Three tactics to tempt post-spawn crappie

Post-spawn crappie can be a little finicky, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be caught. (Photo courtesy Kent Driscoll)

Don’t give up on crappie just because the spawn is over

The words “post” and “spawn” cause anxiety among many crappie anglers. Although it’s true that crappie can be less-than-willing when it comes to post-spawn fishing, it’s a complete misconception that they can’t be caught.

Planning for the annual procreation event begins sometimes as early as late December when female crappie begin producing eggs that will eventually be deposited somewhere in the spawning grounds selected by her male counterparts. Over the next four months, the fish’s entire focus is spent on gaining weight prior to the spawn, migrating toward the spawning grounds, spawning, and guarding the eggs and fry after they’ve been hatched.

Fatigue and a general lackluster interest in anything takes its toll for a couple of weeks, and then life begins returning to normal. Understanding the process and what “normal” means to a crappie in late May and June is one of the keys to catching them during the post spawn. Accordingly, three primary tactics can help crappie anglers take advantage.

Long Line Trolling

Long lining is a favorite tactic when crappie are on the move before the spawn as they migrate from over-wintering locations to the shallow spawning grounds. It is also a productive tactic for intercepting fish as they move back from those same spawning grounds to their early summer haunts.

After the spawn, multiple light rods and 1/16-ounce jigs can be used to intercept crappie migrating away from their spawning grounds. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

As the fish move out and away from the shallows, multiple jigs are slowly trolled behind the boat to intercept fish on the move.

One big difference between pre-spawn long lining and post spawn long lining is the trolling routes used by the fish. In pre-spawn, crappie move long distances, seemingly overnight from deeper waters to channel edges and creek channels adjacent to spawning flats. In post-spawn, the travel distance and time is usually shorter, with fish moving from cover on shallow flats in 4 to 8 feet of water (depending on the type lake) out to cover in the 10 to 15 foot depths.

Once he has identified a stretch of water containing migrating crappie, angler Ronnie McKee from Piedmont, SC will line up over the top of them, drop his trolling motor, and cast 6 to 8 lines out behind the boat. 

McKee uses several integral pieces of gear in tandem to be successful at long line trolling. Those items, in no certain order, include variable speed trolling motor, rod holders, GPS/depth finder, long rods, durable reels, and a handful of good crappie jigs.

“If somebody is just starting out, I would tell them to get a quality reel that’s going to hold up to the pressure, a decent line in the 6- to 8-pound range, and some quality jigs,” he said.  “You’re going to need a basic set-up of rod holders off either the back or the front of your boat. If you start off putting your jigs out at 30 feet from the boat, you’ve got to know your speed. Using GPS, start trolling at 0.7 to 0.8 mph with a 1/16-ounce jig. That’s basically going to get you 6 to 8 foot down in the water column, and you’ll start to catch fish on that.”

From there, adjusting the jig’s running depth is a balance of jig weight, boat speed, and the amount of line out.   

“If the fish are suspended at 12 foot, say 12 to15 foot, a lot of anglers will tie on heavier weights, like a 1/8-ounce jig,” he said. “Other people move up to 1/32 if the fish are still up into the 6 to 8 foot depths. But I try to stay with the 1/16 and control the jigs by adjusting my speed. That saves a lot of time tying and retying as fish move out deeper.”

Long-lining works as well for post-spawn crappie as it does during the pre-spawn period. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Live Scoping

The newest tactic on the crappie fishing scene is chasing individual fish or small pods of fish using forward facing, real-time sonar. The goal is to place a bait out in front of the fish as they’re marked on the screen and tempt them to take the bait.

Typically, larger fish are targeted since they are easier to identify on the screen, as well as more desirable to place on the certified scales at the end of a tournament.

Because Live Scoping relies on a slightly more aggressive presentation, it’s easier to spook fish by constantly dragging the same bait in front of it.

Tournament angler Kent Driscoll typically uses a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jig when Live Scoping for crappie, but noticed that post-spawn crappie require a little more finesse presentation to make them take the bait. Rather than using only one jig, he opts for two.

Ultralight rods, extremely light line, and two tiny jigs are great tools for finessing post-spawn crappie into biting. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Driscoll said the problem wasn’t really one of disinterest, but he’s found that big fish would follow the 1/8-ounce jigs he was presenting, then short strike the bait and not get the hook on the larger jig.

“I started tying two 1/64-ounce jigs on the line,” he said. “Instead of using the normal 2- or 2½-inch body you’d use with a 1/16-ounce or 1/8-ounce jig, I switched to a 1-inch body. So these baits are only about half the size and a third of the weight.”

Fishing 1/64-ounce jigs requires a whole new presentation, including rod, line, and attitude. For starters, Driscoll broke out a super ultralight rod designed for light line fishing. 

“The reel is spooled with 2-pound test clear monofilament line,” said Driscoll. “Another option is to go up to 4-pound, but light line is a must.”

Driscoll rigs a 1/64-ounce jig on a loop knot, then ties another loop and 1/64-ounce jig about 20 inches above the first one. 

“Doubling up the jigs gives you a little more weight to work with. But the rig falls really slow, and that’s what these post spawn fish want,” he said. “If I’m graphing crappie 6 to 8 feet deep, just hanging out in the middle of the water, I can flip that double rig with those tiny baits out there and it will almost hang right in their face. My bite-to-fish ratio has gone way up.”

Shooting Docks

In many lakes across the Carolinas, crappie are accustomed to spawning in and around boat docks. With so many residents moving to the lakes, boat docks have become a primary form of structure for all fish. During the post spawn, crappie tend to leave the shallow docks they’ve spawned on, but will relocate to deeper docks, docks with 10 to 15 feet of water under them, as well as planted brush for cover. These docks make for ideal post-spawn dock shooting.

Crappie are attracted to docks because a boat dock can provide all the necessities of life for a post spawning crappie. The physical structure provides cover, a place to hide from larger predators, as well as a place for baitfish to gather. The supports, and often brush or bottom structure associated with docks, are as appealing as laydowns and stumps. Add in the overhead structure, which provides shade, and it makes sense that a boat dock has the potential to be a small crappie community.

Boat docks and piers provide every aspect of life to help post-spawn crappie recuperate from the stresses of spawning. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Shooting refers to holding the bait in one hand while holding the line tight to the spool of an open bail spinning reel with the other. It takes a bit of practice to master the technique. Start by bending a short, flexible, ultralight rod over and holding the bait – a small crappie jig – between your thumb and forefinger under the reel. To cast the bait, release the jig and release the line in rapid succession, which sling shots the bait forward, parallel to the water, causing it to skip under the boat dock or pier.

Making a good shot is also important, but what happens after the shot is just as important to detect bites. The most popular jig for shooting docks is a 1/64-ounce or 1/32-ounce weighted head with either a neutrally buoyant hair or rubber body. The most popular line sizes are 6-pound and 4-pound, high visibility monofilament line. The secret is to use a bait that shoots far and sinks slowly, giving crappie a long time to look at the jig as it’s descending into its protected area.

The final key is watching the line as the jig sinks. Any movement, twitch, or piling up of the line on the surface means a crappie has inhaled the jig and it’s time to set the hook. 

About Phillip Gentry 821 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Waterloo, S.C., is an avid outdoorsman and said if it swims, flies, hops or crawls, he's usually not too far behind.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply