THE TYPICAL SPRING CRAPPIE APPROACH is a no-brainer. You head for the backs of reservoir tributary arms, anchor, and drown minnows in sunken brushpiles, waiting for finicky spawning crappies to bite–all the while rubbing bows with scores of other anglers doing the same thing. Kentucky Lake guide Garry Mason (731-593-5429) takes a more proactive tack. He hits the water several weeks ahead of the crowds, casting lures along sunken highways that fat pre-spawn crappies travel to reach their shallow spawning grounds. It’s virtually the same strategy as that of professional bass anglers gunning for big largemouths in early spring. Soaking minnows is a meat-fishing game. Mason’s method, on the other hand, is geared toward those who’d rather tie into the crappie of a lifetime.
CRAPPIES TAKE A PREDICTABLE PATH TO SPAWN. HERE’S HOW TO AMBUSH THEM
RESERVOIR CRAPPIES TYPICALLY winter on deep main-lake structures like river-channel dropoffs, submerged roadbeds, and offshore humps. They’re often 25 to 50 feet deep. As the lake gradually warms in early spring, crappies gravitate toward shallower water, following predictable migration routes that lead to their eventual spawning areas.
“Think of these as underwater interstates,” Garry Mason says. “Crappies move along points at tributary mouths, creek channels, ledges, and ditches, occasionally stopping to hold and feed at ‘rest areas’ such as channel bends and isolated wood cover. It’s the same way largemouth bass go shallower in spring.”
This crappie migration takes place in waves rather than all at once. The initial activity occurs when a lake reaches 55 to 58 degrees. “The first wave often contains the biggest fish, so it pays to monitor the water temperature closely during this period and be on those crappie highways when the slabs roll in,” Mason says. “You’ll find most of them in the 12-foot zone, holding tight to submerged brushpiles and stumps.”
By the time the lake hits 65 degrees, expect to experience some truly awesome crappie fishing if you target this pattern. “They’ll move progressively shallower as the water warms, eventually ending up in the backs of tributary arms and coves, where they spawn in stake beds and sunken brushpiles once the water reaches the low to mid 70s. But you’ll have already caught the biggest, baddest fish by then. You can leave the little ones to the batter-and-fry crowd.”
BATTLE PLAN As crappies follow creek channels to spawning water, they stop at staging or rest areas. Isolated wood cover, underwater stumps along bends, and points are all good spots. The warmer the water temperature, the closer they’ll be to spawning areas.
KEY Spawning Areas
A Wintering area: 40°-50°
B Initial movement toward shallow water: 55°-60°
C Staging or rest areas around wood cover: 65°-70°
D Final destination: 70°-75°
Any boat with an elevated casting deck will do (accurate casts are a must), but Mason’s is tricked out like a bass pro’s. It’s a Triton Tr-21X bass boat equipped with a bow-mounted 36-volt MotorGuide trolling motor and two Lowrance fishfinders, an X25 at the console and an LMS-332 at the bow. Both sonar units have a water-temperature sensor, which is critical for this prespawn approach.
Tackle and Lures
THE IDEAL SETUP IS SENSITIVE AND STRONG
The Charlie Brewer Slider Grub ($2.40; basspro.com) is Mason’s only choice for this tactic. It’s a small soft-plastic lure with a blunt swim tail that throbs enticingly during the retrieve. He fishes it on a red 1/16-ounce light-wire Slider ball jighead ($8.50, pack of 20; basspro.com) with the hook point buried in the grub’s body to protect against hanging in brushy cover. Effective prespawn colors include white, chartreuse, junebug, black, and shad.
Mason uses a 7-foot, two-piece Bass Pro Shops Micro Lite IM6 graphite spinning rod ($40; basspro.com). This lightweight stick provides just the right combination of castability, hooksetting power, and shock absorption for dealing with a trophy-class crappie–or whatever else you encounter. “You can throw a 1/16-ounce grub a country mile with this rod,” Mason says. “It weighs next to nothing, yet it’ll wear out a big fish–besides lunker crappies, I’ve caught 6-pound largemouths and 10-pound catfish on it.” He pairs the rod with a Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris JMX1500 reel ($80; basspro.com) spooled with 6-pound P-Line CXX X-tra Strong fluorescent green mono-filament ($12 for 600 yards; basspro.com). “The bright line color doesn’t spook the fish, and it lets you detect light bites visually even on windy days, which you’ll have plenty of in early spring.”
Slide a Grub
THE PERFECT TACTIC FOR PRESPAWN SLABS
BEGIN AT A POINT leading into a major tributary arm, using your graph to locate a channel or ledge with a sharp dropoff (say, 8 to 18 feet). Use marker buoys to delineate the structure and key pieces of submerged cover that you spot on the screen. Then back the boat off and cast a grub to the top of the dropoff, letting it fall down the slope on a tight line. If most of the strikes occur on top of the ledge, swim the grub there just off the bottom with a slow, steady retrieve. You might not feel a bite because crappies may pick up the grub and swim toward you. If you see the line jump, or lose contact with the lure, set the hook.