Anglers will catch some of the biggest crappie of the year just prior to the spawn, because they are often still carrying their winter weight, and female crappie have their bellies full of roe. You'll find prespawn crappie in various places at different times of the year in reservoirs throughout the country. Here are some examples of where I have found prespawn crappie in the past, and where you may search for them during this time of year.
Three to four weeks before the spawn anywhere in the country, crappie will hunt for warmer and shallower water in preparation for the spawn. Anywhere you can find a warmwater discharge in small creeks and streams that run into major reservoirs, you will often locate a honey hole for big, prespawn crappie.
Nolen Shivers of Birmingham, Alabama, an avid bass fisherman during the spring and summer, enjoys fishing for crappie in the fall, winter and prespawn. Shivers has two basic techniques for taking prespawn crappie. He fishes shallow, underwater stumps along creek and river channels, often 20 to 30 yards from the bank, or brush shelters under docks. Shivers maintains that if you can find underwater stump-rows along or near an old creek channel close to a spawning area, you probably will locate and take crappie.
In Shivers' other prespawn technique, he fishes docks.
"Remember that most lake and river residents who have docks usually build some kind of brush shelter or put some structure out in front of their docks so they can come down and sit on their dock and catch fish," Shivers commented. "Most of the time the brush will be about a canepole's distance or a little further from the dock. By motoring your boat back and forth in front of the dock, you usually can find this sunken cover on your depth finder. The crappie will move into this type of structure during the prespawn because it gives them cover to hold near while they're waiting on the temperature to warm up."
Ditch & Feeder Creek Crappie
Also look for prespawn crappie in the mouths of feeder creeks. Many times large schools of crappie will move out of a river channel and hold in mid-water in the mouth of a creek due to the somewhat-warmer water there and the large numbers of baitfish. By concentrating in the mouths of creeks, as soon as that creek water starts to warm up enough to trigger the spawn, the crappie will move up the creek channel and onto the spawning areas.
Most anglers know that before the crappie "hit the bank", they usually try to move to some type of mid-water structure between the bank and the creek and river channel. So, troll crappie jigs between the bank and the edge of the creek channel. The crappie may hold on little stumps, small brush or sticks almost invisible to the depth finder. But by trolling, an angler can pick up these fish holding in these staging areas.
"I still find crappie the old way," John Hill of Town Creek, Alabama, a nationally-known fishing guide on the Tennessee River, reported. "Before and after the spawn, you can locate crappie in shallow water, if you know how to sight-fish for them."
Although sight-fishing usually refers to an angler's skill in seeing fish and then catching those fish, when Hill uses the term sight-fish, he refers to his ability to read what's happening on the surface of the water to determine the location of the crappie.
"When you see diving and feeding coots, ducks or seagulls along the bank of a point or in a cove before or after the spawn, you know a school of shad is in the area," Hill explained. "Usually crappie will be under or off to the side of the school of baitfish feeding on the same bait the birds are eating."
To ensure good catches of prespawn crappie, plant for them. By that, I mean sink brush or stake beds halfway between the creek channels and the creek banks. If anglers provide some type of cover for the crappie to hold on, when the fish migrate from the creek channel to the shallow water, then fishermen can usually return to that cover within a day or two and take crappie. Sinking cover between the bank and the creek channel not only pays off during the prespawn period, but anglers also can catch crappie during the spawn and after the spawn on this same cover.
"Come on down to my restaurant, John, about l:00 p.m.," a friend told me. "I've been fishing, and I've caught a big mess of slab crappie."
I'd always considered this buddy a good fisherman, because he consistently caught large crappie and spotted bass in tailrace areas. Our part of the country had the worst floods in the history of the state for the two days prior to my friend's phone call. No one in his right mind would have gone fishing the day he went-in the wind, rain and muddy water conditions. But at lunchtime when I sat down to drag some tasty, fried, crappie fillets through a puddle of ketchup, I started picking the fisherman's brain about how to catch bad-weather papermouths.
"I only seriously crappie fish for about three to four weeks during the early spring prior to the spawn," my buddy said. "I've found the best crappie fishing to be on the worst days imaginable for several reasons.
"When the weather's bad, lots of water is coming over the spillways at the dams, the wind's blowing, the current in the river is strong, and the water is muddy, rarely will there be another boat below the dam except mine. Therefore I don't have any competition for the fish.
"Also I like to fish on those kinds of days because the current forces the baitfish into eddy holes and pockets downriver behind rocks, below underwater drop-offs and behind trees that have fallen into the river. During these flood - water conditions, the baitfish will school-up in these eddy holes, and the big crappie will stack up in these same areas while gorging on shad in preparation for the spawn."
Regardless of the elements, the prespawn can mean the best crappie fishing of the year.
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