With their delicious taste and exhilarating fight, crappies are a popular fish to target. And, like many fish, the pre-spawn and spawning periods are particularly rewarding.
But when do crappie spawn? And what other information do you need to make the most of the spawning period?
This article will answer all of those questions as well as give more detailed information for specific states.
Table of Contents
- Crappie Basics
- The Crappie Spawn
- How do I Catch Crappie?
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What do Crappie Look Like?
There are two main species of crappie, the white crappie and the black crappie. Both look similar with some subtle differences; the white crappie has black stripes running vertically on its side, while the black crappie has black dots.
Both crappies are oval-shaped and have a protruding bottom lip. Just underneath the gills in line with the pectoral fins, they have a dual pelvic fin to aid balance.
Here is some more information on how to identify Crappie.
Where can I Find Crappie?
Like many fish, crappies can be found near structures that provide a hiding place or starting point for ambushing their prey.
Keep an eye out for structures such as rocks, tree roots, or bends and undulations in the river or lake bed. More examples might be estuary tunnels or fallen trees near flowing water. Crappie use the cover to ambush their prey as they move past with the current.
They also like a bit of turbulence. A great spot to look out for would be corners and coves where the wind churns the water up, pushing bait into the corner and making for an easy food source.
During the spawn, you will find the Crappie migrate to shallower water to build their nests. The males arrive in the shallower water first, while the females will most likely remain in deeper water until they are ready to spawn.
Crappie gravitate towards sites with protection from the elements and other predators when looking for places to build their nests. Examples might be rock contours on the river bed or ledges with vegetation cover. Many will also return to past spawning sites from year to year.
What do Crappie Feed On?
As with most species of fish, the older they get the bigger their prey become. The younger crappie will most likely feed on microscopic animals such as zooplankton. As they get bigger they will feed on different crustaceans and small amphibians.
Adult crappie feed on shad and minnows and generally whatever they can fit in their mouths. Before fall, crappies feed aggressively in order to put on weight for the winter.
Once temperatures cool, they feed less aggressively, relying on their reserves until temperatures rise again in the spring.
The Crappie Spawn
When do Crappie Spawn?
The crappie spawn takes place roughly between late February and mid-June, depending on state and weather patterns, and usually lasts 3-6 weeks. As the days get longer and water temperatures warm, the crappie will migrate to shallower water to prepare to spawn.
This reliance on temperature means that the spawn will start earlier in the southern states and later the further north you are.
Both genders feed aggressively during this period and once ready the female selects a nest, moves in, and lays her eggs.
Black crappie release between 10,000 and 190,000 eggs per spawn season, while white crappie release roughly 3000 to 90,000 eggs. The eggs hatch within 3-6 days of being fertilized and reach maturity around 2 years later.
The male crappie guards the eggs and hunts fiercely, so if you can find the nests or remember where they were from the last season you are sure to have a good fight on your hands!
What about Pre-Spawn?
The crappie pre-spawn takes place during the transition from winter to spring. Pre-spawn dates can vary depending on where you are but on average they start between late Jan and mid-March, or once water temperatures reach 50˚F.
When the water is warm enough, crappie will start to feed more in order to regain the weight they lost during winter, and prepare for spawning. During this time they will gradually migrate towards spawning sites in shallower water (6ft to 15ft).
Here are some great tips for catching the crappie during the Pre-Spawn.
When do Crappie Spawn in Different States?
As mentioned earlier, as the start of the spawn is dependent on water temperatures warming, spawning will start sooner in the southern states and later the further north you go.
- Ontario is a great example of a cold region that starts its spawn relatively late. Its spawning period takes place between May to mid-June, with the pre-spawn occurring as late as April depending on weather conditions.
- Crappies in Minnesota start to spawn from the end of April to the beginning of June. In Minnesota, you should start seeing the pre-spawn as early as March if the weather warms quickly.
- Iowa has an earlier crappie spawn than Ontario and Minnesota, and also has a smaller window for the spawn. It starts in early April and ends in early May, while pre-spawn most likely starts in early April.
- Tennessee also has a relatively early spawn which runs for about 3 weeks. The spawn here runs from late March to mid-April. Pre-spawn starts roughly around mid-February to early March.
