April 27, 2018 by
Photography by Doug Meigs
Illustration by Mady Besch

Nebraska is home to an abundant crappie fishery. During the spawning season in late April, anyone can feel like a pro fisherman while catching a mess of black or white crappies (two species found throughout the state) when the bite is aggressive.

But locating them year-round can be tricky. With knowledge of how the seasons affect crappie migration and feeding, you too can pull slabs in the heat of summer, on a cool autumn day, through the ice, and even right after ice out, says Daryl Bauer, an experienced crappie angler and fisheries biologist for Nebraska Game & Parks.

When the ice is just coming off the lakes, look for them in shallow coves, he says. The shallows retain the warmth of the springtime sun better than the depths do. Look near submerged structures: logs, bushes, or reeds. Crappies love bulrush, Bauer says. Don’t forget that the crappie is a predator. For bait, nothing beats a plain old minnow, though jigs are a popular choice as well. He says crappie can take crankbaits bigger than most anglers would think. You might just hook a nice one while bass-fishing in shallow coves. You will see they aren’t just “paper-mouths,” they can strike like bass.

Later in April, crappies nest and spawn. Bauer applies his same fishing strategy from ice-out: shallow coves and structure, but expect less roaming. Look for areas protected by the wind. Canals and docks are a safe bet. They are not typically difficult to find this time of year—look for truckloads of anglers standing shoulder to shoulder on the shoreline. It is not hard to catch your limit quickly on the right day. (The 2018 possession limit for panfish—including crappie—is 15.)

In the summertime, the weather heats up, but the crappie fishing doesn’t. Nice ones can still be caught, though. Bauer suggests fishermen to seek drop-offs and deeper portions of shallow coves and nesting areas. The crappie follow their prey out into open water. Food is abundant for crappie, so they can be difficult to catch when dispersed throughout a lake. During the summertime, it may be easiest to use a boat to track them. The crappie may roam or suspend this time of year. Wind makes fishing unpredictable.

The fall is similar to the summer, except that crappies are even more likely to school closer together and they tend to suspend. Fall is also the second-most active season for crappie. Cover as much water as possible. Bauer says that Southerners have success trolling for crappie during summer and fall; however, the technique isn’t widely known in Nebraska. “It would work,” he says.

Winter gets interesting. Ice is the great equalizer. Ice fishermen have access to more water than boatless shore anglers, Bauer explains. It will be easier to access the deeper areas where crappies tend to school up and suspend. Therefore, drill and jig deeper areas on the edge of shallows that are productive in spring. The ice protects the water from winds, so fishing is more predictable. If you don’t have a sonar device to put you on crappies, move around and drill a lot of holes. Fish the bottom until crappie are located, then fish above them for the best results. Bauer says you might not get any crappies, but if you do, you’re on the school. Ice fishing gear is nice, but he says you can fish the ice just fine with a normal rod and reel.

From ice-out through the winter, crappie fishing is productive in Nebraska waters. Bauer knows from experience (and from the scientific data). He publishes Nebraska Game & Parks’ annual fishing forecast, which includes suggested waters for targeting crappie (and other game fish). He identified Wehrspann Lake in West Omaha and Wanahoo Reservoir near Wahoo (west of Omaha) among the state’s top-prospective crappie waters for 2018. Find the full fishing forecast on the Game & Parks website.


Visit outdoornebraska.gov for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.