How To Locate Crappie In Almost Any Body Of Water

Post spawn crappie are the most difficult to catch of all the seasons, even for experts. It requires knowledge, good equipment, expertise and well a little luck to locate the schools and goad them into cooperating. Obviously, one of the difficulties in post-spawn fishing is finding the schools. They are no longer concentrated in a limited area, but have hundreds of acres of water to hide in. There are no more concentrated schools, and with crappies natural tendency to range far and wide, and suspend at mid-depths, refusing to move 6″ up or down to take a bait, it can drive any piscatorial pursuer insane. The first, and most obvious place to look for post-spawn crappie is the nearest drop-off with cover, such as weeds or submerged timber. The next place I would look is at the mouths of coves. Crappie that have entered the coves to spawn will move back to the drop-off, in weedy or woody cover after leaving the beds.

They will usually be right on the edge at the mouth of the cove, where it meets the main lake. Next, crappie that have spawned on the banks of a creek, or inlet, will move to the mouth and suspend in weedy, or brushy cover along any change of depth in bottom contour. Look for them near shelves, creek channels, bowls on the bottom, or under-cuts. Off steep shorelines, such as cliffs or long points, crappie will spawn in the shallowest part they can access, then move to the nearest brush or weeds in deeper water to recover. Early morning, twilight and night-time are the best times to search. If there is no cover nearby, crappie will simply find a depth with a temperature they like, and suspend in open water..every crappie fisherman’s nightmare! When dealing with suspended fish, there are a few things to consider. Post-spawn crappie will normally suspend in 10′-20′ feet of water, but bear in mind that the clearer the water, the deeper they will suspend.

Also, crappie do not suspend in the same manner as bass, or other panfish. Bass and sunfish will pick a depth, and ‘stack’ up and down it at different depths, in small groups. Crappie pick a depth and suspend side-by-side at only that depth, over an entire lake, sort of like a fish ‘blanket’. They will not change depth to feed. They will suspend over structure without actually relating to it much. This is why most late-spring fisherman are unsuccessful. They will find cover, but fish under the crappie, resulting in Angler=0, Crappie=1.

As much as I like fishing, scoreless trips aren’t that much fun. Crappie use two factors to determine at what depth they will suspend. One is the thermocline, which, if you remember from High School science classes, is where the warm, less-dense surface water meets the colder, more dense deeper water, forming an invisible line with a sudden temperature change. The other factor is PH. Crappie will look for a depth that has a PH factor they find agreeable. To find the thermocline, Lower a temperature gauge probe down until you record a significant drop in temperature. That is the depth of the thermocline, and will be consistent over the entire lake. Some good depth-finders can also indicate the thermocline depth. The only way to know the PH of water at a given depth is to guess at it.

I usually ask the local lake biologist for a break-down of PH levels at depth and go from there. The next step after determining these values is to look for structure at these depths. Crappie are not necessarily structure-oriented at this time, but it gives you a place to start. Find several areas of structure at the correct depth and fish the open water in between them. This can often fill a stringer when nothing else works. The most productive way to find post-spawn crappie is slow-trolling with a jig. Set your jig depth close to the thermocline and ..just troll. Double-jig rigs work really good for this. Use two different colors and rig them about 2′ apart. Troll along lines of cover and structure, creek and river mouths, off of coves, points and river-beds. Sooner or later, you will find them.

Remember, depth is critical. They will not move up or down to hit your jig. Fish the jigs under a bobber to maintain the correct depth.

Another neat gadget that really works is Zebco’s Crappie Classic reel. It has a depth-set feature so that when you catch a crappie, you can set the depth and when you drop it back down, it goes to the exact same I said, neat! If you thought that finding them was all there is to it (LOL).WRONG!

