By Keith Sutton
Where are all the May crappies? You’ll find
them with our expert’s advice!
Flexibility — it’s the key to many things. Did you know it’s the key to fishing for spring crappies? If you’re willing to try different baits, various depths and an assortment of presentations, you’ll find May crappies. In other words, look for their patterns.
When it comes to spring crappie patterns, you may need to fish several locales with different cover and structure. Crappies are often nomadic this time of year — deep one day and shallow the next. The morning hours may find them in dense cover, and by afternoon, they’re chasing baitfish in open water. Understanding their habits can lead to success, but only for the angler who is willing to move until he finds fish.
Here are eight areas that rank high on the list of May crappie cover.
1. Flooded willows
When fishing big rivers and their backwaters, you’ll often find crappies holding around inundated willow trees. Drift by in your boat and fish the outermost willows first. Then pull your craft into the interior and work other portions of the willow stand. Sometimes, on natural lakes where overflows raise the water level, you’ll find long rows of flooded willows. Don’t miss these high traffic areas.
2. Isolated stumps
You’ll rarely go wrong working a jig or minnow around stumps or other structure isolated from other cover. If you find an area with lots of widely scattered stumps, all the better. Quietly use a paddle or your trolling motor to move from one stump to another, fishing each thoroughly on all sides. On sunny days, target the shady side first.
Crappies like underwater humps, which provide quick routes from deep water to shallow water as conditions change. The best are 5 to 20 feet from the surface and have substantial deep water around them, such as a creek channel running alongside. Humps with timber, brush, rocks or other cover are also productive. Watch your fishfinder for humps as you scout from your boat. When you find one, narrow your fishing area to choice zones — points, pockets, rock beds, timbered or brushy areas, etc. — then mark them with buoys so you can fish with ease. Spinners such as the Blakemore Road Runner work great here.
4. Ledges and channel breaks
Crappie anglers should also watch their sonar for subtle ledges and channel breaks on lake bottoms. Steep drops aren’t as attractive to crappies, but they often congregate along shallow ditches, cuts, ledges and gullies near bankside bluffs or close to coves. These structures are especially productive when near weed beds, timber stands or other crappie cover. If you’re looking for the big ones, pushing crankbaits or minnow-baited bobber rigs in front of your boat is a good way to nab slabs here.
Like humps, points also serve as pathways for fish moving between shallow and deep water. By working a point methodically from near-shore to offshore, you can determine the day’s depth pattern and use it to help locate crappies on other points. Work a jig, minnow, crankbait or spinner around all visible cover and structure — stumps, fallen and standing timber, rocks and man-made brushpiles are all places where fish gather. If you catch crappies around features at the point’s upper end, then concentrate on similar shallow features when you move to other areas. If you find crappies are favoring deeper areas, continue fishing deep-water structure until you notice a pattern shift.
6. Thicket structures
In waters where edges of good crappie cover get pounded by scores of anglers, the biggest crappies often move into thickets to avoid the ruckus. For example, if a lake has acres of button willows, fat slabs abandon easily-reached edges. That’s when an angler must pull his boat into a thicket and fish interior structures such as logs, stumps or creek channel edges. A jig or minnow dropped beside one of these will nearly always entice slabs.
7. Man-made fish attractors
Fisheries agencies often construct fish cover by sinking reefs of trees and brush in waters where lack of cover limits crappie production. Buoys often mark the locations of these man-made attractors. Others are marked on maps and can be pinpointed using sonar. All such shelters are likely to harbor crappie concentrations year-round.
8. Threadfin shad schools
Big crappies often follow threadfin shad schools and gorge themselves on these baitfish. Look for schools in shallow water near dawn and dusk. You may see them disturbing the surface as crappies chase them. On a fishfinder, a school of threadfins usually appears as a compact band of pixels one to several feet thick. Crappies will appear as scattered individuals around or beneath the shad, seldom more than half a dozen or so together. When you see signs of schools, drop tandem-rigged jigs beside your boat at the same depth as the fish and work them with a slow lift-drop action.
Many fishermen complain that crappies are unpredictable in May, but the one thing you can predict is that you’ll find the cover. And if you methodically search these eight areas, you’ll find spring crappies.
About Keith Sutton:
Keith Sutton is the author of “The Crappie Fishing Handbook,” a 198-page, full-color book full of crappie-fishing tips for beginners and experts alike. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $29.45 to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Drive, Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card and PayPal orders, visit www.catfishsutton.com.
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