Crappie spawn: Early or not, the time has arrived

March 7, 2024

By Greg McCain

The initial days of March signal a much-anticipated time for crappie fishermen around the country. The traditional crappie spawn is just around the corner.

While certain regions enjoy earlier bedding activity – sections of Florida and Texas come to mind – other areas of the country feature a spawn that typically begins in March and continues through April and beyond. At least that has been the standard in years past.

So what does 2024 have in store? We surveyed members of the ACC Crappie Stix pro staff – guides, tournament anglers, and digital creators, and some suggestions from that group indicate that the spawn is arriving a few weeks earlier than tradition would dictate. Others, however, respond with some different ideas, including the idea that fish have spawned early all along with most fishermen paying little attention to it.

“From what I’ve been seeing, I think we are gonna have an early spawn as long as the current weather patterns hold,” said Mississippi guide Tim Howell (follow Long Branch Guide Service LLC on Facebook for trip information). “The water temp here (on Grenada and surrounding lakes) is 57, and the fish are moving up. We had a little cold front that’s gonna slow ‘em down just a little. But the days are getting longer. The big ones are getting ready to spawn.”

Alabama guide and tournament angler Jonathan Phillips (Team Phillips Fishing on Facebook) echoed those thoughts. He regularly fishes the lower Coosa and upper Alabama River lakes around Montgomery, AL.

“(The spawn normally occurs) mid March thru April here in central Alabama, and, yes, it appears to be on the earlier part this year,” Jonathan said. “It always straggles out though. They won’t all spawn at the same time. River fish will be behind lake fish.”

Many pro staff members made the point about a staggered spawn. Keith Acker (see Keith’s personal Facebook page for trip information) fishes numerous lakes in northwest Louisiana and east Texas. He said spawning conditions are relatively normal in his region.

“Everything that I’ve seen here … shows that the crappie spawn is the same as in past years,” Keith said. “You will always have some fish push up and spawn on the full moon in February. The large majority will follow in March and April with a few stragglers sometimes in May.”

Later he added, “They cannot all spawn at the same time, and by nature staggering the spawn helps ensure the survival of more young fry. I think the crappie spawn is right on schedule, but more people are just now starting to realize when it actually starts.”

That final statement, about the little-known early spawn, is a significant point about how technology, specifically forward-facing sonar, continues to reveal more and more about fish behavior.

“I think that more people in our area are on the water using LiveScope now, which allows them to see that fish spawn earlier than they thought,” he said. “Usually there have only been a few of us here targeting them early, but this year, the lakes are covered with boats, so I think that this well-kept secret may have been let out of the bag.”

Following are other ideas from members of the ACC pro staff about the “early crappie spawn.”

Kennieth Pierce (Texas, Fishing Ken on Facebook or Hook City TV on Facebook and YouTube)

“It’s the same thing every year here in Texas. For years we’ve watched a particular guide in East Texas start wading for crappie in February. And with social media, it gets everyone in a frenzy thinking the spawn has started early everywhere. Problem is, that isn’t the case for the majority of the state. Fish begin to transition In February as the days begin to get longer again. For most of us that means it’s time to start locating staging areas. Here is where we will find fish suspended in 8-20 feet of water. Usually, we find males that are bland when we catch them, and ‘dark’ once they spend a little time in the livewell. Mixed in are the females. As the days get longer and weather levels off, the males move up shallow, triggering most bank fishermen to sound the ‘crappie season’ alarm! As the days go by, females will join the males in the shallows, and these waves go on repeating the same order until the end of May. Males can usually be caught protecting fry until June or July if you’re lucky.”

