well this time of year.

The big females will work their way into spawn in the 62-65 degree range and will remain in the shallow spawning areas until temps reach the 70 degree range. I do not try to target these fish as they are the future of the fishery and should be left alone. The males will be close by usually hanging right off the nearest drop-off usually stacked in nice size schools. If you do catch a female with eggs please release it so it can finish spawning. After the spawn it isn't as important but you need to make sure it finishes it's spawning cycle. The best methods are the usual live bait rigs on a slip bobber with jigs and plastics being very effective and one of my favorite techniques.

Once the temps reach 70-75 the crappies will start moving deeper. Look around the first drop-off near a weed flat. They will move up into the shallower water at night though to feed on the bait that is in shallow. The will also move into the weeds when there is a large larvae hatch to feed on the easy prey. With the fish moving deeper you may need to switch to some deeper techniques such as small jigging Rapala's, blade baits or jigs tipped with live bait.

If the water temps reach over 75 degrees look for the deepest water of your lakes and rivers, as they will seek out water up to 70 feet deep. Often times they will suspend in this deep water following schools of bait fish. You will have to employ deep fishing techniques to target these fish using heavier jigs, spoons, jigging Rapala's, blade baits or heavier sinkers to get your baits down to the deeper depths. Using a quality locator with a high pixel count such as a Lowrance LCX-19C or LCX-104C will be your best bet but buy the best electronics you can afford. Look for the highest pixel count. You will get better target separation and be able to separate baitfish from crappies.

Another factor for finding crappies is water levels. Right now in southern Wisconsin we are in flood conditions and extremely high water levels. With the increase in water levels many fish will move into newly created shallow water. The new areas of flooded timber can be especially effective as they will be out of the heavy current and provide cover for the fish and baitfish.

Clarity is another consideration as with the high waters clarity is very dirty with the extra runoff. Many fish will move shallower in the dirty water and you may need to use baits with more flash like a Road Runner or similar bait with a small blade to create flash and vibration. In clearer water they will usually relate to deeper water.

Cold fronts can almost shut down crappie fishing. Crappies bodies are very sensitive to large temperature changes and when cold fronts move in you will have to usually seek out deeper water usually the first drop-off from where you were targeting them before the cold front. You will usually have to slow down your presentation when cold fronts move in and slip bobbers will be the primary tool for these cold front conditions.

Here is a list of some of my favorite baits to use. Plastics that I prefer are Berkley's Powerbait Grubs, Bass Assassin's Shad Assassin, and Kalin's Triple Threat Pan fish Grubs. Small ZIP Lures are my favorite blade bait, with Bad Dog Lures Crippled Minnow and Fidget Minnow being my favorite spoons, and Daiichi Bleeding hooks and Tru-Turn hooks being my favorite minnow hooks. For jigging Bad Dogs Water bug and Flipper Tear are both effective.

Use some of these guidelines to find your crappies and don't forget to throw back the spawning females. Good fishing and don't forget to introduce a child to the great outdoors so they can enjoy it for the rest of their lives as you have.

Author Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson is owner and operator of The Outdoor Experience Guide Service focusing on lakes in southeastern Wisconsin. Dale is a professional fisherman fishings the MWC walleye fishing circuits as well as writing articles for Lake-Link and Southeast Wisconsin Outdoor Guide among others. Dale is sponsored by these fine sponsors: Geneva Cabinet Company, Action Marine, DR Plastics, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Black Mountain Socks, RAM Mounts, Frabill, Pflueger Rods and Reels, Dave’s Kaboom Lures, Lake-Link.com, Kick’n Walleye Scents, Minn Kota, Strikemaster Augers, Mapping Specialists, Vexilar, Guest Pro Chargers, PowerPro Lines, KINeSYS Sunscreen, NPAA 872. His Pro Staffs include: Daiichi Hooks, XTools, FinTech Tackle Company, Off Shore Tackle, Navionics, Jammin Jigs/Bad Dog Lures