Crappies can be finicky and hard to catch during their post-spawn transition period. A little knowledge of their behavior and the use of proper post-spawn angling techniques can successfully combat this.
Post-spawn is a traditional transition time for crappies. The fish are seemingly moving randomly and can be quite unpredictable. Anglers wishing to catch a limit of fish for the fryer and the freezer must learn how to pinpoint them to be successful.
“Crappies, like bass, are structure oriented,” explained legendary angler Bill Dance. “The two keys to catching transitional crappies are successfully determining the depth where they hold and finding fish that are actively feeding.
“Suspended crappies usually are inactive and nearly impossible to catch. It’s usually best to target them on or near the best available fish-holding structure. I focus my angling efforts on breaklines, the areas where shallow water rapidly drops off into deep water. Crappies can move quickly up or down the water column on a breakline yet still hold on some type of structure or cover.”
According to Dance and other experts, food, available light and cover all dictate where transitional crappies hold. Food is the primary magnet that draws fish to a region. Light availability and cover dictate the depth the fish prefer.
“On many reservoirs, two shad spawns take place each year,” Dance said. “One takes place during spring and the other during late summer. The spawning grounds are usually coves and backwater areas off the main lake. The migration of small baitfish into the coves draws the crappies like a magnet. Breaklines located near the mouths of these spawning coves can be tremendous fishing sites.”
After locating breaklines in areas where baitfish are abundant, understanding how light availability and cover dictate crappie movement is crucial to further pinpointing. Weather and water clarity affect light penetration through the water. Cloudy weather or stained water lessens light penetration through the water while bright skies and clear water enhance it.
“Crappies move up and down the water column depending on light penetration,” Dance said. “They hold in the zone where light penetration is at its peak. On cloudy days or in stained water, look for crappies at shallower depths. When the sun is bright or the water is clear, look in deeper water.”
To determine the depth at which fish are holding, Dance depends heavily on electronics and idles over deep water to mark suspended schools of crappies. These aren’t the fish he targets, but he lets the suspended schools” tell” him the approximate depth he’ll find crappies holding on the breaklines he intends to fish.
“After I find breaklines where forage fish are abundant and determine the depth the crappies prefer, I home in on cover,” he added. “Cover is the final key to pinpointing crappies. A breakline devoid of cover at the depth the fish are holding will not produce good fishing. Target only those breaklines with stumps, brush, or other cover at the same depth as the fish.”
Because post-spawn is a transitional period and the crappies move a great deal up and down the water column, Dance also continually modifies his angling techniques to match the conditions present. It is vital for the post-spawn crappie angler to be adaptable.
“There are a number of productive methods for catching crappies during the post-spawn period,” he said. “Vertical jigging, long-poling, and casting and retrieving jigs are just a few. Pick the presentation that matches the conditions.”
As a rule, the most productive lures for crappies are 1/16-to 1/8-ounce jigs. These lightweight jigs are made to fall slowly through the water. Using old heavy line or a stiff rod with these jigs works against the angler. Heavy line causes the jigs to fall too quickly and a heavy rod hampers your ability to feel subtle hits.
If you don’t want to spend summer without crappies in the freezer, take Dance’s advice. To catch transitional slabs, pinpoint their hideouts by finding baitfish, the depth and cover in which they are holding, and choose tactics that match the conditions present. It will put the odds much more in your favor.