To be successful in the pursuit of crappie in area reservoirs like Lakes Oconee and Sinclair, anglers must understand migration or movement as it applies to crappie.

Crappie are in constant migration as they move from place to place depending on water temperature, location of baitfish and their urge to spawn. The weather can play havoc with the crappie’s migration, but we have had a fairly typical winter so far in middle Georgia.

Generally the crappie will move from their shallow spring spawning grounds (this movement is referred to as post-spawn period) to offshore areas in the main lake in early summer and will remain there throughout the summer and into the fall. During the cooler weather of fall they may actually return to relatively shallow water to feed on threadfin shad that have also moved to shallow water.

Then as winter and colder weather arrives, the crappie move back to deeper water where they generally will stay until the first warm weather of late winter or early spring. With the first hint that winter is ending (occurring right now) and with slightly longer days with more sunshine, the water temperatures will rise a few degrees and the crappie will make their first initial movement toward their spawning grounds (this movement is referred to as pre-spawn period).

The water temperature has risen about 3 to 5 degrees over the last three weeks and that slight elevation in water temperature has been noted by the crappie. The crappie have made their first move from their winter grounds by moving ever so slightly to shallower areas of the lakes and toward coves or banks where they will spawn. Weather changes may derail that movement several times over the next month but the migration toward crappie spawning areas has begun.

As the water warms further, the crappie will move into the coves getting ready for the spawn that can occur anywhere from early March to the middle of April. Soon the crappie will move to shallow water (this movement is referred to as the spawning period) to spawn and then the migration cycle starts all over again. Whatever stage of their migration the crappie are in, they will always be found around their primary food source, the threadfin shad.

Anglers who understand the crappie’s migration movements and are able to locate schools of baitfish that correspond to the crappie’s movements will be able to catch crappie throughout the year. For many years, anglers thought of only catching crappie when they were in shallow water to spawn but crappie fishing is now a year-round activity.

We are in the pre-spawn period now and the crappie are in the center and mouths of large coves and along flats adjacent to river channels. In some cases they are in close proximity to where they will actually spawn. The crappie can be found in water 8 to 20 feet but within a short swimming distance of where they will spawn.

During the early phase of the spring crappie season, the crappie minnow fished alone or in combination with a crappie jig will often out perform jigs only day-in and day-out. Some diehard crappie anglers would not dare use a minnow but I am a believer that you fish with what catches the fish.

I know that once a crappie angler develops his/her technique for catching crappie, there is generally no convincing him/her that there are other ways that will also work. You will seldom find two crappie anglers who have the same exact techniques for catching crappie.

The crappie populations on Lakes Oconee and Sinclair are primarily the Pomoxis nigromaculatus species that we commonly call the black crappie. This creates confusion for many anglers since they are not black in color but are often pale or almost white in color.

Going by color is not a good way to determine the difference between black and white crappie. A better way to determine the difference is to count the number of dorsal fins. The black crappie has seven or eight dorsal spines where the white crappie only has six. Lakes Oconee and Sinclair both have a much smaller number of Pomoxis annularis or white crappie.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division Fisheries Biologists have just recently issued their forecast for the 2009 spring fishing season for Lakes Sinclair and Oconee. The biologists expect abundant numbers of crappie on Lake Sinclair with 25 percent of the catch being greater than eight inches and one-fifth of the crappie being ten inches are greater. The biologists also expect a good number of crappie to exceed two pounds.

Lake Oconee should also see good angling for crappie this year. Biologists indicate that crappie sampled in the fall of 2008 averaged about 10 inches and crappie should average one-half to three-quarters of a pound this spring. There should also be good numbers of fish weighing up to one and one-half pounds.

The crappie are already biting and even better angling days for crappie lies just ahead so its time to get ready and get on the water. Good fishing and see you next week.

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