The first hint of green across the treetops means one thing to guys like Kent Driscoll: Crappie are moving shallow. A dedicated crappie angler, Driscoll has been targeting these fish for decades and has come to love the early spring. That’s when these popular panfish fan out a bed and lay their eggs. It’s also when they are most vulnerable. Drop a minnow or jig in front of a bedding crappie, and it’s as good as hooked and cooked.
First, however, you have to find them. Driscoll simply goes fishing, but instead of working a random shoreline, he hunts in places he expects to find fish this time of year. He targets banks on the north side of a protected creek or cove, especially if it has a hard clay or gravel bottom.
“The north banks warm up faster and crappie start spawning when the water gets above 60 degrees, so as the water continues to warm, I’ll just keep looking for water temperatures in the 60 to 65 degree range,” he explains.
Crappie will spawn on bare banks, but they prefer some sort of cover. Virtually any type of wood or aquatic vegetation that provides safety for the spawning fish as well as their eggs and fry is a good place to make a few casts. Driscoll prefers thicker lay-downs, and he’ll also target aquatic vegetation like lily pads and hydrilla. Docks are also prime places to target, and so are stump fields that are common in many southern reservoirs.
How deep they spawn depends entirely on water clarity. Driscoll has caught them in as little as a foot of water in muddy reservoirs, but in clear lakes, they’ll spawn in as much as 20 feet of water. Either way, they can be caught with a simple jig-minnow combination. Driscoll’s favorite lure is a 2-inch Southern Pro Umbrella Tube tipped with a 1-inch minnow, which isn’t always necessary, but it certainly helps, he notes. He favors brighter tubes like white and red/white in clear water and dark-light combinations like black and chartreuse in murky water. If he’s using numerous poles at once, a tactic known as spider-rigging, he’ll try a variety of colors to see which one works best.
“If the fish are in deeper water, I’ll spider rig as many as eight poles that are set so my bait is a foot or two above the bottom. That puts the bait right in front of the fish or a little above them,” he says. “Once I find them, I’ll just sit in that spot and wait. I might move a little after I’ve caught a few, but once you find a couple, there will usually be others in that same area.”
Clear water can present a variety of problems, of course. The biggest is that like any fish, crappie spook if you get too close. Although they can be pretty forgiving, heavy fishing pressure or even the presence of a boat can push crappie off their beds and make them difficult to catch. Driscoll says if they are 12 to 20 feet deep, he won’t hesitate to ease his boat over them, but when they are spawning 6 or 8 feet deep and the water is relatively clear, Driscoll will rig a jig-minnow combination under slip bobber and cast his bait to bedding crappie. If he doesn’t get a bite within a few minutes, he’ll move his bait.
“They’ll usually take it right away,” he explains. “I keep moving my bait around until I start catching fish.”
He works his minnow-jig even faster when he’s fishing shallow, dirty water. Instead of casting, however, Driscoll uses a 12-foot B’n’M telescopic pole that allows him to lift and drop his bait in tight spots or next to stumps within reach. The long pole lets him to keep a little distance between himself and the fish, and it allows him to hit numerous spots without moving his boat. He simply lowers his jig next to a stump, holds it still for a few seconds and then tries another spot. It’s just another efficient-and effective-way to catch lots of spawning crappie.