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Finding Lake of the Ozarks Crappie Through the Spawning Cycle

by John Neporadny Jr.

When crappie spawn on Lake of the Ozarks, catching them can be as simple as casting a jig or minnow to a shallow brush pile. Within a matter of minutes you’ll be hauling in a mess of these popular panfish.

Since the actual crappie spawn can be short-lived, some anglers who depend on catching them in the shallows miss out on some good action by not fishing the entire crappie spawning cycle from pre-spawn to post-spawn. The following tips will help you to find and catch crappie through the spawning cycle on Lake of the Ozarks.

This central Missouri reservoir probably offers the most consistent year-round crappie fishing in the state, but its best action occurs during the spawning cycle. The pre-spawn begins when crappie stage in March 5 to 8 feet deep near the spawning banks (a mixture of pea gravel with chunk rock in the backs of coves or pockets of river bends). Crappie move into the pre-spawn stage when the water temperature reaches 45 degrees.

In clear water, throw a light pink (shrimp-colored) tube jig with either a 1/16-or 1/32-ounce jighead. For darker colored water, select a purple-and-white or black-and-chartreuse hues. If the fish refuse to these offerings, switch to a marabou jig. Use ultralight spinning tackle and 4-pound test line.

Retrieve the jig slowly, but if the water has warmed, switch to a Roadrunner and swim it through the brush. When a cold front hits and drops the water temperature, attach a bobber about 6 feet above your jig and let this combination dangle over a brush pile. The bobber-and-jig system allows
you to keep your lure in the crappie’s strike zone longer than his other presentations.

Lake of the Ozarks crappie move in to spawn when the water temperature ranges from 52 to 62 degrees. In early April, they fish will just about
be on the bank spawning. The fish will be in about 1 1/2 to 6 feet of water along the pea gravel banks.

Nesting areas are easy to find if the water is clear. The fish fan out about an 18-inch to 36-inch diameter nest. When you look at the bottom, it will look like silver dollars down where they’ve fanned all the silt away from the rocks.

A variety of plastic-bodied jigs, including Sassy Shads, tube jigs or curly tail bodies, work during the spawn. Five basic colors to try are purple-and-white, chartreuse tail with yellow body, hot pink, a red/yellow combination and pearl.

During the spawn, the fish become more aggressive and attack anything that gets close to the nest. Try a 1/8th-ounce jig and attach a small cork set about 1 1/2 feet above the lure.

Cast the jig and cork toward the spawning area. Roll the cork with your rod which moves the jig just enough to attract attention. When on the nest, a crappie will attack it.

After the spawn (usually late April and early May), crappie will start moving deeper. As the water gets progressively warmer, the fish will go progressively deeper. Anglers need to fish the same type of brush where they found crappie in the pre-spawn, usually in the 8- to 12-foot range. Whereas the crappie bite all day during the spawn, the best fishing now will be in the early morning, late evening or at night.

If the surface temperature jumps into the 70- to 80-degree range, the crappie will seek shady hideouts 15 to 20 feet deep. Hang a lantern on a dock to catch crappie at night. The best bait is a minnow fished straight down in the brush.

In late May, the crappie are nearly in a summertime pattern. Start looking for beds closer to the main channel because the water’s cooler there. Look for fish in the 12-foot range and then probe deeper until you find crappie.

Minnows are the exclusive bait during this time of year. The shad population replenishes during this time, and the crappie start pursuing livelier and larger prey than a jig offers. Hook medium-size minnows behind the dorsal fin to prevent driving the hook through the bait’s vital parts and killing it. The bait rig should include a number 4 to 6 hook and a 1/16-once split shot set 6 to 8 inches above the hook The spawning cycle ends when crappie return to their deep brush piles (18 to 20 feet deep) for the summer.

For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.

For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.