More than One Way to Catch Spawning Crappie This Month
It’s that wonderful time of year for panfish anglers. The winter is finally giving up its grip. This is when the water begins warming up toward that magic temperature point that makes crappie begin to spawn. When those big slab-sided crappie get on the beds, you can bet that anglers won’t be far behind.
Many anglers think about heading super shallow around the shoreline in March. Many fine crappie are taken each spring by anglers fishing just about as shallow as they can get. I’ll confess that I love to see a bobber dance and then disappear as a fat, eager crappie takes my minnow. I also confess that I love to fry up a big mess of fresh-caught spring crappie for a fish fry.
However, there’s more to crappie fishing in the spring than just beating the shorelines. Some fine crappie spawn every spring in the super shallow waters that most anglers work. However, the same ones that spawn spend a lot more time in deeper water away from the shallow spawning areas.
So, for crappie anglers, especially on the big waters of the Tennessee River chain of lakes, it pays for crappie anglers to keep an open mind and be flexible when it comes to spring slab fishing.
What to Look For When Fishing Super Shallow
At some point in every spring, crappie will pull up to very shallow water near trees, stumps, boat docks, and other solid wood structures. At this time and place, crappie will create their spawning beds so the next generation of great-tasting crappie will happen.
When the crappie are in this shallow water, they are very vulnerable to anglers of all kinds. The spring spawning season is a grand time to take kids outdoors to teach them about the joys of crappie catching.
Rigging for catching these slabs in super shallow water this spring is easy. A simple closed-face spin-casting rig works well. Even cane poles baited with live minnows will take lots of crappie when they’re on the beds.
Anglers can slowly maneuver a boat along the shorelines of backwater areas off most Alabama lakes and rivers to find the greatest concentrations of crappie spawning in shallow water. For whatever reason, crappie love to spawn in super shallow water around willow trees. In the spring, anglers who find a good willow tree that shades the water and provides good cover can usually fill an ice chest with great crappie,
So, what’s wrong with this picture? The only problem with this hot springtime super-shallow bite is that it doesn’t last very long. Then, the crappie return to deeper water for the remainder of the year. However, some great options allow crappie chasers to catch some very big slabs before and after the spawn.
Don’t Give Up On Open Water
Although most anglers think shallow water in the spring is the only way to catch large numbers of big crappie, our buddy Capt. Brad Whitehead begs to differ. Captain Brad is a crappie specialist. After having fishing with him on a number of occasions, we are inclined to listen to him when he speaks of catching crappie. He knows his stuff.
Captain Brad says, “My way of fishing for crappie in spring is a little different. I never fish in less than 16 feet of water. I like deeper water. Cold fronts don’t affect the deeper fish at this time of year as they do in shallow water. Also, the deeper crappie get less pressure than fish on the shallow banks do. Trolling open water allows you to move fast and cover water. Here’s the formula: covering lots of water equals plenty of fish.”
“Cold fronts don’t affect the deeper fish at this time of year as they do in shallow water.” – Capt. Brad Whitehead, crappie guide.
Captain Brad fishes the big northern Alabama lakes for crappie. He also has strong opinions about the quality of the crappie fishery there. He tells us, “Here in North Alabama, you’re able to fish several different structures. Rocks, stumps, creek channels, and big river flats are all available on the Tennessee River. I prefer deep flats in 20 to 25 feet even in the spring. Plenty of those fat ladies hang back in deep water until conditions are perfect for their actual spawning.”
I fished one early spring morning with Captain Brad on Pickwick Lake. I received a quick, but thorough education on deep-water spring crappie fishing. A cold front had passed through northern Alabama the day before and it had brought the red-hot shallow water crappie bite to a complete halt.
However, Captain Brad advised me to come on up and fish with him as we had planned. While we saw several boats with eager crappie anglers working the shallows close into the shores of Pickwick Lake, we never got closer than a quarter of a mile from the shore. We never saw any of those shore-hugging boats bring in a fish.
We pulled a wide range of colors of small crankbaits and double jig rigs over deep flats, and caught crappie all morning long. Captain Brad used his sonar unit to keep the boat moving slowly over a creek channel below us. Whenever we’d come over a school of shad, which showed up quite clearly on the fish finder screen, he’d say, “Get ready. Right about – NOW!” One or more of our trolling rigs would bend over and start to bounce with the strike of a fat slab crappie.
Capt. Brad Whitehead has perfected his technique of open water trolling for spring crappie to the point that he has developed his own style of trolling. He describes it this way. “I do a style called ‘side pulling.’ It’s really done like it sounds. The trolling motor is mounted on the side of the boat. I pull out my lines and take off. I’m able to cover many acres of water with my clients always fishing fresh water. We have a special boat design from War Eagle Boats and rods specially designed by B’n’M Poles that are built just for this style of crappie fishing. I team this special boat and these special rods with homemade hair jigs and Sliders from Charlie Brewer’s Slider Company. Finally, some 10-pound clear Vicious line completes the crappie specialty rigging.”
Best Advice For Chasing Crappie Beginning to Spawn
Although some folks think springtime crappie fishing is easy and requires no special skills or knowledge, there are some of us who need all of the help we can get to find and catch the best crappie at this time of year.
We asked Captain Brad for his best advice for springtime crappie catching. He tells us what he’s learned over the years he’s been guiding folks to their best crappie fishing experiences.
He says, “Pick a style of crappie fishing and master it. Pick what fits your needs. So many guys try to fish the way their buddy fishes or what they have seen on TV or read about. There are styles of crappie fishing I don’t like. Some would think it’s boring. Pick what fits your needs and make it fun. Also, take a young person crappie fishing and you give that kid a chance to enjoy the outdoors. They are the future of our sport.”
Also, for those anglers who want to try crappie fishing in waters not familiar to them, Captain Brad advises, “If you’re not able to fish a lot, get a guide. More people waste time and money on gear and equipment if they’re inexperienced in fishing. Get a guide on the water you’re planning to fish. This will help you make sure you’re going to enjoy the outdoors on your trip.”
IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION
Capt. Brad Whitehead
Charlie Brewer’s Slider Company
War Eagle Boats