For many crappie anglers, fishing the post-spawn season is a lot like heading back to the car after the big game. The excitement is over and the place is a shambles.
The tailgating camps are wrapped up and the anticipation of that big play is a just a memory.
However, late spring crappie fishing doesn’t have to be a time of sorrow. Just like the big game, practice starts on Monday getting ready for the next one. Many anglers struggle because the “next one” in crappie fishing circles is not as well defined as the winter, summer, pre-spawn or post-spawn spawn patterns.
Post-spawn patterns for crappie tend to be very similar to fall patterns. It’s a time of transition for the fish and catching fish is often possible using several different methods. Post-spawn is also a time to reset you expectations because there won’t be a fish around every bush you see standing in the edge of the water. The fish are available, but the work required to get them just got a bit harder.
Look for late spawners
Guide John Harrison of Calhoun City reminds anglers that not all crappie spawn at the same time or same location. Harrison does not believe in the theory that “it’ll be three weeks before they bite again.”
“First off, black and white crappie don’t spawn at the same time,” said Harrison. “Generally, black crappie spawn first and then white crappie come in later and sometimes white crappie will be spawning on into June.”
Harrison said too many anglers make the mistake of thinking that crappie only spawn in a foot and a half of water. He states he has caught fish at Grenada and Sardis well through the month of May and into June that still squirted eggs when he got them in the boat.
“I think a certain number of crappie spawn out deeper on structure or they spawn on something like a hump or a shoal that’s out in the middle of the lake,” said Harrison. “In my experience, this tends to happen further down the lake, so if we’re talking Grenada, it’s not way up in the Yalobusha or Scuna (rivers) arms of the lake but maybe down on the main lake.”
Harrison said the depth that these late crappie spawn may be as deep as 10 or 12 feet and he thinks those fish are waiting on the water temperatures to reach optimal point to start spawning.
“You know, it takes a while for water temps at that depth to get into the ’60s, and I think some fish just don’t want the competition of fighting for space up there along the bank,” he said. “Then you have your years when the water levels stay low, it doesn’t bother the deep spawners as much as the shallow fish.”
Harrison said he will locate late spawners in deep water with his graph. He said a lot of these fish end up getting picked off with crankbaits but he will also get out the jig pole and target these fish.
“Most people trolling cranks will troll around a hump or a long shallow point for fear of hanging up,” he said. “I’ve done better starting on one side of the hump or point, and working my way straight over the top with a 1/8- or 3/16-ounce jig and a jig pole.
“You’re fishing stuff you can’t see but if you’ve got a good graph on the front of the boat, just get up there and push into the wind and work that entire area.”
Unlike pre-spawn fish that follow a set pattern moving toward the spawning grounds, post-spawn crappie tend to favor those crowds leaving the big game. Everyone is looking for alternative routes to get back home.
In realistic terms, water temperature is no longer such a factor in crappie movements returning from shallow waters like it was on the way in. Fish tend to scatter out with no real place to go until it’s time to head for the summer haunts.
Getting on plane
It’s for this reason that anglers who spread out have better success connecting with fish. Of late, one of the best methods for spreading baits out is by pulling them behind planer boards.
There are several benefits of using planer boards in place of or in addition to conventional trolling. First, planers allow a more precise presentation of bait, live or artificial, in areas where obstructions or bottom topography would not allow a boat much access. An example is when crappie are holding out in front of a row of boat docks. Running a line of planer boards up tight to the boat docks allows a pinpoint presentation while you position the boat several yards out in front of the docks. It’s much easier to position the board to run parallel to a boat dock rather than maneuver the entire boat.
The host of BrushPile Fishing’s Russ Bailey claims many of the lakes he has fished both in Mississippi and around the country were clear water crappie lakes.
“Some of the lakes we have fished and filmed in are gin clear all the way down to 15 feet,” said Bailey. “This can be a great tactic to troll a crankbait or jig over a drop off in clear water without the boat spooking fish.”
Bailey relates that days with bluebird skies will put the crappie in an extremely skittish mood when shadows from passing boats will cause the fish to shut down. A bait presented behind a planer board is much less intrusive than an 18 to 20 foot boat.
An additional benefit of a planer board is that it allows the angler to set a more precise depth to troll baits out away from the boat. It’s a good idea to be familiar with the depth of water the fish are holding in when using planer boards. Set the amount of line out to allow the bait to swim through the strike zone along the entire trolling run.
Many new techniques to crappie fishing focus on a quicker method to locate suspended fish. Post-spawn crappie are notorious roaming fish with a tendency to “stack up” in relation to offshore structure.
Where conventional trolling methods may allow an angler to cut a search path equivalent to the width of the boat plus the rod length on either side (usually in the 25 to 30 foot range), using a planer board allows angler to extend that trolling swath to double or triple what could be reached trolling straight behind the boat.
To rig a planer board for crappie trolling, it’s best to use a rod that has a fast action such as many of the popular trolling rods on the market today. The planer moves the bait away from the boat, so a long rod is not mandatory. An 8- to 9-foot rod will assist in making a long sweeping hook set.
The planer board tension clip can be set to release the line when a strike occurs, but crappie anglers will need to pay close attention to any sudden stops or backward movements of the planer board (similar to float fishing) that would indicate the strike of a light-biting crappie.
Because the clip allows the board to breakaway but still stays attached to the line, a stop needs to be installed between the board and the bait to keep the fish from being knocked off the hook by the retreating planer board. This is easily achieved by tying an in-line barrel swivel between the main line and the leader. A leader length of 3-4 feet is sufficient to keep the board off the fish and still allow easy boating and netting.
Depth presentation of baits is no different than standard flat-line trolling, the distance between the boat and the bait will be the same distance between the board and the bait. Additional line is then played out from the reel to achieve the desired distance between the boat and the board. Bear in mind that planer-board presentations are meant to mimic a natural semi-buoyant presentation within the water column. Jig weights or additional split-shot weights can be added to adjust the presentation.
As always with crappie fishing, it’s better to present above the fish and not below.