A water temperature guide to finding and catching crappie

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Video where to find crappie in 60 degree water

Ask any crappie angler and second to bait color they will say water temperature is the most important thing you can look at to help you catch more crappie. Water temperature is not only going to help you narrow down where to look for crappie but will also give you an idea of the general mood you should expect from the crappie given normal weather patterns have been present for a few days. Ill start things off with a quick chart you can reference back to for the highlights, followed by looking into the seasons of the year, and what water temperatures and fish movements they bring. Finally we will dive into a deeper description of each of the given water temperature ranges to get a better understanding of what the fish should be doing.

Crappie Water Temperature Quick Reference Guide

Water temperatureFish depth rangeaggressivenessGeneral targeting tipslocations

Now before we dive into each of the temperature ranges let’s also take a look at how the year breaks down as far as seasons for crappie. It is important to keep in mind the time of year with the water temperature to help you understand the mood and habits of the crappie at each given point in time. While going over this it is important to understand that the seasons change for crappie based on the water temperature much like we consider our seasons to change based on the general air temperature patterns.

Winter

Generally speaking winter is to be considered any time that the water temperature is at or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During this time crappie are found in deeper water with more stable conditions holding close to the bottom. Crappie can be extremely tight lipped this time of year but unlike many people seem to think they do still eat and you can catch them. To do so however you have to slow your presentations way down and use smaller baits most of the time. This is also a time of the year that you will not find crappie straying far away from cover. So make sure to make it a point to fish areas with good cover to avoid wasting precious time on the water fishing “dead” water.

Spring

Spring consists of water temperatures ranging from 50 degrees to just below 80 depending on your area of the country. The northernmost parts of the country spring patterns will likely start to disappear and give way to summer patterns closer to 75 degrees. We have 4 seasons in a year and crappie do as well except spring. Spring gets broken down into three distinct times being the pre-spawn spawn and post spawn. The reason that we break spring down like this is because the habits and patterns of crappie vary greatly from each of these phases. It’s also important to note that while most of the crappie in a body of water will fall into each of these phases at roughly the same time, you will always have outliers that break the rules.

Prespawn

50-low 60’s

As prespawn starts the fish will be in deeper water from the winter. Often the first sign of the prespawn is some fish suspending in the same area just higher off the bottom than before. As the pre-spawn stage continues the fish will move towards the creeks and flats where they will eventually spawn. Look for points and channel edges with deep water nearby and cover them. These will often hold fish during this time. As water continues to rise in temperature the fish will gradually go shallower and shallower towards the spawning areas with males moving first ahead of the females. The increased water temperature will also increase the crappie metabolism causing them to feed more often and aggressively. During this time I suggest you start your days on deeper cover and work shallower until the fish are found.

Spawn

Low to high 60’s

This is the time of the year crappie see the most attention from anglers. Crappie will spawn in shallow flats and the back of coves making them easy to target whether you’re on a boat or fishing from shore. Down in the south this time of year you will see people with extra long 12 to 20 foot poles vertically jigging over likely areas picking fish off one by one. Another helpful technique this time of year is to use a slip float to present a bait over the fish without spooking them. Care does have to be taken since the fish are so shallow not to spook them. In some areas crappie will spawn in as little as 2 feet of water while it’s also not uncommon to find crappie spawning in 10 feet of water. This is a great time of year to look for reaction bites as the males will be guarding the beds and willing to hit just about anything that comes near. Be ready for a quick hook set though because the males are not biting for food instead the strikes are solely to kill whatever may be threatening their beds. After the females come up and lay their eggs you will find them back out in slightly deeper water feeding up to recover.

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Post spawn

High 60’s to about 80

As the spawn ends and most of the fish start to leave the beds you can find them on the first pieces of structure out from the spawning grounds. This again is a great time to look for reaction bites as the fish will be feeding up aggressively to recover from the spawn. Trolling whether it be long lining or spider rigging can do wonders this time of year since the fish tend to be more spread out than other times of the year. With this in mind whatever you do just make sure to cover plenty of water each time out. You can also use the location of baitfish schools to help determine likely areas crappie will be right now as well.

