Expert Articles by John
Neporadny Jr. - March
Prime Time Crappie Fishing at the Lake of
by John Neporadny Jr.
When spring arrives, it's prime time for
catching crappie at the Lake of the Ozarks.
By following crappie through their spawning
cycle in the spring, you can consistently catch these tasty fish at the Lake of
the Ozarks from March through May. One of the premier crappie anglers on the
Lake of the Ozarks, Guy Winters, Camdenton, MO, knows where to find and how to
catch crappie during the two main stages of the spawning cycle--the pre-spawn
and the actual spawn).
The pre-spawn period begins when the surface
temperature climbs to around 50 to 52 degrees and crappie move into depths of 8
to 10 feet. "How long they stay there depends on how fast the water
temperature jumps up," says Winters. This pre-spawn stage usually lasts
until the water temperature rises to 61 or 62 degrees. This period usually runs
from March through most of April. "A lot of people think the spawn happens
the first couple of weeks of April on this lake, but it doesn't," Winters
advises. "I've seen it in the first week of May sometimes before they
actually go to the bank to spawn. Any time anybody asks me when they should come
down to get in on the best fishing for spawning crappie on the Lake of the
Ozarks I tell them the first or second week of May. Of course, there is some
awfully good fishing before that but you have to work a little harder."
Winters targets cover near pea gravel banks,
which are the ideal spawning spots for Lake of the Ozarks crappie. "Crappie
will identify with brush piles pretty heavy that time of year," Winters
says. "They follow the creek channels or the tributary stream channels
pretty close." If the weather has been cold in March, Winters searches for
banks with shale or chunk rocks which warm up faster on sunny days.
Finding a good area to fish for crappie is
based mainly on personal preference. "I've got my favorite places but
that's just because I know where I've put a lot of brush," says Winters.
The crappie expert mostly concentrates on the Big Niangua close to his home, but
he thinks the Little Niangua produces larger crappie than the Big Niangua
because it receives less fishing pressure. He also believes the Grand Glaize has
more legal-size fish because it also lacks fishing pressure.
"You can find crappie in any area of the
lake as long as you know where there is some good cover, it's not too far from a
creek channel or tributary steam channel and it's within a quarter mile of a
good spawning bank," says Winters, who finds fish both in the coves and on
the main lake then. "The key is being close to that spawning bank."
The best time of day for Winters during the
pre-spawn is from 3 p.m. until dark. "Light penetration in the water
determines when is the best time to fish. Crappie stay out a little deeper when
the sun is up high because there is more light penetration in the water and when
the light penetration starts to diminish a little bit, the fish come shallower
and you don't have to work as hard for them."
During the pre-spawn, Winters prefers Laker
Paddlebugs (a cricket-shaped plastic body) and Curlybugs (a cricket-shaped
plastic body with a curly tail) because these lures fall slower than the
conventional plastic tube jigs. "I like the Curlybug and Paddlebug
extremely well that time of year simply because the fish hang pretty tight to
the brush lots of times and you have to float your lure right over the top of
the brush. I can use those baits a lot of times when other people use tube jigs
or curly-tail grubs and have to put a float on them." By keeping his rod
tip at the 11 o'clock position, Winters can slowly glide the lure over the
brush. He also likes to put a Laker StickGuard over the jig's hook which allows
him to crawl the lure through the brush without getting snagged. This technique
is especially effective when barometric pressure falls and crappie burrow into
Most of the time, Winters hooks his plastic
lures on a 1/32-ounce jighead, which he casts with 6-pound test line. When
fishing thicker brush that stands up in the water, Winters sometimes switches to
a 1/16-ounce jighead and 8-pound test line. The only time he uses 4-pound test
is when the fish are deeper than 15 feet. A quick drop in barometric pressure
causes Winters to present his lures vertically to crappie in the brush, but in
most situations he pitches his lures to the cover and works them back. Stained
water allows Winters to make short pitches to his targets, but clear water
requires longer casts to prevent spooking fish.
During the spawn, water clarity also determines
what depth crappie build their nests. The clearer the water, the deeper the fish
spawn. The fish seek some type of shallow pea gravel bank, but the area still
has deep-water structure nearby, such as a creek or tributary channel. Winters
says the female crappie hold along this deeper structure until they are ready to
move in to deposit their eggs.
When spawning in the shallows, crappie hang
around any cover they can find. "A lot of times I've seen just one little
stick sticking up and that's all that was there," Winters recalls. "I
would cast there and not feel anything else but I would still catch 10 or 12
fish around it." On a cloudy day, Winters can catch crappie all day long
during the spawn. But on bright sunny days he tries to avoid fishing from 11
a.m. to 2 p.m. when the light penetration in the water is the greatest.
Lure selection is less critical during the
spawn. "You can almost throw the kitchen sink at them and catch them then
if you move it at the right speed," says Winters. "Lure presentation
becomes more important than anything else during the spawn. A male fish guarding
the nest is not an active feeding fish. He's defending a territory and if
anything gets too close at too slow of a speed, he considers it to be a threat
and he'll attack. If it's moving too fast he'll ignore it." Winters
recommends keeping your lure 4 to 6 inches off the bottom to keep the jig in the
crappie's strike zone. A jig-and-bobber rig becomes more effective during the
spawn because the bobber allows you to work your jig slower through the nest and
prevents the lure from falling to the bottom. In dingy water, you can set the
jig 4 to 6 inches below the bobber since the fish will move as shallow as 1 1/2
Besides the Curlybugs and Paddlebugs, other
effective lures during the spawn at Lake of the Ozarks include plastic tube
jigs, curly tail plastic grubs and Roadrunners. Winters' lure color selection is
based on water clarity. In clear water he favors the following combinations: red
and pearl, blue and pearl or yellow and pearl. For darker water, he prefers
black and chartreuse, red and chartreuse or chartreuse and silver glitter. The
spawn usually ends when the water temperature climbs to 70 degrees. The latest
Winters recalls catching any crappie spawning along the bank is the beginning of
the third week in May.
Weather slightly alters the spawning cycle
schedule each year, but if you plan a trip to Lake of the Ozarks during the
spring, you'll be picking a prime time for crappie fishing. For information on
lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free
152-page vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors
Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKEor visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors
Bureau website at funlake.com.
Copies of John Neporadny's book, "THE Lake
of the Ozarks Fishing Guide"are available by calling 573/365-4296 or
visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.