Spring, particularly April and May, is a magical time of year—almost too magical. Central Virginia’s rich assemblage of outdoor sporting opportunities that are coming into season makes it difficult to decide what to pursue. Even ruling out turkey hunting, fishing opportunities, solely, are many, and the action can be hot. However, the month of April and the blooming of the redbuds and dogwoods brings to mind no fish more strongly than the crappie, and for good reason. As these tuxedoed fish carry out their spawning ritual, they become very susceptible to angling, and highly predictable. This fact, combined with their incredible table fare, makes spring crappie fishing one of my favorite traditions.
The When, Where, and How
As water temperatures climb into the 50s and towards 65 degrees—usually from about mid-March through the entirety of April—the crappie action is at its hottest.
When water temperatures warm to a consistent 50 degrees in the spring time, crappie begin spawning on sand-gravel bottoms in shallow water near protective structure. This fidelity to shallow structure is what makes them prime targets for anglers.
Locating emergent grass beds, brush piles, and fallen trees in two to 15 feet of water along shorelines is key. In bigger bodies of water with lots of residential development, dock structures can also be hotspots. However, as I learned from veteran Lake Anna crappie guide, Chris Craft, if fishing from a boat, keeping the boat well away from the structure and making long casts to where you suspect fish to be holding is key. The big females often hold a little deeper and looser from structure.
Central Virginia’s prize crappie impoundment is Lake Anna, where slabs trumping two and a half pounds are caught every year. Lake Orange also boasts a healthy crappie fishery, with fish over a pound occurring regularly.
Other lakes in the region hold crappie populations, and can provide good fishing for smaller fish. It is quite easy for crappie to overpopulate and, as a result, become stunted in small impoundments if there is a lack of an adequate harvest.
Thankfully, crappie are one of the tastiest of freshwater fish, and anglers are allowed a limit of 25 fish per day with no length limit, though differing regulations exist on some bodies of water.
Most crappie fishing can be done with an ultra-light or light spinning rod and reel spooled with four- to six-pound line. Small grubs, micro-crankbaits, and live minnows are all highly effective.
After a late-morning start, we arrived at Fish Tales Tackle Shop at Anna Point Marina around 10 O’ clock. My brother, Phillip, and I had our kayaks in the truck, and were planning to launch at Hunter’s Landing on the Pamunkey River arm of Lake Anna and fish the grassy coves after stocking up on the Kalin grubs that do so well for crappie on the lake.
Less than an hour later, we were on fish. Phillip found them first. In the back of a shallow cove, a small school hid itself among some wooden boat docks and provided our first keeper.
Several other fish came to hand quickly, but all were smallish, and we threw them back with the intention of only keeping the day’s biggest fish. So we moved on in search of larger filets.
We found just that when my brother, again, came through. A solid 12-incher inhaled his grub from the end of a boat slip adjacent to a patch of grass.
As the sun climbed to its apex in the sky, the fishing slowed.
After searching a few docks on the main river, it was evident that shade was a necessary factor, and not just that which was offered by the docks. So we made the move to one in a slight inset of the bank, surrounded by trees. As I had hoped, we were fast to several more keeper fish, and the pattern became more defined.
The majority of fish were between 8-10 inches, but several measured 12, with the largest being 13—Phillip’s, caught on a dock bordered by shallow grass. And one particular structure gave up seven fish over 11 inches.
It is also worthy of note that the structures that are most light-restricting (hint: the ones with garage doors) fished best at midday when the sun was the highest, provided you can skip a jig-headed-grub far enough under it.
The kayaks provided a critical edge in this way. At a lower angle, with a smaller craft and presence, one can get closer without spooking fish, and launch a lure several feet into the shade of a dock.