Every species has its merits and its downsides. Although when it comes to crappie I think the biggest downsides are they’re too easy to catch in the spring. Given how tasty they are, it’s little wonder anglers have trouble controlling their harvest. Often opting to kill every one they can rather than taking what they need.
This last weekend they were my primary target. What I experienced was the fishing has been slow in the morning, then, as the waters warmed, the fishing improved. I think the combination of chop on the water (breeze/wind), low light conditions (cloud cover), and warming water (more active fish) result in a better bite in the afternoon than the morning.
Crappies are schooling fish, so once you figure where they’re at and what they’re interested in biting, they offer fast action. Fished on light tackle, such as a 4 or 5 weight fly rod, they offer a good fight. They are such great table fare I don’t mention “spots” where I’ve caught them this time of year as there are those who’ll kill every one they can catch rather than settling for a meal that evening, which in my case is two or three.
There are two species of crappie in California, black and white, and the two are often confused. The black are most prevalent. During this time of year, just before and during spawn, the males often become very dark, hence their name. The rest of the year, the two species are readily distinguished by counting the dorsal spines. Black crappies have 7-8, whereas the white have 6 or less.
Aside from the spine count, white crappies have a preference for warm, turbid lakes, reservoirs, and river backwaters. They are frequently seen schooling around submerged logs or submerged boulders. Their temperature preference is the low 80’s. They have greater tolerance for increased alkalinity, and turbidity compared to other sunfish. But require good oxygen levels. Black crappies prefer clear water with an abundance of aquatic vegetation.
Crappies are nest builders and spawn in late spring when water temperatures approach 60 degrees. Right now on the water I’ve been fishing they are in pre-spawn mode, forming large schools and moving shallow to feed. They’ll remain there until after they spawn, frequently associating with the heavy cover of brush or trees.
The heavy cover, both aquatic vegetation and submerged brush and trees, is where I’ve been finding them. Casting my flies tight to cover and letting them sink has enticed good numbers of fish to bite, but it’s also cost me good numbers of flies as the heavy cover likes to grab my flies too.
So, my strategy at the moment is to forget early morning fishing, launch the boat after lunch, hope for a bit of breeze and cloud cover (rain is good also), and fish small streamers tight to cover into the evening. It sure is making for some great crappie catching.