When Do Crappie Spawn and How to Catch Them

Many crappie fishing anglers love spending their weekend out on the water catching crappie. These fish are very easy to catch during the spawning season due to their habit of …

Many crappie fishing anglers love spending their weekend out on the water catching crappie. These fish are very easy to catch during the spawning season due to their habit of moving into shallow water in large numbers

Most crappie fishing anglers, both new and experienced, will be able to quickly and easily catch multiple crappies during the spawning months without too much hassle. These crappies spawn throughout the spring, depending on their home location, which could be anywhere from March to May.

Crappie Spawning Times and Seasons

spawning crappie
Crappie fish can spawn in North America between the months of early March to mid-May, depending on their location. The timing of spawning depends more on water temperature than the month or season.

Depending on whether these fish are in the northern or southern regions of North America, they can be actively spawning from the months of early March to mid-May. The more north they range, the later in the year crappie spawn.

Southern populations of crappie spawn much earlier in the spring months and will usually be active in early March or even mid to late February. Spawning crappie will depend on the water temperature in the area more so than the actual month or season.

Once the water temperature reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit, crappie will start searching for suitable spawning locations as well as mates. If you are tracking smallmouth and largemouth bass spawns in your area, the crappie spawn will normally fall after the smallmouth bass but before the largemouth bass.

The season for spawning crappies normally lasts around 3 weeks and will depend on the water temperatures overall. While the fish will start preparing for spawning when the water temperature is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the actual spawning behavior won’t happen until a 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit water temperature.

For Canada and the northern states of the United States, such as Minnesota and Iowa, crappie spawn from May to around early June. This is an excellent time for anglers in these states to go crappie fishing.

As you move more south and reach Tennessee and other midwestern states, crappie will start their spawning behavior as early as March and run into late April. For the deep south states such as Florida, it’s not uncommon to see crappie spawning in mid-February, making this early season month a great time to catch crappie.

Southern states also have bigger fish overall since the crappie have a larger window of warm water temperature in order to find prey and feed. Some of the largest crappie caught have been found around undeveloped shorelines, creek channels, and feeder creeks with shallow cover.

Where Do Crappie Spawn?

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Crappie is a species of fish that prefers to spawn in areas with high amounts of cover. When not actively spawning, crappie will suspend lower in the water column, searching for deeper cover.

Crappie love spawning in areas that have high amounts of cover, such as around overhanging tree branches, around sunken brush or logs, under docks and bridges, and around thick reeds, weeds, and cattails, as well as near brush piles. Crappie fishermen will take advantage of this knowledge and specifically search out these areas in the early spring.

Crappie will normally stay in shallow water, around 6 feet deep in most ponds and lakes, but if the water clarity is exceptionally clear, spawning crappie will move deeper and can be found in water up to 15 feet deep in an attempt to find a safe area for their eggs and fry to survive.

If you are searching for a good spot where crappie might gather during the spawning months, look for small creeks that join into large lakes. Crappie will gather in side coves or other areas where the current is not as strong, but the water is still clean and pure, making this a suitable spot for catching crappies in the spring.

Rocky bottoms and sand coverage is a good choice for crappie as well since this prevents their eggs from getting covered in fungus and algae. If you can find any lake, reservoir, or river areas with this type of bottom and suitable water temperatures, you are sure to find crappie nests as well.

When not actively spawning, such as during the pre or post-spawn weeks, crappie will suspend lower in the water column, searching for deeper cover. Some anglers have found large groups of black crappie in and around standing timber, such as when fishing in swampy areas or flooded woodlands.

How Do Crappie Spawn?

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Crappie fish begin their breeding process by finding a suitable area for their eggs and fry to survive, which is usually in weed-covered, shaded, and shallow waters. Both male and female crappie become very active during breeding season as they search for mates and spawning grounds.

Spawning crappie will start their breeding behavior by locating a suitable nesting ground for the eggs and fry to survive. This is often weed covered and protected from direct sunlight and can be relatively shallow.

While most crappie will be in 6 feet of water depth, some crappie spawn in as little as 2 feet of water if the conditions are right. When fishing for crappie, especially if fishing with a vertical jig, don’t be afraid to cast jigs into a variety of areas when fishing. You may have better luck locating crappie in deeper water than you do in shallow areas.

Males and females will both become very active during the nesting period while they locate their spawning grounds as well as their mates. Male crappie spawns with multiple females normally and will aggressively guard their spawning areas against other male crappies as well as other fish species.

Eggs will be laid in large numbers by the female and protected by the male once a suitable nesting spot is found. After a short time of suitable water temperatures, the eggs will hatch, and the male will protect the fry for a day or two before moving off on his own into deeper water and leaving the fry to fend for themselves in the shallow bays of their nests.

During this period, crappie fry will actively feed on small shrimp, other fish fries, small minnows, and some vegetation in order to grow and put on size. As the young crappie grow, so does their appetite, and they will soon start taking larger and more active prey items and venturing into deep water for the first time.

Is Crappie Fishing Good During the Spawn?

In short, crappie fishing is excellent during the spawning months. Since both male and female crappie will be feeding aggressively right up until the spawning time, it’s not hard to get them to take your bait or lure in the pre-spawning season.

During active spawning and the nest guarding phase, crappie move from aggressively feeding to being more defensive over their territory. If you drop a lure or bait into their nesting areas, it won’t be hard to catch crappie with a reactive or defensive bite from the pre-spawn to post-spawn weeks.

Crappie move into much shallower water than usual during spawning months, which makes them not only easier to locate but much easier to catch as well. It’s not uncommon to see a lot of surface agitation as male and female crappie locate nesting areas and mate while also protecting their nesting area from other fish they may see as a threat.

How to Catch Spawning Crappie: Tips for Crappie Anglers

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Micro-jigs with small floats are a great way to catch crappie for many anglers. A small jig of about 1/16 ounce size attached to a slip bobber for vertical jigging is recommended for tight areas where crappie gather to spawn.

Many crappie fishing anglers, myself included, have excellent luck catching crappie on micro-jigs with a small float. Look for a small jig around 1/16 ounce in size and attach it to a slip bobber for vertical jigging. This style of bobber is preferred by so many crappie fishing anglers when fishing in tight areas where crappie normally gather to spawn.

For bait, I would suggest using live redworms, but so many anglers have great luck with fathead minnows as well. You can also use small crankbaits, inline spinnerbaits, or swimbaits just as well if that is your preference over using live bait. 

Regardless of your bait or lure choice, bobber fishing is one of the best and most reliable ways to locate fish around their spawning areas. Since even big crappies are smaller than most fish you might normally have on the end of your line, it’s important that you visually use a fixed float or bobber to know when aggressive males strike your bait or lure.

If using an artificial lure for crappie fishing, go with one that has a lot of bright colors. Male crappie will be very aggressive and highly reactive to anything entering their nesting territory, so use this to your advantage. A bright-colored lure will be easily visible and will entice the big crappie males to strike in an attempt to scare the intruder away from his nesting territory.

Both black crappie and white crappie are extremely predictable during the spawning season, which makes them a great first fish for new anglers to try for. If you plan to selectively harvest multiple crappie, fish fast in a tight area over a few hours’ time.

Where you find one male crappie, multiple others are sure to be nearby, guarding their own nest-building spots. And since males are exceptionally aggressive during this time, you’re sure to land a few large fish on your live minnow or other bait when out on your next fishing or boating adventure.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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