Jeff Jowers (Alabama, Southern Scales Guide Service, see Jeff’s personal FB page for trip information)

“That depends on the body of water and or location. Here in Alabama the spawn is going down as we speak on the lower Warrior River/Tombigbee River. Water temp is in the low- to mid-60s. As for the Coosa River (Lay, Mitchell), it’s still in the mid- to upper-50’s. The fish were in their typical pre-spawn pattern, 8-10 feet of water with some wolf packs with their backs out of the water a couple of weeks ago. We had a cold front push through, and in a 48-hour period of time, they totally abandoned that water column. I found them back on the river ledges, relating to structure in 18 feet of water. With that being said, the big females I did catch looked as if I would’ve thumped their stomach, it would’ve popped! The males were spraying from the front deck to the console but not wearing their tux. The weather/water temp plays a critical role in when they ‘pull up.’ They don’t all pull up or do their thing at the same time as we all know. They don’t all do their thing in two feet of water. So to answer your question, it’s debatable, and I guess they only know when that time will occur. I have noticed the males have gathered and pulled up on the lay downs on Mitchell. The spawn is a tricky time to fish in my opinion. They travel with suitcases, change day to day and are in all water columns. They can ‘pull up’ to where you could walk on ’em, and I’d still be in open water looking for that big girl that sits there waiting and biding her time to run up, blow and head right back out.”

Fred Mooney (IIllinois, follow Full Moon Fishing Service on Facebook)

“I’ve seen them move in early as mid March here and also seen them still going in June. When water temp stabilizes at 55 or higher, I think it’s going to happen no matter what month it is.”

Jimmy Rea (Texas, digital creator, @elmforkyak on Instagram, also see Jimmy’s personal Facebook page for information about crappie and kayak fishing)

“Texas has always had crazy weather. I have seen the spawn start early February to late March. It had started, but this cold front will probably push them off a couple days. Then the dance will begin again.”

Caleb Hensley (Texas, digital creator, 903 Fishing on Facebook and other social media platforms)

“Here on Lake Palestine, Texas, we are already catching limits wading in buck brush and thick cover along the banks in coves and on the northern, shallow end of the lake. The spawn is usually good for about 4-6 weeks, depending on the weather. The females are only up for a few weeks tops. Males come in first and are the last ones to leave.”

Chris Sarge Gill (Texas, digital creator, Asleep at the Reel Crappie Fishing TV on Facebook and other social media platforms)

“In East Texas the spawn has started. We have been catching the females in the staging areas since the first of February. It is a little earlier than normal; however, these crappie come in waves. Not all come in at the same time. Many people believe that the spawn is only about 4 weeks long, but it is proven based on years past that it will go on through April at least in this area. Anglers see this as ‘crappie season,’ and they give it 4 weeks then they are off for 11 months, when in fact, crappie season is all year and the spawn will go on for about 3 months, February through April, just in waves. With the increase in YouTube fishing channels it is being seen more than normal, so people are thinking it is way earlier than normal.”

Justin Smart (see Justin’s personal Facebook page for fishing info in his area)

“Here at Toledo Bend, my friend Adam Gearhart is catching them on the north end in 3-5 feet of water under a cork on cypress trees.

I am still in the creek channels mid-lake and south of the bridge, following the fish to the back of the creeks in 16-20 feet of water, catching fish on standing timber.

The fish in the north are very very dark and absolutely spawning.

The fish I am catching on the south end are full of eggs and very healthy, but not taking on the dark colors yet.”

From a few personal anecdotes, the spawn is imminent in northwest Alabama but perhaps not as advanced as last year. On Feb. 21, 2023, I caught good numbers of bigger female black crappie that were bursting with eggs and males that were full tuxedo black fresh out of the water. This year, the black crappie are still not ready to spawn almost two weeks later than a year ago. The white crappie look like they might be a month away from spawning.

The next full moon, a prime spawning period, occurs on March 25. From my experience, that means some fish will spawn around the new moon on March 11 with many more spawning in the days just before and after the full moon.

Greg McCain is a freelance writer from Russellville, AL. He crappie fishes regularly on Cedar Creek Lake in northwest Alabama. In addition to producing content for the ACC Crappie Stix blog, his credits include articles in Georgia Outdoor News, the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation website, the Cornfield Fishing Gear website, CrappieNOW online magazine, Great Days Outdoors, and many other publications in years past.