Spring crappie fishing is some of the easiest fishing most anglers will ever experience. Crappies move shallow and are more than willing to bite any offering that comes within reach. Yet, when the spawn comes to an end a large majority of anglers have no clue how to target them once they move off of their shallow beds and spread out in the water column.
As the spawn wraps up, the crappies will push out onto mid-depth flats and spread out. They have expended a lot of energy and need to rest and regain the calories they have burned. Luckily, the end of their breeding activities coincides with many bug hatches. So they can suspend along these flats and gorge themselves on insects and the baitfish that also come to feed. Finding areas that are holding these fish is fairly simple with today's electronics, cruise around flats adjacent to spawning areas and look for balls of bait and scattered marks.
Early in the season, a slow non-aggressive approach is best, as these slabs are simply looking for an easy meal. Later in the season, crankbaits and stickbaits can work wonders, however, before Mid-July I prefer a large plastic such as a Lindy Watsit Grub on a 1/32 or 1/48 ounce jig. The movement this seemingly oversized plastic gives with it's six small insect-like arms on the sides and a thin tail that ripples and undulates in the water just demands crappies attack it. Trolling at speeds from .25 to .75 MPH seems to work best, but don't be afraid to experiment with speeds and turns. If you are getting bites on a rod on the inside of every turn, that means you should slow down your presentation. Conversely, if you are getting a bite from the outside rod on turns, speed your boat up a bit.
One of, if not the most important aspect of this type of fishing is the action of your rod. A fast action rod, will cause you to lose a lot of fish. They are called “Papermouths” for a reason, and if your rod doesn't offer enough give, hooks will rip right out of the fish's mouth as you are reeling them in. While I prefer a longer rod (up to 11 feet), a six footer is plenty as long as it has almost the same action as a wet spaghetti noodle.
Most of the bites you get from crappies while trolling in this manner will not feel like a bite. There will just all of a sudden be weight as the rod bends back. At this point, you don't even have to set the hook, just simply start reeling the fish in. By using underwater cameras in clear water, we have been able to watch how the fish bite, and all they do is speed up a little to catch the bait, open their mouths and stop to look for the next easy meal to happen upon their location.
Color selection is generally based on water clarity. If the water you are fishing in is clear, go with more natural colors such as brown and orange or black and chartreuse. If your water is dirty or bog-stained you are going to want a color that attracts attention such as pink and white. Contrast of colors can also make a big difference, so I will tend to use a different color jighead that is different than the color of the Watsit Grub I am using. As a general rule, most of the crappies that you catch in this manner will be larger. It isn't very often that smaller fish will suspend on these flats due to the predators that will also inhabit these areas. The smaller fish tend to stick near the safety of the weed edges.
Now is the time to get out and explore those mid-depth flats. The larger crappies will hang out in these areas until the end of August, so get out there and establish your pattern for these big, lazy fish. Trolling for crappies means the difference between sorting through smaller fish for a meal and showing off photos of slabs to everyone back at the landing.