In coming days and weeks around ice-out, crappies will not be moving into shallows – like many folks commonly believe – to spawn. Rather, they’re heading into these warmer areas, where the food chain is kicking in, to feed. This is the essence of ice-out crappie fishing.
Spawn movement and increased feeding starts later with water temps in the 50s to low 60-degree range. The actual spawn occurs in upper-50s to about 70 degrees. I believe Mother Nature plays a role in timing not only with temperatures but via an internal clock based on photoperiodism – sunlight.
The serious search for food starts before spawn and immediately after ice-out when water temps are in the upper 30s to low 40s. These food-search locations are in shallow bays with decayed weeds, i.e., cover in 1 to 5 feet of water.
We often overlook fish suspended in deeper water adjacent to breaklines or decomposed weed edges near feeding grounds. That’s why electronics are a must to find fish in these deeper locations.
Remember, as water temps increase so does the aggressiveness of the bite!
Pre-spawn movement in small lakes occurs in shallow bays, channels, or areas that offer combined warming temperatures and the right bottom content. Once water temperatures warm, expect spawn movement into warmer water in sandy loam bottoms – dark bays, sandy north sides, creek outlet current edge or any area that will warm faster and have wind protection.
During my spring excursions, I’ve seen temps vary in an area just 100 feet apart. Crappies will find those warmer temps even though it’s only a few-degree variation, especially in the pre-spawn.
Larger lakes with reed flats are excellent as long as sand bottoms or weedline shorelines exist for spawners. Small lakes warm faster than large lakes meaning that anglers can monitor the bite. These are rules, and remember, there are times when the spawn is delayed or eliminated because of unstable weather.
Shallow fish are extremely spooky during ice-out and pre-spawn times, so minimize noise and your shadows! Cold fronts will relocate shallow fish to deeper water outside their preferred locations. Keep an open mind and search for crappies. They may be in unexpected areas, and always remember food is the primary factor during ice-out at pre-spawn times.
Finally, practice catch and release and always release the spawners!
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