When do Crappie Spawn?

Mark Rose • May 01, 2024

You may or may not know it, but although I fish for a living on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour for my livelihood, crappie fishing is my passion--and if there's one thing that I get asked all the time, especially in the springtime, is when do the crappie spawn. Right now, it is early springtime, and the trees are blooming. Everybody used to always say when the dogwoods were blooming the crappie were spawning. There's a lot of truth to that, folks. Whether it's the Bradford pears or the dogwoods, they both bud at just about the same time. Right along that timeframe, we'll start getting some warmer nights and that will heat that water temperature up just a little to around 60 degrees. Once it crests over the high fifties and into the sixties is when fish begin to spawn.

In March, on hot, sunny days is when you'll see crappie and bass and other species sunning. The females are letting the sun hit their eggs to loosen them up. They somehow know that in a few weeks, they'll be up on the bank spawning. If you've ever caught really black-looking crappie in early spring, that's not the species black crappie, that is the color that the males turn whenever they spawn. The same thing happens with bluegill. Male crappie will turn black, and they'll start to prepare beds, fanning places for the females to come. Once those females have loosened up their eggs, the water temperature gets to be low sixties. Males are just preparing the best pad to attract the females, kind of like a gobbler--he wants to be really impressive and do the best job making the prettiest bed, trying to push and persuade the females to try it out. When they see female crappie cruising the bank, so to speak, they'll go out there and nudge them up towards the bed. Once a female chooses a bed to hang out in and her boyfriend, so to speak, that's when the males will start rubbing on her. The female will lay her eggs and hang out a little while as the males stay to fan out the eggs to help them hatch well. Then they stick around to protect them from predators.

That process starts right about when the water temperature gets to be about 60 degrees. If you don't have a water temperature gauge and you're just trying to use a general rule of thumb, just remember the saying about the dogwood blooming, because about the time the dogwood starts blooming, the water temperature is just about right.

The type of bait I use to catch them early in the year during the spawn is anything that has tentacles or legs on it. I really love the Strike King Joker for that. In the wintertime, I like straight-tailed shad baits, but during the spawn I like something with color and legs with a 1/16-ounce jighead and a bobber. Otherwise, if you throw it in and reel it out when they're up on the bed, they don't get a chance to bite it before it leaves the strike zone. Whereas if you throw a cork up there and kind of twitch it along, that crappie jig sitting underneath that cork suspends nicely in the strike zone. If you ever noticed bass fishermen when they're fishing around the bed, they keep their bait in a bed for quite a while before the fish ever hits it.

So that's my favorite technique: a joker, a bobber, six-pound line, and little spinning rod and spinning reel during the crappie spawn. I hope this is a helpful tip for you. Good luck and have fun!

--Mark Rose