Post-spawn crappie are also lethargic, moody and downright uncooperative (I would be too if I only got to have fun once a year). They are most likely depressed because their party is over and it’s back to the same old, boring, suspend here, chase a minnow here, suspend there..for another year. They are probably a little tired as well. Minnow and jig size are very important at this time of year, and smaller is better. I’ve seen times when switching from a 1/8 oz. jig to a 1/16, or even a 1/32 oz. jig was the difference between going home empty-handed, or having fish for supper.  Also, use light line, no larger than 4 lb. If you want the best of both worlds, many times, I’ve rigged a small, lively minnow on a small jighead. As a rule, when you can no longer find any beds, or fry in shallow water, the post-spawn is over and you can look for crappie in their structure-oriented summer homes.

As the temperature get hotter, crappie will still follow the thermocline and suspend, but they will aggressively pursue schools of baitfish, and especially shad. In the heat of summer, you will most likely find crappie along the edges of channels, river beds, bridge and dock pilings or deep submerged cover, anywhere from 8-50′ deep. The thermocline is the key to finding the correct depth. Also, in summer, night-fishing can sometimes be the most productive, but early morning and twilight are still good times as well. In summer, live minnows are much more productive than jigs. Rig a small minnow (I usually hook them through the rear, so they stay lively and live longer) under a very light sinker or split shot, on light line. You can use a slip-bobber if you want.  I use a fish-finder rig with two minnows at different depths, and rig several rods, as many as four, sometimes, at different depths, until I find them (check to see if this is legal in your state, first). Drift fishing is far and away the most productive summer tactic. Drift along likely spots with these rigs and be ready. You will often catch two fish at a time like this. Don’t neglect the main channels, because crappie like moving water. Don’t forget that crappie are a major schooling fish. Where you catch one, you will catch others.

When the dog-days of summer give way to cool, foggy mornings, it signals a change in crappie behavior from mostly moody, to aggressive predator. As water temperatures drop, crappie begin to move once more in to the mid-depths, usually along the same routes they moved out on. They will cruise shallow flats in search of baitfish. The best times to search are early morning, twilight and night-time. What actually triggers this behavior is as much the appearance of Midges, as water temperature. When Midges appear, baitfish such as shad and shiners will attack them voraciously, in turn attracting schools of hungry crappie. When you see small baitfish jumping at this time of year, crappie will not be far behind. Look for crappie schools along shallow bays, winding creek beds and any other irregular bottom topography that can create a ‘holding’ zone.

Where you find schools of baitfish, you will find crappie. One of my fall tricks in locating fall crappie is one I learned while striper fishing. Look for wheeling and diving sea-gulls or other fish-eating birds. Also, look for jumping schools of baitfish. Where you find them, you will find baitfish, and where you find baitfish in med-shallow water, you will find crappie.  Crappie will once again become structure-oriented, so look for submerged timber, or other cover near drop-offs, in 5-15′ of water. Coves and points with shelves in 5-15′ of water are excellent places to search. In rivers and tailraces, look for flats in 5-15 ‘ of water, near bottom structure and current breaks.

When the water temperature approaches the mid 50s, crappie will begin their winter phase. Crappie are one of the most sought after winter species nation-wide, and with good reason. When you find them, you can catch them. But be advised, winter crappie fishing is not for everyone. It can be tough at times, due to the weather, and sometimes even dangerous. Safety is always important, but never more so than in winter. Hypothermia can strike without warning, and in some parts of the country, even frost-bite is a very real danger. Be sure to dress accordingly, have a cell phone within reach at all times, and stay alert to hazards. Crappie are pretty consistent through-out the country, so what works down south as far as locating schools will also work on ice up north. As the water cools into the 50s, crappie will move to shallow structure in 12-20 feet of water.

Look for submerged and standing timber, bridge pilings, boat docks, secondary creek channels and other structure. The best of all worlds is a shelf or channel that runs near a boat dock, bridge pilings or weedy flats. In rivers, look near current breaks and irregular bottom features. They will remain in these locations until the water temperature rises enough to trigger the pre-spawn mode, starting the entire cycle over.

Each body of water has it’s own unique patterns, but they will be close to these. Locals are a wealth of information on new lakes. But these generalities will give you good places to start.

Happy Fishing

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Dan Eggertsen is a fellow crappie fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on crappie fishing since 2004.

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