Summer

Summer is anything above 80 degrees water temperature in my book. At the beginning of summer the last fish will be finishing spawning and the fist fish that spawned will be at least halfway back out to the main lake. With that said, with fish scattered like this, covering water is important this time of year. Do not expect to find large schools of crappie but rather small packs that you can pick one or two off of and then move on to find the next. Look for the fish along the same paths they followed in the spring but instead of starting deep and working your way shallow, do the opposite and start shallow moving deeper. As the heat settles in the fish will have made it back out to the main lake structures including points, ledges and humps. It’s in these general areas you will find the fish over the summer. They will suspend and sometimes seem to be in the middle of nowhere but if you pay attention you will find some sort of cover and structure nearby even if the fish are suspended 10 plus feet above it. During the heat of the summer try downsizing your baits again and fishing slower. Crappie will not want to chase bait too far, wasting energy. Slow and vertical presentations are the best here and once the fish make it to these summer haunts you will find them often grouped up in large numbers. As a shameless plug the summer is also a popular time to night fish for crappie, if you’d like to learn more about that specifically you can find my article on it here.

mineral wells river channel A water temperature guide to finding and catching crappie

Fall

Fall water temperatures range from 80 to 50 degrees in the beginning of fall fish will become very active again chasing spawning shad for food and by the end of fall they will have slowed back to a lethargic winter state once again. Because of the vast differences in behavior, I divide fall into two main categories. The fall transition when water temps start to steadily drop and shad are spawning and the lake turnover. The turnover is about the point that the fishing begins to slow and the crappie start making moves back to deep water hideouts for winter.

Fall transition

The transition time to the fall happens between the 80 and 70 degree mark and is a magical time for any angler after predator fish, crappie included. What makes this time so special is that as the nights and days cool so does the surface of the water. This does two things, one it brings fish closer to the surface during low light conditions and most importantly it signals to shad the time for their spawn. The shad spawn is important, as the shad move to the backs of coves and creeks to spawn the crappie following them. Many of these places are the same areas that the crappie spawned in the spring and you will find the fish in the same transitional staging areas you did leading up to the spawn. The key this time of year is to follow the baitfish where the shad go the crappie follow with outstanding appetites to match.

Lake turnover

The rest of the fall season from 70 to 50 degrees is marked by the turnover. Sometime after the shad finish spawning as the nights continue to cool off most lakes will experience what is called turnover. If you don’t know what this is don’t worry what you need to know is that this signals to the crappie that winter is near. With the crappie sensing winter coming they will make their way back out to the deeper waters to prepare. The bite will slow down and the fish will become less aggressive as the dropping water temperatures slow the metabolism of the fish. Look for cover on points and ledges or near channel intersections toward the main lake and expect the fish to be suspending closer and closer to the bottom as the temps keep dropping. By the time that the water reaches 50 degrees the crappie will have settled into a winter pattern again and our seasons will start over.

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Detailed temperature guidelines

35-40 (winter)

When the water is this cold crappie will be holding tight to the bottom of the lake. This is a temperature range that most of the time live bait will outperform jigs and other artificial lures. Look for the fish in deeper main lake areas that have structure and cover. Points, humps, ledges, and places where multiple channels intersect are all likely areas. The fish will hold in 25 foot or deeper water if it’s available. Fish slow and using a vertical presentation is your best bet right now.

40-50 (winter)

Most fish will still be in winter patterns for now but you will find them suspending a little higher in the water column and willing to eat baits a tad better. This is the time to start thinking about where the crappie will spawn and what paths they are likely to take to get there. Continue to fish slowly with smaller baits and as the water warms and fish rise you may try to make moves closer to where the shallow spawning waters are. Think about mouths of creeks and bays and isolated cover around them.

50-55 (pre-spawn)

This is where we kick into pre-spawn mode if you’re not already fishing inside of creek mouths you will now males will start to move shallow following channels with isolated cover near. Females will be hanging just off the edge of the channels waiting for the ideal time to spawn. Typically you will find the fish between 10 and 25 feet of water right now. Also the appetite of the fish should be picking up so that you can fish a little more aggressively and cover more water.

55-60 (pre-spawn)

This is full on feed time before the spawn the crappie have moved to relatively shallow water and are gorging themselves on schools of baitfish before the spawn. They will still want the cover and brush to hide in and the structures providing a quick retreat to deeper water but they will prioritize feeding up before spawning over those right now. Try trolling for fish either by spider rigging or long lining and vary the baits that you offer. Plenty of big fish are out there to be caught relatively easily right now.

