Crappie Seasonal Movements and Tactics
by Doug Pirila
When the ice starts to go away, you need to look close to the wintering areas for crappies. These are the deepest water areas, such as deep wood from piers, docks, brush piles, etc. I still use a flasher at this time, still fish with tiny jigs and baits vertically below the boat. As the bites are normally light, an ultra light rod helps you see when the rod tip loads up. If the tip stops bouncing and acts like the bait picked up some weight, bend the rod to set the hook. Do that with a steady lift. Thin wire jigs are best, so they just slip into the lip.
As the shallows warm the crappies move to the warmest water, where the food chain is most active, and prepare to spawn. If you wear some good polarized sunglasses and drive the shallows on clear water lakes, you can actually see the crappies sunning themselves.
Sometimes you will need to fish in just inches of water, some places where they are spread out and on each piece of wood or weed, and others where they are grouped together on a beaver hut, feed bed, tree or group of reeds. Depending on the lake, look for reeds as they like to spawn on the hard bottom. They love wood, especially older wood, because they generally have the most bugs and minnows. Look for creeks with warm water coming into the lake as these draw in the minnows the crappies are after.
In spring, crappies begin to get more active but remain mostly passive. During this time, fishing with a bobber is a great technique to start with. Another top technique is to use small jigs with a small plastic tail; just pitch it out and slowly reel it in. If the bite slows, put a bobber above the jig so you can go even slower. Male crappies in spawn will be very black. By taking only what you need, you are allowing these spawners to create more in future catches.
As spring ends and the shallows start to get too warm, pay attention to where their migration pattern. This varies on all waters; on some they move to the weeds for shade and food and on others they tuck into wood or deeper waters.
For weeds, crappies like reeds near spawn and cabbage most of the year. If they don't have a variety of weeds, they will use what's there.
When summer sets in, crappies get more predictable and set up on the deeper weed edges. Pitching small jigs and single grub tails can be awesome. Often the slip bobber with a minnow is the best ticket. You can place it along the deep weed edge and wait, or slowly drift with it or retrieve it, so the bobber sways side-to-side. When a crappie grabs it, it can slowly go down or shoot down. You want to sweep the rod, instead of jerking, to place the hook. Once you get a bend in the rod, bring them in.
Once water temperatures start to drop and weeds begin to die, look for the last healthy weeds and deepest wood. On many lakes this puts them near the deepest water that are best fished with a jig directly below the boat. Using light fishing rods, maintain contact and watch your rod tip. It should bounce up and down. When the tip stays down a bit it could be fish; just lift and put a bend in your pole.
Crappies are heavily fished by many in winter, so you can often locate them just by looking for the groups of ice houses. At this time of year they are normally found in the deepest water during the day and a bit shallower in the evening when they are chasing food. Their food varies on each lake, but you will find them using minnows and bugs.
If you ice fish, keep track of the movements and move with them. Start out deep mid- day and move shallower as they move in. Drill lots of holes, use your flasher, and when you find a bunch of fish, drop an ice jig tipped with minnow or waxie(s) to them. If they are crappies, or mostly panfish, watch your sonar. Iif they start to close the gap to your jig, pay attention, you should get some. When you find a crappie, you should be able to get more. There are several different types of ice jigs that work, but don't be afraid to go super light, I've gone down to 1/100th of an ounce hair jigs without bait and caught them. Drill a bunch of holes in the area and try to stay on the fish. Be sure to use a spring bobber, they help you see the light bites.
Crappies are great eating, but when you start catching a lot of them, please release what you are not going to eat that day or the next. You want to have more to fish for the next time you go out. I know I do.
Thanks and good fishing.
Doug Pirila is the North Region Director of Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation and the Tournament Director of the Duluth Bass Club