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Where do you look for crappie spawning banks?

Phil Lilley

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I guess those who don't fish for crappie often have a hard time visualizing where and how to catch them. There are books and videos on the subject but it's good to hear from the common angler too. I'll pin this topic since the season will be upon us soon and I know there's going to be many questions posted on the board about the subject. This topic should keep the common question from being asked, "Where are they and how do I catch them?"

Here's my 2-cents.

I've been a crappie-fisherperson-wannabe for along time. I couldn't seem to be in the right place, using the right lure, at the right time to catch crappie. I didn't have a 'feel' for it. I envied the retire guy who patiently fished everyday and was on them, caught them. But I think I have a handle on it. Here's what I found.

Spawning Banks - I have found them on any bank that has a 30 to 40 degree angled bank on the main lake or in coves/fingers. It's best when you find these banks close to deeper water. Long, shallow banks are not good, neither are steep, bluff banks UNLESS these is a ledge with a log or tree on that ledge. Transition banks are good, especially where the bank just starts to flatten out and you find small rocks and even some pea gravel. I like to see at least a little pea gravel in the large rocks on the bank. I've also found that drainage cuts in a bluff bank will hold crappie, especially if there is driftwood in these cuts.

Prespawn (March, first of April) - crappie have already started to group up but they tend to move around. They suspend out off spawning banks or out toward the main lake, not necessarily back in the coves yet. They could be in 20-30 feet of water but suspended anywhere from 2 to 12 feet deep. That makes them difficult to locate and patience is needed to find and catch them. They will make "false runs" to the banks when the water warms early. You'll find mostly males making this run, but not always.

Spawn (mid to late April) - Crappie will be surprisingly close to the edge of the bank during spawn... sometimes 12 inches. Not all crappie will spawn at the same time so you will find them on the bank- and off the bank 10-15 feet. Concentrate on the banks I described as spawning banks and keep moving if you can't locate them. Move quick to cover alot of ground. You will find them, especially on Table Rock during this time. TR has had some of the best crappie populations the last 3 years.

Postspawn (May) - this is an area I'm not as familiar with. I'll let someone with more experience cover it.

Fishing for them - I love to use my fly rod and a jig-n-float, especially during spawn. But to locate them I would use a swimming bait- grub or swimming minnow.

Bill Babler -

Spoke to Bill Anderson this morning. Bill was our lake biologist for a long time. He is now the cordinator of our warm water hatcheries.

Most of the crappie we are catching are coming from a couple of good back to back spawn years. A keeper is basicly a 4 to 5 year old fish. What I could determine in speaking to Bill is the number of shorts should well outnumber the keepers for a viable population, as at legal length, with the fishing prussure we have, the majority of these fish will be harvested.

Contrary to popular belief, wave after wave of crappie don't come into the bank, spawn and move away, as another set moves up. In a given period of time the spawn will occur. The majority of these keeper fish will be there at one time. When their gone, there gone. Yes there is some constant movement, but it is the same fish going and coming in search of the right conditions, not another group of fish.

Most of us can remember the low decade of the 90's. Don't forget it, as Bill said, with the harvest that has gone on the last couple of years and the extremely poor recruitment of last and for sure this year, we had better enjoy them while they last.

Can catch and release of these bedding females make a difference in our future harvest. Bill says not likely. The recuritment of crappie spawn is manley due to lake conditions. With depressed water levels, and warm clearing conditions, the new hatched crappie will have a rough go of it. If the microscopic organism's that the spawn consume are present and we get rain to promote cover for these young we may continue to have good seasons like 05, and 06. But look out 3 to 4 years from now, thats when we will see how good it really was in 2006.

Lilleys Landing logo 150.jpg

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Excellent synopsis, I agree 100% with all your comments. A few of my own observations would include:

I think the water color has a lot to do with the depth they will nest in. I read some time ago that a study by an MDC biologist sevaral years ago on TR showed that crappie TEND to nest at of a depth of "secci plus 18". In other words if a white object underwater disappears at 20" in full sunlight they will tend to nest around 38" (20+18). Point being that the depth of nesting in ultra-clear water will most probably be a lot deeper than dingier water. Same study also said that if they lake suitable bottom substrate they will often spawn on tree limbs or other objects at the secci plus 18 depth. Not sure if I have ever really put this tidbit of info to good use.

