Spring Crappies: Wood to Weeds Dynamics

Crappie Fishing with Straw – Part 2 of 4


In the fall, when weeds begin to die, an exodus takes place.  Refugees with and without vertebrae begin flocking from the decaying flora to more stable environments.

First the insects leave their dying source of food and cover, followed by the minnows and panfish that feed on them.  The most logical refuge for these epiphytic insects becomes wood in the form of brush piles, lay downs, stake beds, logs, and stickups.

In spring, these movements reverse. Eventually. But when spring comes early, with unseasonably warm temperatures arriving weeks ahead of schedule, anglers often find nothing but dead weeds on the shallow flats in their favorite panfish bays.  Though often frequented by crappies right after ice-out, these flats can be devoid of fish life altogether until new weed growth reaches a certain height—tall enough to provide cover, and dense enough to draw insects.

Famous crappie-walleye pro Tommy Skarlis, assaulting a wooden sanctuary for crappies in the backwaters of the Mississippi River in spring.

Most years, the first place to find shallow crappies in early spring will be around wood cover.  Bluegills, too, will be crowded into the branches of fallen trees at this point—especially when big bass, catfish, or pike are on the prowl in the warming waters of those first bays to light up with fish life.

Consummate crappie pro Kyle Schoenherr (All Seasons Guide Service in Illinois), demonstrating how crappies will find and utilize the most dense wood cover available in spring.

A single log laying along bottom, or angling to the surface with one end exposed deadhead style, can hold dozens of crappies.  Amazing how a float rig resting three feet from that log will sit quietly forever while a float pulled right up against it will go down over and over again.  Crappies can crowd into the shadows of a single log like sardines stacked in a can.

Float rigs define the best choice for approaching crappies and wood in spring.  Until waters warm above the 50°F range, crappies may seldom chase a swimming or moving jig with much enthusiasm.  And a vertical drop beneath a pole float or a slip float offers the lowest opportunity for snags.

Down South in lakes like Reelfoot in Tennessee, reaching in toward wood cover with long 12- to 16-foot poles with 6- to 8-pound monofilament lines, vertically dapping around wood cover with slim “pole floats” from the Thill Shy Bite series is popular and effective.  The rig is weighted with a couple split shot and a 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jig baited with a minnow or worm.

Up North we’re more likely to pitch with 7- to 8-foot ultralight rods, 4-pound lines, Northland Lite Bite Balsa Slip Floats, and lighter jigs in the 1/80- to 1/32-ounce range.  Because crappies tend to be targeting small invertebrates this time of year, anglers should be ready to try wax worms and maggots when minnows fail to produce.  Slip floats slide down to a bead and a swivel separating the main line from a leader when reeled in, creating a smaller package that is easier to pitch with accuracy.  When the float lands, the rig weighted with split shot and a jig slides straight down until the float reaches the string or neoprene stopper on the main line, providing less opportunity for the leader to drape over branches and hang up.

Always think about the angle of the sun and where the shadows will be. Though early spring means cold water, and crappies may be “sunning” in the open water nearby, it pays to fish the shaded side first most days.

Next week: Part 3 of 4 –The Crappie Compass.