Clear Water Crappie Spawning Tactics with Joel Harris
By Phillip Gentry
Seasoned crappie anglers understand that the annual spawn does not take place at the same time nor in the same manner in all bodies of water. In fact, certain factors such as location, climate, and water quality can affect the crappie spawn.
One of these factors is water clarity. In certain lakes where murky or even muddy waters are the norm, crappie may spawn earlier in the year and in shallower water than other impoundments that have clear water.
A good example of this is some of the reservoirs in northeastern Mississippi and central Tennessee. Reservoirs like Pickwick, Bay Springs, and Dale Hollow are known for deep, clear water and accordingly, crappie spawn in these reservoirs quite differently than in shallower, stained reservoirs.
Harris side pulls for crappie during the spawn, making sure he keeps his baits just a foot or so off the structure.
B’n’M pro staffer Joel Harris from Belmont, MS spends of good deal of time both fishing and guiding on Pickwick and Bay Springs reservoirs. Harris said the first thing that comes to mind when searching out spawning crappie is looking in deeper water than you might expect to find them this time of year.
“I fish a lot of stump flats in the 17 – 20-foot depth ranges and I can tell you we’ll be catching fish late April and well into May that are spawning heavily,” he said. “I believe in these deeper, clear water lakes it takes longer for the waters to warm to the right temperature and so the fish spawn both deeper and later in the year than a lot of other lakes.”
Because the structure that fish are spawning on is not visible above the surface of the water and may be several yards to several hundred yards away from the shoreline, Harris relies on his electronics as well as his prior knowledge of the lake to help him catch spawning crappie.
“I side pull all the way through the spring from the pre-spawn and spawning seasons,” said Harris. “Especially on Pickwick where the stumps are such a huge part of the makeup of this lake.”
Crappie will tolerate, even prefer faster trolling speeds during the spawn which triggers an aggressive response.
Harris explained that when Pickwick was cleared prior to its impoundment, it was before bulldozers saw wide usage and trees were cleared by cross cutting them about three feet off the ground. The felled trees were taken away, but the stumps remained when the waters covered the impounded land.
Harris said he has experienced the same thing with rock piles and sunken logs or other woody debris in other lakes, as well as man-made structure like brushpiles and some of the new composite structures like those made by Mossback Fish Habitat.
“When side pulling during the spawn it’s important to keep your baits low, maybe a foot or so off the structure that’s on the bottom,” he said. “The fish are aggressive because their hormone levels are up but that doesn’t mean they’ll move very far off the bottom.”
Harris ups his trolling speeds from the normal .7 to 1.0 mph and may pull as fast as 1.3 mph or faster as measured on his GPS chart plotter.
Another factor that plays into fishing clear water lakes is line shyness of the fish. For this reason, Harris only uses 100% fluorocarbon line but will use 6-pound test to have better strength for large aggressive crappie.
Using 100% fluorocarbon line prevents any line shyness when side pulling and helps Harris and his clients load the livewell.
“It’s a pretty standard setup for side pulling,” he said. “I use the B’n’M Roger Gant-designed “The Difference” rods and they’re evenly spaced across the side of the boat while the boat moves sideways across the flat.”
He uses the wind to advantage, pushing the boat with the wind if it’s not too rough and angling with the wind in stronger situations. Speed control is important so you’re not moving the boat too fast but on the other hand not trying to push into a hard on-coming wind which rocks the boat and gets everyone inside wet.
As for bait colors, Harris said black/chartreuse is a great producer on Pickwick. He uses the 2 12/” Slab Curly made by Crappie Magnet on a ¼ ounce jig head to keep the bait down in the water column.
“The majority of the fish I seem to catch are females and right now they’re spitting eggs as they come over the rail,” he said. “On occasion I might find some few on brush in shallower water, but they’re almost always smaller males. I’ll keep pulling into the middle of May when the fish have moved into their post spawn and summer patterns.”
Next time: Joel Harris continues his advice with targeting post-spawn crappie in clear water.
Joel Harris of Joel Harris Fishing can be reached on his Facebook page Joel Harris Fishing or by phone at (662) 424-2551
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