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Crappie by Degrees

Temperature Template For Year-Round Actioni! 
By: Don Wirth

Of all the factors determining crappiei location and activity, none is more critical than water temperature. With that in mind, I assembled a panel of veteran crappie guides including Jim Duckworth, Steve McCadams, Fred McClintock, Larry McMullin, Tom Moody and Harold Morgan, and picked their brains about how crappie locations and fishing patterns vary with changing water temperatures. These experts pitched in to help me create this simple but useful cheat sheet that spells out where crappies will be and what you need to do to catch them in 5-degree water temperature increments year-round.

Water Temperature: 35 Degrees 
Overview: Crappies will be deep and sluggish now, but they’re still catchable with the right presentation.
Key Location: Check main-lake river channels for crappies holding tight to bottom cover in 30 to 60 feet of water.
Primary Patterni: Vertical presentations rule in the dead of winter. Fish straight down, using live minnows on a Kentucky rig (see diagram below) or spoons jigged just above the fish.

Water Temperature: 40 Degrees
Overview: Crappies will begin migrating from deep river channels toward major tributaries, where they will eventually spawn. They’ll often suspend in open water now rather than relate to cover or breaklines.
Key Location: Waves of crappies will stage off points leading into reservoir tributary arms, suspending off these structures 20 to 30 feet deep. Some fish will remain on river channel structure in considerably deeper water.
Primary Pattern: Wind-drift 1⁄8- to 1⁄4-ounce jigs on longlines around tributary points. Watch your graph for suspended baitfish schools—crappies are seldom far from a food source.

Water Temperature: 45 Degrees
Overview: Many crappies have started migrating toward their eventual spawning areas. It’s prime time.
Key Location: Target crappies hanging tight to submerged wood on deep channel banks near the entrance to tributaries, 12 to 25 feet deep. Most fish will range from the primary point to about a quarter of the way back into the creek arm.
Primary Pattern: Target-cast grubs to channel bends with wood. Cast, let the grub sink until it contacts the cover, then immediately begin swimming it slowly and steadily back to the boat.

Water Temperature: 50 Degrees
Overview: The prespawn migration is in full swing now, with large numbers of crappies moving into reservoir tributary arms. Stragglers suspending in deep water off tributary points will make their move shallower following a few days of mild, sunny weather.
Key Location: Continue targeting the creek channel migration route, keying on isolated wood cover along channel bends for the largest concentration of fish. Crappies instinctively remain 12 to 20 feet deep now, probably to insulate themselves from the impact of frontal passages.
Primary Pattern: Map out the creek channel with marker buoys, then bump a Kentucky rig baited with minnows or a minnow/tube bait combination along the channel drop.

Water Temperature: 55 Degrees
Overview: Expect the bite to get more aggressive as crappies begin feeling “the urge to merge” and feed heavily before spawning.
Key Location: A few big fish will be in the upper half of tributary arms, but you’ll find numbers of fish in the lower half, still relating to the creek channel migration route. Shallow ditches veering off the creek channel and running toward shallow spawning coves can hold huge fish.
Primary Pattern: Target ditches with grubs and small crank baits; on mild days, crappies may be as shallow as one to three feet deep along these structures. Work the creek channel with grubs, keying on brushy cover in the six- to 12-foot zone.

Water Temperature: 60 Degrees
Overview: Crappies spawn in water from around 65 to 75 degrees, so the immediate prespawn period is a good time to load the boat with oversize fish. Baitfishi schools continue to be a primary location factor now as crappies fatten up before spawning.
Key Location: Hopefully you did your homework while the lake was drawn down during winter and marked the location of brushy cover and stake beds on your map and GPS. Now that the water is higher, crappies will be all over this cover midway into tributary arms, three to eight feet deep
Primary Pattern: Tightlining minnows and jigging tube baits around sunken cover will score heavy crappie catches in murky water. In clear water, back off your target, make a long cast and swim a curlytail grub.

Water Temperature: 65 Degrees
Overview: Crappies will be shallow now; some will be spawning, but many will still be in a prespawn mode. Don’t rush the season—if you aren’t catching quality fish on likely spawning cover, back off and target prespawn crappies instead.
Key Location: Crappies will be in the upper half of tributary arms, holding tight to isolated stake beds and submerged brush piles. Prespawn fish will be in three to six feet of water, but will chase minnows shallower.
Primary Pattern: Tight-lining minnows on long rods is the standard method now, but target-casting grubs and tubes to submerged wood works, too.

Water Temperature: 70 Degrees
Overview: Spawning season kicks in big-time! Male crappies fan out the nest while females hang back waiting for the water temperature to rise a degree or two before moving onto the beds.
Key Location: Spawning takes place on woody cover (stake beds, brush piles, etc.) in the upper ends of brushy coves and creek arms, anywhere from three to 12 feet deep depending on the lake’s clarity.
Primary Pattern: Cast tubes and grubs or tight-line minnows close to cover. If you’re catching numbers of small males, back off and hit deeper isolated stake beds and stumps for the bigger females.

Water Temperature: 75 Degrees
Overview: Some crappies will be done spawning while others are finally moving onto their beds. Postspawn fish will hang around bedding areas for several days until the water temperature rises.
Key Location: Spawners will be on wood from three to 12 feet deep depending on water clarity. Postspawn fish will be on isolated pieces of cover adjacent to spawning sites. 
Primary Pattern: Determine the crappies’ spawning mode. If tube baits or minnows don’t produce strikes in thick brush and stake beds, target-cast grubs to scattered wood.


