Find crappies in many waters, including natural and man-made lakes, oxbow lakes, reservoirs and small ponds. Crappies like standing water, but also live in moderate to large interior streams, as well as Mississippi and Missouri rivers backwaters and oxbows.
Many northern Iowa natural lakes have large crappie populations. Although not as big of populations in southern Iowa waters, the fish are usually larger. Crappies in natural and man-made lakes are most vulnerable during spring spawning and autumn. Consistent catches during the rest of the year are more difficult. Man-made lake crappies are abundant and more vulnerable throughout the year.
Spawning starts when the water temperature is 56 to 64 degrees (sometime in May). Finding fish during the pre-spawn/spawn stage will lead to excellent stringers of fish. Crappies move into shallow water areas where the water temperature rises rapidly in early spring. When the water temperature and length of daylight are right, males move into the shallows near spawning sites and build bowl-shaped nests over gravel, sand or even muck substrates. Look carefully for emerging vegetation, such as bulrush or cattail, as spawning often takes place near the base of aquatic plants. Both males and females can be caught, but catches are often dominated by males. They become very aggressive at spawning time and will often strike a lure to defend their nest.
In natural lakes, look for spring crappie near inlets, adjoining marshes, canals and marinas. Find spawning crappies in small lakes in coves or near the rock armor on dams. In large flood control reservoirs, spring crappies often gather in large embayments close to submerged structure. The turbid water flowing into these reaches from feeder creeks warms faster than the deep, main-stem water and attracts crappies looking for spawning sites. Spring crappies also gather in the tailwaters below the dams of these impoundments.
Crappies leave the shallow waters they visited in the spring and move into deeper (8 to 25 feet), cooler water during summer. Finding fish can be frustrating, and without an electronic fish finder, it is trial-and-error until you find the right depth. Schools of crappie will suspend in the water column at different depths. In lakes which stratify, this will usually be just above the thermocline. The water below this layer has little or no oxygen to support fish life. Drift-fishing is the most popular and successful way to find and catch crappie in the summer. Once you find fish, they can be caught by anchoring and still-fishing or simply continuing to drift-fish.
Crappies also hide near underwater structures in the summer. Flooded timber provides shade, cover and food making it a great place to catch crappie. In recent years, more of the natural habitat (e.g., standing timber) in many man-made lakes is being kept during construction. Lakes without natural habitat have been improved by adding artificial fish attractors such as stake beds, brush piles or rock reefs. Crappies often use these objects and are mostly attracted to stake beds. Contour maps available on the Iowa DNR website can help you find fish habitat sites.
Crappies once again move into shallower depths during autumn. Look near weed lines, rocky points, brush piles, flooded stream channels or a variety of other habitats. Cooler water triggers more aggressive feeding behavior.
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