60-70 (spawn)

It’s finally here! Yes, I am talking about the spawn. This is the time that the large majority of anglers look forward to targeting crappie during the year. The male fish will be up shallow on beds at first making them then guarding them. Crappie beds will range In depth from 1 foot to 10 feet of water usually and this is great news for bank anglers and those who love fishing shallow water. The beds will be near some sort of cover most of the time so keep this in mind to help eliminate dead water. The female fish will stage off on the first drop offs away from the shallow spawning grounds until it’s time to lay eggs; they will then make their way to the nest, drop the eggs and move back out to the safety of deeper protected waters. During the spawn when fishing shallow care should be taken not to spook the fish try using a slip float rig, casting lures, or a longer jig pole to sneak up on them. The males guarding the nest will bite just about anything but be quick with your hook set; they are not biting for food but rather attacking what they perceive to be an intruder.

70-80 (post spawn)

As the spawn winds down the fish slowly begin to leave the beds following the same routes they used to get there. Look for points and ledges or channel beds with isolated cover to find the fish. With so much energy spent on the spawning time the fish will be aggressively feeding. Most anglers start to hang up the crappie gear right about now because often it seems the fish have just disappeared. This isn’t the case however the fish do tend to be scattered more now than other times of the year use trolling and casting techniques to cover water picking off the most active fish as you go. As the water keeps warming up the fish will keep moving further out from the backs of creeks towards the mouths where stable main lake waters will provide them shelter during the upcoming summer months.

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80-90+ (summer)

As the water reaches above 80 degrees the crappie will start to set up in summer patterns. If you haven’t made your way to the mouths of the creeks and bays yet and can’t find the fish then this is where you need to go. Throughout the summer the crappie will hang just off of the points and ledges in the deeper water for comfort from the heat. often you will find large schools of fish together. Fishing vertically over these schools can be an excellent tactic this time of year. Pay attention to your electronics and what depths the fish are at. Often I’ll find a tree in 30+ feet of water but the crappie will be suspended higher above the tree. In lakes that form a thermocline look for the fish to sit around that same depth. Slow your presentations down and try downsizing your bait if you know fish are in the area but can’t get a bite.

Now let’s turn the summer pattern on its head. Yes majority of the fish will be in deep water however if none is available or if you have other factors at play then you may easily find crappie in to 0 to 5 foot range. First lakes and ponds without deeper water available crappie will use the shade to stay cool and bury themselves deep within cover. Second you will always have a few fish that prefer the shady shallows to the cooler deep waters. These fish can be picked off with a single jig pole reaching out vertically jigging into the open pockets in thick cover and brush where these fish hide. Lastly if you have a natural spring or waterfall running into a lake you can find fish here year round. A spring stabilizes the water temperature to where it’s more suited for the fish and waterfalls can oxygenate the water. A problem with warm summer waters is that it holds less oxygen the fish need to survive. If you have an area like this, cherish it and fish it often during the summer and winter months to enjoy some more aggressive fish and an easier time filling the stringer with a limit.

80-70 (shad spawn-fall)

As the nights begin to cool off shad start to move into the creeks to spawn. Guess who follows. Yup that’s right our crappie do. With more comfortable water temperatures and an abundance of food in one area the crappie just can’t resist and go crazy. They follow the shad into the backs of creeks and coves and gorge themselves this time of year you will find crappie scattered all over in creeks and backwaters. Look for the brush and cover they love and troll or cast baits through these areas. Just as the crappie are actively moving so should you be covering water and picking off fish as you go. If one spot shuts down, go to the next and come back in a few hours to give it another go. Depths will range drastically during this time of year with crappie spread from less than 5 feet to just about 20 feet deep if a strong weather system rolls in, however most of the time they seem to average between 7 to 12 feet under the surface regardless of water temperature in the lakes I’ve fished.

70-55 (lake turnover-fall)

As the water temps continue to plummet and the shad finish spawning the crappie once again start to move out towards the deeper water of the main lake. Generally lakes turnover at about this time as well and this is another sign to the crappie that winter is coming. Once again follow the creek channels out fishing isolated cover as you go. The difference here as compared to springtime is that the bite will be slowing down and the fish will gradually be holding closer and closer to the bottom.

55-45 (winter)

Once the water reaches 50 degrees the crappie become very tight lipped. They do still feed but their metabolism has slowed down enough that they don’t need to eat much. Any fish that haven’t made it back out to the main lake deeper water by now will be making a run for it soon. Slow your presentation way down and use the smallest profile baits possible.

45-35 (winter)

Here we find ourselves back full circle into winter again. The fish will be on main lake structure and holding very close to the bottom. It’s now time to pull the live bait back out as the go to bait and dream of the fast paced action next spring will bring. Use your electronics to find the large schools of crappie and then present them with a small bait vertically with little to no movement.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>