From incredible shallow water fishing to the amazing black colors they display, crappie are a favorite for those seeking some spring and early summer fishing action.

Not only does shallow water and dark colors make catching them this time of year unique; it also allows shore stuck anglers a chance at nonstop action.

However, very few people understand how this process works. Why do they turn black? When do they push shallow? What’s the best way to target them?

Below we breakdown the spawn and pre-spawn habits of crappie, and explain just what causes them to sport their tuxedos.

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THE CRAPPIE SPAWN

WHEN CRAPPIE SPAWN

The spawn, like with most species, correlates heavily with water temperatures. However, unlike walleye and pike, who spawn with temperatures in the 40’s (in F), crappies don’t spawn until temperatures are nearing (and many times well into) the 60’s. In the north country, this means crappie don’t spawn until mid-May and into June, and of course varying by latitude (in the south, water temperatures warm up earlier).

Keep in mind, not all parts of a lake warm at the same time. In addition, not all lakes warm up at the same rate.  Shallow, smaller lakes warm well before their deep counterparts, even if only a few miles away.

Therefore, not all fish spawn at the same time either (even in the same lake). Fish spawn at different times on different lakes and even different times within the same lakes.

That’s why one of the best indicators of when this is occurring isn’t by a certain date, but rather by water temperature.

The other, and more pronounced way to find out when they are spawning is if the males are wearing their tuxedos.

WHY THEY TURN BLACK

Catching Giant Black Crappie During Spawn
You can find crappie turning black when it’s the spawn.

As the water warms and the spawn approaches, crappie (both black and white species) change colors.  In fact, male black crappie will turn nearly all black when they are preparing their nesting areas.

During the spawn, males take a dominant role in assuring there is a suitable habitat for the eggs (often referred to as creating a nest – but not quite the same kind as bass). It’s during this period where they start to change colors. As water temperatures change, and the days lengthen, their hormones begin to change, as a signal that their ready for the spawn.

This is why we say they put on their “tuxedos”. They are read for the females to lay eggs in their nest.

HOW THEY SPAWN

Males will create nests for the female to lay eggs. They will then perform their courtship (rub against each other to release eggs and sperm), and when finished, the male crappie will stay and guard the eggs, even fanning them from time to time. Females can lay eggs in multiple nests, and vacate the area when she is spawned out.

After the eggs hatch, the male will continue to stay to guard the fry for a few days or so.

Just like with pretty much every species, trying to actually catch crappie during the actual spawn is quite difficult.  It’s the one time of year when food isn’t on their mind – however, throw it in front of a guarding male and you might get lucky.

Also remember, different parts of the lake can spawn at different times.  

WHERE TO FIND SPRING CRAPPIE

A great way to find crappie is with jigs and plastics.
Jigs and plastics are a great way to find crappie.

Finding spring crappie can be broken down into two main ideas;

  • Shallow Water
  • Cover

Even if they push off of their spawning or early spring shallow patterns, the odds are they aren’t going to be to far away.  

DEPTH

Although you can find them suspended over deep basins during the majority of winter, most crappies congregate to shallow water areas right after ice out (and sometimes you can even find them in these areas during late ice). However, they aren’t yet spawning. This type of early migration in the shallows seem to confuse people on just when they spawn.  At this temperature they won’t spawn, they are simply looking for vegetation and food.

During winter in cold states, deep basins will run out of sufficient oxygen to support vegetation and food. Therefore crappie, constantly in search of resources, will push into the shallows well before they stage for the spawn. Because they also spawn in the shallows, don’t be surprised to find them in these same areas throughout this time.

COVER

It’s no secret that crappie love cover. When they are in the shallows, you’ll find them in brush and weeds. Look for pencil weeds, cattails, fallen trees along the shoreline.  Most importantly, during this time of year, look for warm water.

Often times, you can find them along the shore – in back bays and channels, where warm water and adequate cover is almost always located.  In these areas, search for crappie along big weed beds and brush on the banks. Throw next to shore and go shallow.

HOW TO TARGET THEM

Target shallow water crappie with slip bobbers
Slip bobbers are a great way to target shallow water crappie.

It’s hard to go wrong with a jig, especially when you are searching for fish.  When you find them, then try a bobber.

Slip bobbers with crappie minnows or worms are a great way to target a large school of fish, especially this time of year.  With the crappies tight against shorelines and in extremely weedy and brushy conditions, casting and jigging can lead to a lot of snags and breaks.  Slip Bobbers reduce the wasted time involved with all of that. That’s why when you are on a school of fish – don’t be afraid to throw a bobber with a minnow on the end.

WANT TO CATCH MORE TROPHY CRAPPIE?

Catch more trophy crappie with Krysten Potega

If you want to catch more big fish, then let the big fish live.

Smaller fish (including crappie) are often in abundance. Nature works that way. Certain species will have a lot of offspring frequently because many of those offspring will die. Crappie reproduce at a young age, often keeping the population inflated in bodies of water that lack sufficient predation. This leads to stunted growth.

In many lakes there are limited resources for a large portion of the population.  Limited resources stunt growth. Stunted growth means your odds of catching those 14” and greater crappies are greatly reduced (and in many bodies of water, not possible).

When there is a lack of food there is a lack of size.

That’s why it’s important to keep (your legal limit only) of smaller fish and let the trophy fish go. These fish likely have better genetics while also producing the largest percentage of eggs to support the population. The more big fish you let go, the bigger the fish you have to catch again.

So therefore, the number one way to catch bigger crappie during any season is to release the bigger crappie. So let the big fish go.

About The Author

Co-founder of Ladies of Angling. Can be found chasing walleye, pike, and the occasional sunfish. Find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Watch me on YouTube.

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