Your Map to Whopper Spring Crappie

Crazy… But Real Strategies for Spring Flounder
February 24, 2024
February 24, 2024

Your Map to Whopper Spring Crappie

Feature Story by MATT WILLIAMS

LISTEN: (7 minutes, 49 seconds)


IT NEVER FAILS. Each March, as water temperatures begin nudging the upper-50s on many Texas lakes, crappie begin crowding the shallows to set up camp for spawning. Sometimes the move starts as early as February.

I know this because I always manage to catch a few on baits that are built to catch bass in skinny water. Often times, the fish are “slabs.”

One of the largest white crappie I ever caught grabbed a square bill crankbait I was crawling across a shallow, grassy flat at the upper reaches of Nacogdoches. It was early February, 45 degrees outside and the wind was howling out of the north.

I didn’t weigh the fish, but it measured slightly more than 16 1/2 inches with an ovary-swollen belly so plump it appeared ready to pop.

Lake Fork fishing guide Gary Paris has stumbled across crappie while bass fishing in early spring more than once. A high percentage of them have been caught around shallow flats and points in close proximity to a creek channel.



“It happens just about every year,” Paris said. “When the water temperature gets right, say 55-58 degrees, the crappie always start rummaging around in the shallows looking for a place to spawn.”

Translation: If you go through an area and catch a couple of crappie on bass baits, it might be wise to reach for a spinning rig armed with a crappie jig or Roadrunner.  You could put together a 25-fish limit in short order.

Crappie frequently gravitate to the same areas to build nests for spawning as bass do, often at just about the same time. Difference is, the fish are prone to spawn in groups, frequently called colonies. Catch one spawning crappie and others will likely be close by.

Depending on the lake and area of state up for discussion, spawning activity could get underway as early as February or as late as April. The farther south a reservoir is located, the sooner the shallows will warm sufficiently enough to attract spawning crappie.

Waters in the northern part of the state are naturally slower to warm. In eastern Texas, the spawn is typically full blown by mid-March and lasts throughout much of April, possibly into May.

Just so you know, there two subspecies of crappie — black and white. Both are abundant in Texas. Black crappie are easily identified by the dark speckles and splotches on their sides. They are most plentiful in the clear, acidic waters of eastern Texas.

Norfork Lake, Arkansas


White crappie are native to the eastern two-thirds of Texas but can now be found statewide except for the upper portions of the Rio Grande and Pecos drainages, according to TPWD. Whites do better in turbid water than blacks.

It’s worth noting that crappie are the third most preferred freshwater sport fishing among Texas freshwater anglers behind bass and catfish. Daily limits are liberal, 25 fish, 10 inches. Their succulent white meat is great in the skillet.

How big do they get? The Texas state record black crappie of 3.92 pounds from Lake Fork has stood since 2003. Texas’ biggest white crappie was caught in 1968 from Navarro Mills reservoir in between Corsicana and Waco.

Just about every region of the state has a few decent crappie lakes, but some are way better than others. Here’s a rundown on a few of Texas’ best lakes for big slabs when they make the move to skinny water:

Sam Rayburn

• Lake Record White Crappie:  2.94 pounds

• Lake Record Black Crappie:  2.15 pounds

• Description: The 114,000-acre reservoir east of Lufkin supports abundant white and black crappie populations thanks to a variety of great habitat like hydrilla beds, brush piles and submerged timber. Some of the best springtime fishing usually happens towards the rear of major and secondary creeks, where buck brush, willows and other cover crowds the shorelines in water that is shallow enough to wade. The upper reaches of the Angelina River north of Kingtown have been known to hold big numbers of crappie as early as January and February.

Something to watch this year is the water level. The lake was 7.09 feet low around Christmas. It may be even lower by now without some significant rainfall.

Cedar Creek 

• Lake Record White Crappie:  3.14 pounds

• Lake Record Black Crappie: 3.10 pounds

• Description: The 32,600-acre lake west of Athens is lined with boat docks and piers that will attract plenty of pre-spawn and spawning crappie over the next two months. The fishing can be outstanding towards the rear of main and secondary creeks around any available shore cover. The old spillway at the upper reaches of Caney Creek is a well-known hotspot.


• Lake Record White Crappie: 3.50 pounds

• Description: White crappie are a big draw on the 4,000-acre Central Texas reservoir northeast of Austin, and now is when the fish can be found spawning around abundant willows and other shore cover in shallow water.  Some of the best fishing happens on flats and points in close proximity to creek channels and underwater points.


• Lake Record White Crappie: 3.55 pounds

• Lake Record Black Crappie: 3.92 pounds

• Description: The 27,000-acre reservoir east of Dallas, is well known for its springtime prospects with dozens of creeks and brush cluttered shorelines where anglers can catch fish casting small jigs or dabbling live minnows in skinny water under a cork using a long pole. There will also be plenty of fish still holding at suspended depths in and around old timber and brush piles in 20-25 feet to be caught using forward facing sonar, and many of them will be big. Eighteen teams in the 2023 Crappie Masters event held March 31 – April 1 cracked 30 pounds on 14 fish, including a winning catch for 35.10 – an average of 2.5 pounds per fish. Several fish upwards of three pounds were brought to weigh in.

Toledo Bend

• Lake Record White Crappie: 3.44 pounds

• Lake Record Black Crappie: 3.69 pounds

• Description: The fish factory built along the Sabine River that divides Texas from Louisiana has been a favorite with panfish junkies for decades. Spanning nearly 182,000 acres, the reservoir has dozens of brush-filled creeks and plenty of fishy looking shoreline cover provided by willows, brush, cypress trees and hydrilla beds. Spawning activity usually begins at the lake’s northern reaches and progresses southward with time, possibly lasting into May in creeks and pockets in the vicinity of the dam. 

Fishing guide Ben Matsubu likes to target the backs of creeks around grass beds and other cover in 2-3 feet of water using a Roadrunner or small jig. Live minnows fished under a cork on a long pole can also be effective once you’ve located an area where the fish are congregated.

Here are a few others worth a look for springtime slabs: 

Lake O’ The Pines, Murvaul, Caddo, Richland Chambers, Palestine, Navarro Mills, Wright Patman, Arrowhead, Lavon, Limestone, Daniel, Bonham, Coleto Creek and Aquilla.


Mr. Crappie—Wally Marshall

Wally “Mr. Crappie” Marshall of Anna, Texas, revolutionized crappie fishing through innovative products, tournaments and promotion of the sport. Marshall generously gives back to the fish community through his philanthropic work, teaching youth to fish and donating time and products to multiple charitable organizations and events.


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