Water Temperature: 80 Degrees
Overview: Most crappie fishermen hang up their rods after the spawn, but a shift in tactics can yield fast action on postspawn fish.
Key Location: Before moving to their deep summer haunts, many crappies gravitate to the edges of flats, hanging tight to scattered wood or suspending above the breakline closest to the structure.
Primary Pattern: Troll small diving crankbaits like the 200 series Bandit around the edges of flats in the six- to 18-foot zone, occasionally banging the plugs off stumps and bottom.

Water Temperature: 85 Degrees
Overview: Crappies will be moving out of tributaries via the same creek channel migration routes they traveled before spawning.
Key Location: Slabs gang up on secondary and primary points that drop quickly into deep water. Look for them suspending 18 to 30 feet deep around baitfish schools.
Primary Pattern: Target channel points using a Kentucky rig bumped slowly along bottom.

Water Temperature: 90 Degrees
Overview: In the Sun Belt, water temps in the 90s are common by August. Crappies suspend for long periods now to conserve metabolic energy. River-run reservoirs with a flowing channel usually have better fishing now than slackwater lakes.
Key Location: Channel ledges lined with standing timber or brushy cover offer your best bet now. Crappies are probably suspending 18 to 30 feet deep in 60 feet of water.
Primary Pattern: If fish are suspended high in the water column, slow-drifting minnows or tubes through the school can produce strikes. If they’re tight to bottom, use a Kentucky rig.

Water Temperature: 85 Degrees
Overview: While the lake’s surface temperature cools quickly as the days grow shorter in early fall, deeper water cools more gradually, so expect to find crappies deep.
Key Location: Deep channel cover continues to be your best bet for finding concentrations of fish.
Primary Pattern: Kentucky rigs bumped along cover and spoons jigged over wood.

Water Temperature: 80 Degrees
Overview: Crappies are following channels, or moving shallow to prey on baitfish schools, so expect a pickup in activity.
Key Location: Primary tributary points, where the creek and river channel intersect, can hold a ton of baitfish and crappies now.
Primary Pattern: Target the 15- to 25-foot zone with a Kentucky rig. If crappies are suspended, slow-troll cranks.

Water Temperature: 75 Degrees
Overview: Shadi move into shallow coves and tributaries to spawn, and crappies follow.
Key Location: The first half of reservoir tributary arms will hold large schools of crappies.
Primary Pattern: Target scattered wood along the creek channel 10 to 20 feet deep with grubs and Kentucky rigs.

Water Temperature: 70 Degrees
Overview: As baitfish move farther back into the tributaries, crappies follow, feeding on wandering schools.
Key Location: Check channels, secondary points and flats in the back half of reservoir tributary arms. Crappies hold anywhere from two to 10 feet deep, depending on water clarity.
Primary Pattern: Use a bass fishing approach. Coveri water quickly, casting a grub or small crankbait to every piece of wood you encounter.

Water Temperature: 65 Degrees
Overview: Reservoiri drawdown usually starts about now; dropping water levels push baitfish and crappies out of tributary arms toward the main body of the lake.
Key Location: Crappies use the same migratory routes they took in spring to move back to the main lake. Find them on creek channel cover in the 12-foot zone.
Primary Pattern: Cast grubs or bump Kentucky rigs around creek channel cover.

Water Temperature: 60 Degrees
Overview: Colder nights spell a rapid cool-down. As drawdown continues, many crappies leave reservoir tributaries.
Key Location: Deep points and steep bluff banks at or near the mouths of tributaries hold large schools of crappies in the 15- to 25-foot zone.
Primary Pattern: Drifting live minnows on long rods rigged with heavy sinkers is a proven fall tournament tactic. Lower the sinker to bottom, then reel up to the level of suspended crappies.

Water Temperature: 55 Degrees
Overview: The 60-degree pattern should remain about the same until the lake turns over—assuming it does.
Key Location: Deep points and steep rock bluffs near tributary mouths hold concentrations of fish.
Primary Pattern: If crappies aren’t on the points, drift jigs or troll crankbaits for fish schooled in the open water between the points.

Water Temperature: 50 Degrees
Overview: Turnover usually occurs during the fall-winter transition, triggering a wholesale movement of crappies.
Key Location: Intersection of channels, 25 to 40 feet deep.
Primary Pattern: Crappies are often tight to bottom right now, and they’re going to stay that way through the cold weather months, so bang a Kentucky rig along the channel.

Water Temperature: 45 Degrees
Overview: Crappies have settled into a winter pattern now, setting up on deep channel structure.
Key Location: Channels with brush, 18 to 40 feet deep.
Primary Pattern: Fish the bottom along bends and pronounced drop-offs.

Water Temperature: 40 Degrees
Overview: In hyper-chilled water, crappies are deep and feed only sporadically.
Key Location: Channels with brushy cover or submerged standing timber. Look for crappies 40 to 60 feet deep.
Primary Pattern: Fishing spoons along the channel, or hug bottom with your Kentucky rig.

Water Temperature: 35 Degrees
Overview: Crappies are sluggish, requiring a patient approach.
Key Location: Slabs are on bottom 40 to 60 feet deep along main-lake channels.
Primary Pattern: More bottom rigging—look for the cycle to start anew soon after water temps bottom out.

KidCrappie's picture

This is the best information I have seen anywhere in print. This will save a new fisherman years of trying to figure it out. And vetrans can learn from it too. Thanks for all the work you put into this for everyone !

Kid Crappie

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