When they are "on the bank" if you are catching lots of smallish fish, you might be fishing out of the wrong side of the boat. There is a good chance to hook up with some larger fish out in the immediate deeper water, especially if there is some underwater brush or poletimber nearby. Seems like I can always catch some nicer fish out of the deeper water, even when I am doing OK on the bank. Also I think the best spawning banks tend to be those more protected from prevailing S & W winds, especially in water where they are spawning shallow. Laydowns, brush, or chunk rock are all spots they will tend to congregate or nest.

Prespawn fish can be found surprisingly shallow any time after the first of the year when we have a few unusually warm winter days. Nothing to do with spawning, but I think they like to get up on shallow mud and sand flats in dingy water and soak up the warmth and chase some minnows, especially mid-day and afternoons when the water has come up a couple degrees.

With the prespawn fish in deeper water that Phil mentioned, I have found the hotspot tends to be the poletimber right along the creek channel, next to the deepest water in the cove, 25-45' deep. Like Phil said they will often suspend surprisingly shallow, and they will tend to hang real tight to the trees, especially if it is sunny. My favorite method to catch these is similar to Phils fly rod, but I use a 12' jigpole, with a bobber and a 1/16 oz jig suspended 18-48" below the float. Flip it beyond the stickup just like you would flippin a bass jig in brush, then pull the float back right against the tree. If there is any wave action let is sit there that will work the jig, otherwise you might have to give it a few pops. It is deadly on both pre-spawn and spawn fish that are suspended relatively close to the surface.

If they are in the deeper poletimber and not on the surface where I can fish under a float, I cast for them, maybe going up to a 1/8 jig if it is windy. If they are really deep 15-20', I have better luck vertical jigging next to the trees. This can be kind of challenging especially if there is a wind. To help with this I often tie off to the treetop so I can remain stationary and stay off the trolling motor. A really handy item to have in the boat in this instance is a "stand-off pole". Not a fishing pole but a 5-6' length of 3/4" PVC with a rope running through it and a loop on one end. Pretty much like the things dog-catchers use. It's handy because you can tie off quick, the PVC holds your boat a few feet away from the tree and you don't bump and spook fish, and you can actually tie off to underwater trees if you use rope that sinks. If anyone is interested I'll post a pic of mine and better instructions. Best $4 investment I have made for the deep crappie in the trees.

Post-Spawn - I have heard they are in the same locations as pre-spawn, i.e. close to the spawning banks but back in deeper water. But by this time haven't we all had enough of the crappie and aren't the bass red hot? In my boat the answer is YES and we leave the little guys alone! :D

Tight Lines...


"A True Fisherman with a Rod in His hand, and a Tug on the Line, would not Trade His Position for the Throne of Any King"

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[quote name='SKMO' date='Mar 28 2006, 07:05 AM' post='809 If anyone is interested I'll post a pic of mine and better instructions. Best $4 investment I have made for the deep crappie in the trees.

SKMO, Sounds like a great idea ! Would greatly appreciate a picture of your stand off pole. Think I know what you mean generally but the idea of not spooking fish and staying off the troller has the makings of a handy tool.

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  • Fishing Buddy

Wow!!! SKMO and Lilley we have to go crappie fishing soon.. Great reply's by you guys.. Also SKMO post your pic's for the holder..

Good Fishing

Capt. Don House
Branson Fishing Guide Service
Table Rock Lake and Taneycomo Lake
Branson MO


Branson Fishing Guide Service Website

Pro Staff for G3 Boats, Yamaha Outboards, Humminbird Electronics, Minnkota Trolling Motors, Grandt Custom Rods, Ardent Reels, Seaguar, Berkley-Fishing

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Wow!!! SKMO and Lilley we have to go crappie fishing soon.. Great reply's by you guys.. Also SKMO post your pic's for the holder..

Good Fishing

I posted picture and instructions under the Tips & Tricks forum.


"A True Fisherman with a Rod in His hand, and a Tug on the Line, would not Trade His Position for the Throne of Any King"

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