by Terry Madewell
Waters begin warming quickly in the far southern states triggering the start of “springtime crappie fishing” no matter if the calendar does indicate February. Each week the warming line gets a little bit further north, providing everyone a taste of this great seasonal fishing.
Favorable water and weather conditions usually ensure springtime crappie fishing is among the most enjoyable and productive. But unpredictable weather conditions are typical and crappie anglers often contend with less than ideal situations.
Conditions such as muddy and high water situations, along with changing water temperatures often confuse anglers. Also the migration of crappies to shallow water and back to deep water compounds the confusion. To consistently catch crappies under these varied conditions fishermen need a proven plan to cope with each scenario.
Jay Bruce and Carolyn Reeves are a former professional crappie tournament team that developed a plan for these scenarios. This upper South Carolina crappie-catching duo learned specific strategies to cope with springtime situations.
“Fishermen seldom experience a spring with completely stable, normal water conditions,” Bruce said. “If anglers wait for water conditions to improve they’ll miss valuable crappie catching opportunities. With patience and effort fishermen can solve the problem and continue to catch crappie. And they’ll learn how to adapt quickly next time.”
Bruce said muddy water rates as one of the most difficult conditions.
“First, expect the fish to hold tight, very tight, to cover such as stumps, brush, bridge pilings or any form of physical cover,” he said. “It’s critical for a crappie to be oriented to something. I use that knowledge to my advantage in various types of water conditions.”
“Generally, I’ll tightline in muddy water so I can slow the presentation and literally bump the bait into cover whether I’m using minnows or jigs,” he said. “At times I’ll even drop the rig vertically into a brush pile to work the interior of the brush or I will cast to a specific brush or fallen trees, stump row along a ledge and slowly work the lure through the cover. I envision the lure must almost hit the crappie in the nose for the fish to eat it. Crappie will bite in muddy water but the bait or lure presentation must be on target.”
Bruce noted that one reliable tactic is to fish the pilings of bridge abutments during muddy water.
“Almost every lake I’ve fished has bridges spanning the lake” he said. “The abutments have a direct vertical link from deep to shallow water with a physical object. During muddy water conditions, the fish will often stack up in big numbers in relation to bridge abutments.”
Another tactic used by professional crappie anglers is the use of scent or sound. Rattles in a jighead and scents targeted for crappie may provide the edge needed in muddy water.
Jig colors are important and high visibility colors will usually perform better than bland colors in muddy water. Bruce said don’t just use a pink jig, for example, use hot pink. Also other colors that produce well are orange, orange chartreuse and any of the ‘glow’ colors especially in chartreuse or orange.
Water temperature conditions create different scenarios than muddy water and having a specific plan of action improves consistency in catch rates as water temperature changes.
Carolyn Reeves said coping with water temperature changes are crucial during spring and require proper presentation.
“I like to long line troll when searching for changing patterns as water warms,” Reeves said. “One key is speed control. If the water is above the 50 degree mark I’ll usually troll at about 0.7 to 0.9 miles per hour. If the water temperature is below 50 degrees I’ll slow my presentation down to 0.5 to 0.7 miles per hour. The combination of the two will be crucial. Also the speed and size of lure will directly impact the depth being fished.”
Reeves prefers to fish along creek or channel ledges with scattered stumps and brush. But patterns change on different lakes and she’ll change to meet the conditions.
“If I’m fishing a deep lake I may focus my efforts more on points with stumps if the inundated channels are extremely deep,” she said. “The concept is consistent, but I have to find the variation for each lake.”
High water is often a typical spring condition and Jay Bruce said crappies will often suspend in high water.
“I often fish a vertical column of water as well as working along a drop or ledge when the water is high,” he said. “A favorite technique is to use live bait or even a jig and live minnow combination, in spider rig setup. Use four rods off the each side of the front of the boat and alternate the depth each rig is fished, covering a variety of water depths. By having rods situated in a fanned-out manner in front of the boat a wide swath of water is covered and we also effectively fish the vertical water column for suspended fish. In high water, getting both the depth and a specific lake bottom target pinpointed is paramount. For example, the boat may be in 20-feet of water on an underwater hump along a channel drop, but we may catch fish in 10-feet of water.”
Bruce said springtime also means crappies are on a mission and constant adaptation by anglers is necessary.
“I learned in tournament fishing that just because I caught fish pre-fishing a spring tournament that did not mean they would still be at the same location and depth at tournament time,” he said. “Crappies are on a move to spawn and weather and water conditions will impact where they stage at given times. They are on a mission to make more crappies so adapting and change are a must.”
Bruce said barring extreme cold temperatures, the pre-spawn movement will be from deep water toward shallow water and the reverse is true in post-spawn.
“I’ll fish areas that were recently productive,” he said. “But I won’t linger long waiting for bites. When I find crappies, I work that depth and structure pattern hard because the bite can be fleeting and they’ll move again.”
Carolyn Reeves said the use of live bait or jigs can be crucial to success during the spring, but sometimes it’s an angler preference in terms of confidence.
Jay Bruce says bridges are good areas to find crappie from late winter through the springtime.
“When water visibility is low I’ll try bright jig colors, but also the use of live bait with that natural movement and scent can be an attractant,” she said. “Don’t get locked into just one pattern of using only live bait or jigs under a specific set of conditions. Often either may work, but may need to be presented differently. That’s where the specific style and confidence factor of individual angler is important.
“Searching for crappies can be challenging and it’s helps me to have confidence in my lure or bait presentation,” she said. “I will give a process time to succeed if I have confidence. I’ll change techniques if needed, but only after I give them an opportunity to succeed.”
This spring adapt to and embrace changing conditions and continue catching crappie and learn techniques that will improve your future fishing as well.