- Alabama has a very similar spawning and pre-spawn period to Tennessee. The only difference is that Alabama starts around mid-March but ends in the middle of April.
- Florida seems to have one of the longest crappie spawning periods. Crappie spawn here starts around mid-February and ends in early April. This is about 3-5 weeks. Pre-spawn could start around late January.
Each spawning period is subject to changing weather conditions, so these estimated spawning periods might vary from year to year.
How do I Catch Crappie?
Catching crappies mostly comes down to knowing where to look for them.
Crappie prefer moderately warm water, and appreciate overhanging or fallen trees. They also congregate around underwater rocks and vegetation.
Crappie also prefer still water, so when fall winds create turbulence, they search for protected areas where the water remains calm.
Crappies can be caught reliably with a basic cast and retrieve but jigging vertically is also effective. Vertical jigging generally entails dropping your jig into a school of crappies directly from a boat or dock and releasing it.
Does Temperature Affect when Crappie Feed?
Like most fish, temperature and weather conditions affect crappie’s feeding habits. The reason for this is the pressure-sensitive swim bladder.
The swim bladder increases and decreases in size as barometric pressure rises and falls. When air pressure rises, the fish feels comfortable and thus eager to feed. When pressure drops, the effect on the swim bladder makes the fish feel uncomfortable and less likely to feed.
The same goes for temperature. If water is too cold, crappie will be less likely to feed in order to conserve energy. In temperatures that are too warm, crappie will become lethargic and move to deeper water.
What is the Best Time to Catch Crappie?
Crappies are more active in the morning, at sunset, and during spawning season. They are less active during the day, particularly in summer when temperatures are warmer, and much less active during the winter.
The best times to catch crappie are dawn and dusk, during spring and fall. Summer can result in good crappie fishing but you’ll likely need to fish deeper water.
Check out this article for more information on when to fish for Crappie.
What Baits and Lures Work for Crappie?
The crappie is a predatory fish that feeds on smaller fish and other smaller aquatic animals. With this in mind, the bait needs to mimic the same animals that the crappie preys on.
There are multiple ways to catch crappie, including lures, live bait, and floats. But some are more reliable than others.
Catching crappie with live bait is arguably the best option. Crappie feed on shad and minnows which you can catch in a throw net. Thread the hook through a spot just under the dorsal fin to allow the fish the ability to still move somewhat. Alternatively, thread the hook through the mouth and out just above the eyes.
You can throw the bait out just like that, no float or sinker, or, if you prefer to see the fish take, add a float, and when it’s pulled under completely you should know something has taken the bait.
Spider rigging off a boat is a great way to target crappie. Use smaller floats with a ¼ ounce sinker head hook and spread your rods equally through the boat.
Jigging is also said to be one of the best methods to catch crappie, although there are a number of variations on technique. If you prefer more technical fishing then jigging is the method for you.
For each lure, there are also different ways of presenting. For some, you have to retrieve the lure slowly whilst flicking the tip of your rod to provide quick upwards movements. Others you retrieve very fast and some you tug and release consistently to provide a drop and upward movement.
Check out this article for the 7 best lures to use for Crappie.
What Tackle Should I Use When Targeting Crappie?
If you are just looking to catch a fish for dinner, then using a heavier rod is perfectly adequate. But since crappies are typically on the smaller side, to get the most fun out of the fight I would suggest you use tackle on the light to the ultra-light side.
Using an ultra-light rod with a small bait-caster reel with roughly 4-6lb line should do it for you. If you prefer you could use a light-tipped spinning rod, 6-8ft would be suggested to give you a decent cast.
Fly fishing for Crappie is incredibly fun but definitely takes some practice. Use a 3 to 4-weight fly rod and it will feel like you have a monster on the line. It must be said that the lighter you go with tackle the more technique is required when catching the fish.
Here’s some great information on catching Crappie with a fly rod.
The crappie spawning season is an epic time to fish. Both black and white crappie are super aggressive during this time and will give a massive tug when they first take the bait.
Remember that the spawning season goes from mid-February to around early June depending on state, and starts when the water temperature reaches between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Crappie will be found near shaded ledges and structures, sheltered from heavy winds, in depths from 6-15 ft. Keep an eye on the conditions to know when the prime time is to catch this amazing fish! Tight lines!