John's Journal...

The Crappie Almanac for Year-Round Fishing

Day 3: Where Crappie Are during the Spawn and How to Catch Them

Editor’s Note: I’ve enjoyed fishing for crappie for more than 50 years, and I’ve also interviewed and fished with some of the greatest crappie fishermen in the world for the last 35 years. Here’s what I’ve learned from these great anglers.

Click for Larger ViewThe Most-Shallow Water:

One spring I couldn’t believe my eyes. While wearing full camouflage, sitting on a creek bank calling and hunting turkeys, I saw two crappie fishermen in the back of the small creek where I hunted. Although the main part of the creek had 6- to 8-foot deep water, these fishermen had their corks within 2 inches of the ends of their wire crappie hooks baited with minnows. They’d swing the corks and minnows beside downed logs and stumps more than half out of the water and then fish in the ankle-deep water. As I watched through my binoculars, I saw the men consistently catch crappie in the 1-1/2- to 2-1/2-pound range. On almost every cast, a big slab would take a minnow. I forgot about my turkey hunting and concentrated my attention on the crappie fishermen to learn this new tactic. As I watched their minnows swing toward the logs and stumps, I actually could see the backs and tails of crappie barely sticking out of the water or laying just under the water beside the wood. Why were the fish there? Not only did this shallow-water area warm up before the rest of the lake, but the water next to the wood made it even warmer. I reasoned that the first big crappie to spawn would search for the warmest water and the best spawning conditions in these extremely shallow-water creeks and in the oxbow lakes next to wood cover. Since then, I’ve often fished this type of cover on the leading edge of the spawn with great success.

Click for Larger ViewLight Line and Little Jigs:

One of your best clues as to where to fish during the spawn is to simply notice where all the other anglers are fishing. Most crappie fishermen will use 8- to 12-pound-test line to fish with minnows in and around cover. Often, you can fish behind these anglers and catch some of the biggest crappie – ones they have missed – with this tactic. Use a long pole, and fish 2- to 4-pound-test line and a 1/32-ounce jig. Take your time, and slowly lower that jig into small holes in the cover to delicately put small baits on light lines in places where possibly crappie never have seen a bait before. Once you hook a crappie with this light-line, little-jig tactic, take your time to work the crappie out of the cover. Lead the fish to the boat, and use a dip net to land it.

Deep-Seated Spawners:

When fishing a lake with very little shoreline structure or cover, you’ll find crappie bedding in water as deep as 25 to 30 feet, or deeper. Either vertically jig very small jigs on extremely light line in these areas, or fish vertically with a live minnow and a small piece of shot lead up the line.

Click for Larger ViewGuerrilla Tactics:

Of all the college students I knew at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama, John Holley of Linden, Alabama, always caught the most and the biggest crappie of the spawn. After I worried Holley nearly to tears to take me crappie fishing with him, he finally agreed. But he insisted I use his equipment. Surprisingly, Holley fished with cane poles and broke the tips off the poles 8- to 24-inches from their ends. The poles resembled long pool cues and had that kind of strength, too. He used 20-pound-test monofilament, a large split-shot sinker, a wire hook and a large shiner minnow to fish in the thickest brush and cover he could find along a shoreline.

“I fish a heavy lead, so that my bait will go right down between the cover,” Holley explained to me. “I like 20-pound-test line, because as soon as the crappie takes the bait, I can get its head up and pull it out of the cover. I use a stout cane pole to get the crappie through the cover, and then I can hoist it into the boat without it getting tangled in the cover. By using heavy line and a heavy pole, if my hook gets caught in the brush, I can pull hard on the pole and the line, straighten the hook quickly and not spook the other crappie holding in the cover. To catch big crappie during the spawn, use heavy tackle, and fish where no one else in his right mind will fish.”

Jig-and-Cork Speckled Sides:

When the crappie near shoreline cover spawn, you often can catch them quickly and easily by tying a jig onto the end of a line and putting a cork 6 inches to 3-feet up the line, depending on the water depth. Cast the jig and cork in close to stumps, logs and brush. Slowly reel the cork about every 2 to 3 feet of the retrieve. After letting the cork sit motionless for a 5 to 10 count, begin your retrieve again. Actively feeding crappie will attack the jig as it moves. Crappie reluctant to eat will take the jig when the cork stops moving, and the jig look as though it’s sitting still on the water.

Click for Larger ViewLittle Creeks:

You don’t have to have a boat to catch crappie during the spawn. You can walk the edges of small streams and creeks that tend to warm-up faster than main rivers or lakes and catch plenty of fat, spawning crappie before anglers on the lake even begin to fish for them. Drop live minnows or small jigs into eddy pools behind rocks, logs or any other type of structure that breaks the current. The size and the number of crappie you can catch in these little warm-water creeks and streams during the spawn will surprise you.

For more crappie fishing tips, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBooks “Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall & Winter,” “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer,” “Catch Cold Water Crappie Now,” and “Reelfoot Lake: How to Fish for Crappie, Bass, Bluegills and Catfish & Hunt for Ducks” Click on each, or go to, type in the name of the book, and download it to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer. Check back at this website after April 16, 2014, to learn about new print crappie books.

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About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: More Ways to Locate Crappie during the Spawn

Check back each day this week for more about The Crappie Almanac for Year-Round Fishing"

Day 1: Places and Tactics to Locate Crappie during the Prespawn
Day 2: Where to Find Crappie during the Prespawn
Day 3: Where Crappie Are during the Spawn and How to Catch Them
Day 4: More Ways to Locate Crappie during the Spawn
Day 5: Where and How to Find Crappie after the Spawn

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Entry 764, Day 3