April Is Prime Time For Lake of the Ozarks Crappie
Dogwood trees blooming in April usually signals the prime time of the crappie spawn at the Lake of the Ozarks.
The diverse waters of Lake of the Ozarks nearly guarantees you can find crappie spawning somewhere in this impoundment during April. By fishing the different arms of the lake throughout April you can continue to catch spawning crappie for more than a month. Most crappie on this lake begin spawning when the water temperature climbs into the 60-degree range, but you can also catch lots of fish in the pre-spawn stage. During this time, the water temperature is in the 50-degree range and the crappie are staging in brush piles at depths of 8 to 10 feet.
In early April, the first areas crappie attempt to spawn are in the upper ends of tributaries and major feeder creeks such as the upper Osage, Niangua and Little Niangua rivers or the Grand Glaize and Gravois creeks. These riverine sections of the lake contain shallow, off-color water which warms quicker than the deep, clearer water on the main lake. Sometimes crappie in these sections start spawning one to two weeks earlier than their counterparts on the main channel. The last spawners on the Lake of the Ozarks can be found usually during May in the main lake pockets near Bagnell Dam.
The ideal spots to find spawning crappie are pea-gravel banks in coves, but I have also taken them along rock ledges in main-lake pockets or cuts in bluff walls. Locating deep water nearby is the key to finding the best spawning banks for crappie. Even though the fish spawn in less than 2 feet of water on the flat, gravel banks, they still prefer areas near deeper structure, such as spots where the bottom contour drops 10 to 15 feet deep into a ravine or creek channel. The depth crappie spawn depends on water clarity. In the stained to murky waters of the upper Osage and some of the feeder creeks, crappie spawn as shallow as 1 1/2 feet, but the fish in the clearer waters of the dam area and lower Gravois build nests as deep as 6 feet.
Lay-down logs and sunken brush piles are prime cover for spawning crappie, but anything that sticks up off the bottom holds fish. I have even caught them around a submerged patio chair that had fallen off a dock. Concrete pilings and metal posts on dock walkways are also favorite nesting areas for crappie.
A variety of lures catch crappie during the spawn, but the bait that produces best for me is the plastic tube jig. The best skirt colors for fishing the clearer sections of the lake include purple-and-white, black-and-chartreuse, red-and-chartreuse, hot pink, red-and-white or yellow-and-white. My favorite hues for stained to murky water include chartreuse, blue-and-clear or white-and-chartreuse. I prefer throwing these lures on an ultra-light spinning rod and a spinning reel filled with 4-pound test green monofilament for fishing in clear water or 6-pound clear line for dirtier water.
When crappie have moved into the shallows, I attach the plastic tube body to a 1/32-ounce jighead. This lightweight jighead allows the lure to fall slowly and stay off the bottom, which is a key to catching crappie in shallow water.
Once I’ve located a good spawning bank, I cast to any visible cover and retrieve the jig in a slow and steady fashion. Watch for any slight twitch in your line during the retrieve, because this signals a crappie bite. Water clarity determines how far you need to cast to the shallow cover. If you’re fishing the clear waters on the North Shore and in the Gravois, you need to make longer casts to prevent spooking crappie in the shallows. In the off-color water in the mid-lake area, you can make short pitches to the cover without spooking crappie on the beds. One of the most effective techniques for inactive crappie during this time is a “dead-fall” retrieve. After pitching to a target, I let the lure fall back towards the boat on
a tight line without imparting any action to the jig. Crappie usually hit the jig as it falls down through the cover. In addition to watching my line as the jig falls, I also wrap my index finger around the monofilament which helps me feel the light tap of a crappie hitting the lure.
When I guided, I found the easiest way for my clients to catch spawning crappie was to set them up with a jig-and-bobber rig. Attaching a small bobber above the jig prevents the lure from falling to the bottom and constantly keeps it in the crappie’s strike zone while working the lure in the shallows. The bobber also makes it easier to detect a strike, which is indicated by the cork diving under the water or popping up and turning on its side. In off-color water I usually set the bobber about 12 to 18 inches above the lure, but will move it up the line 2 to 3 feet when fishing in clearer water. This technique requires a simple retrieve of twitching the rod tip to make the bobber roll in the water. The rolling action moves the
jig just enough to attract a crappie’s attention. When a strike occurs, set the hook harder than usual, because the bobber has a tendency to absorb some of the force from your hook-set, which results in lost fish.
If a cold front has swept through the area and dropped the water temperature 4 or 5 degrees, I pull off the bank and look for brush piles 8 to 10 feet in front of the spawning area. The crappie usually pull back into the deeper cover where they suspend over the brush or burrow down into the wood. I switch to 1/16-ounce jigheads during these conditions an either cast to the brush for suspending crappie or present my jig vertically when the fish are holding tight to the cover.
If you visit Lake of the Ozarks in April and see the dogwood trees blooming, you know it’s time to go fishing because the crappie are spawning. 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.
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.