ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Sure, bass are exciting, especially when they go airborne and acrobatic, and stripers put up tremendous, reel screaming fights, but in the early spring neither species is guaranteed to cooperate. But there is one fish that can and will cooperate early, especially when you find a school of them: the crappie.
So, how do you get them into your livewell or on a stringer?
At this time of year, crappies are schooling up tightly and going on a pre-spawn feeding binge. In mid-March you can find them staging in deeper water near their spawning grounds. Look for them in eight to 15 feet of water near brush, timber, or docks where crappies normally spawn. They are normally ready to feed, especially early in the day and again just before and after dusk.
Crappies come in two varieties, the lightly colored white crappie and the darker colored black crappie. Both display similar behavior and both like to hang around the same sorts of structure. A typical crappie will run a half a pound to a pound and a half, though there are some that grow much larger.
When it comes to catching them at this time of year, it’s hard to beat a minnow fished either vertically on a tight line, or under a bobber on light tackle. You can drift through a likely area, or you can anchor and cast. The other great thing about crappies is they are easily targeted from shore. While a boat may give you more access, shorebound anglers can catch plenty of crappies.
Another popular method is to jig for crappies. Small jigs in the 1/64th ounce to 1/8th ounce range work well with a soft plastic, bucktail, marabou, or feather body. Some anglers prefer to cast jigs and work them back slowly, others fish them vertically.
Another method that works well is to fish a jig under a bobber, and to jerk the bobber to create a popping sound. That sound attracts fish. Those crappies then hit when they see the erratic motion of the jig.
Crappies can also be taken on small crankbaits or small spinners.
Crappies can be found in nearly every lake and reservoir in southwest and central Virginia. Again, look for them near downed trees, brush piles, and pilings. Some reservoirs have manmade fish structures like submerged Christmas trees. Those structures will hold fish, too.
In our region, some of the best places to target crappies are:
- Smith Mountain Lake
- Claytor Lake
- Buggs Island
- Lake Nelson
- Holliday Lake
- Gatewood Reservoir
- Martinsville Reservoir
- Rural Retreat Lake
- Philpott Lake
Plus, if you’re looking for fish for the freezer or the fryer, you know crappies are some of the top table fare around. They are great fried, baked, or broiled.
Before you can cook them, you have to catch them, and now is the time to start targeting crappies.