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It’s happening early this year. Ice is beginning to recede from accesses signaling the upcoming, open-water season. No, it won’t be long before crappies start migrating toward bays, coves, fingers, and other eventual spawning habitat. Farther south in the Midwestern region, anglers are already finding crappies in transition to these areas.  

What triggers the movement? Water temp, re-oxygenation of shallower waters, and photo period, all which signal crappies to move toward in shallow, spawning areas, but sliding back out deeper during cold fronts—and then back in again when it warms up.  

Will crappies be shallow throughout most of our region just after ice-out? Probably not. But depending on water temp, over days and weeks they will move from basin areas and into weed flats, and around hardstem bulrush, cattails, etc., and then into the dark bottomed, shallow areas when the water temperature climbs and stabilizes.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find them as soon as the ice goes off (or before), even if the bays you fish every spring are vacant of fish right away. Especially with FF sonar, crappies have become pretty easy to find all year. Generally speaking, late-winter/spring crappies should be located near the northern, northwestern, and northeastern ends and off-shoots of the main lake, which warm up soonest.

If deeper, you can sharp-shoot crappies with FF sonar without a bobber; and do the same thing with Side Imaging, too. Heck, drive over them with 2D sonar, and then back off and pitch at them – or try vertical fishing if it’s deep enough and they aren’t spooky. On home waters, you probably already have a good idea of fish migration routes – and if fishing a new lake, ask around at the bait shop (after spending some money).

The Business End

As crappies move shallower, a simple slip-float of fixed float and jig head tipped with a crappie minnow, a couple waxworms, a soft plastic, or hair is all you need, fan-casting areas and slowly working the bobber and jig slowly back to the boat. If the water’s still cold, you’ll have to exercise some finesse – as it warms up, you can work your bait faster.

Crappies have regional names across the country, but the one everyone seems to agree on is “papermouth.”

Yes, they have a very delicate skin—but some meaty structure, too—so the trick has always been getting a good hookset and then keeping them pinned back to the boat. A good hook is very important, and often overlooked. When’s the last time you actually sat down at the workbench of kitchen table and sharpened your jig hooks with a file? I guess if we were smart and wanted to save some money (and hook more fish) – we’d be doing that with crappie, walleye, and bass jigs in our spare time…  

But everyone needs more jigs right? Some are rusty, beat up, and probably ready for retirement. Here are 10 springtime crappie jigs we’ve either used to catch fish – or know others recommend. 

Quickly – a word on color. Depending on where you fish, crappies may key in on color or another. For whatever reason—visibility most likely—crappies like bright stuff, your pinks and chartreuses, but that’s not to say other colors won’t work, too. Tie something different on everyone’s lines and let the fish tell you what works best.

And don’t be scared to start in cold, first ice-off waters with the same, slightly smaller lead and tungsten jigs you used through the ice, especially if the fish are deeper – hence our including a couple ice jigs in the mix below.

Top 10 Spring Crappie Jigs

(alphabetical order)

1) Crappie Pro Mo’ Glo Jig Head

Years ago we were introduced to these in the South and brought some home before anyone really knew about them in the Midwest. But you can find them all over region now, besides online retailers like Scheels.  

The Bobby Garland Crappie Pro Mo’ Glo Jig head is a classic lead jig with long hook shank for good hook sets and use with bigger soft plastics (like the Bobby Garland plastics used in the South) or minnows. The glow is vibrant and comes in five colors. Choose from 1/24 oz. w/ #4 hook; 1/16 oz. w/ #2 hook, and 1/8 oz. with #1 hook. All are also available in large, 10-jig packages at a very reasonable price. If you’re prone to small pike bite-offs or losing jigs in ‘rushes and brush, definitely a good investment.

2) CLAM Swirl Drop

A favorite with ice anglers, the tungsten CLAM Swirl Drop features a swirl paint design to mimic insects, a trailing glow bead, and a Swarovski gem in the nose for extra visual appeal, and reflects available light, even in stained waters. The Swirl Drop gets down to crappies fast and has a super-sharp hook that’s angled slightly upward for good hooksets. Comes in six color combos and two sizes – the smaller 1/16th and the “in-betweener” 7/64 oz. (just shy of 1/8-oz.), which we’d probably recommend for early-ice out deeper water crappie fishing, dressed with a CLAM Silkie and a waxworm or two or small soft plastic—same stuff you just had on your panfish ice rod.

3) Crappie Pro Head Dockt’R Shooter Jigs

Pitch—or even “shoot”—crappie jig/plastic combos? The Bobby Garland Crappie Pro Dockt’R Shooter might be the jig head for you. Features a unique bait-keeper which varies from two to bait-keeper rings depending on size, but pretty much eliminates adding a drop of superglue to jig heads that don’t have any kind of bait-keeper. Pretty big with southern crappie anglers for getting under docks, lifts, into brush, etc. – aka “dock shooting”. But crappies often hang out similar areas in this region, too. In any event, a good jig head to keep your favorite soft plastic in place to catch lots of fish in succession without messing around. Available in a few standard crappie colors (including unpainted to make your own patterns) and two sizes: 1/32- and 1/24-oz. – both with #4 black nickel crappie hooks. Come in 10 jig packages for under 7 bucks.

4) Southern Pro Rattle Eye Jig

Fishing stained water or want to bring in fish from a distance? Maybe add some sound to your crappie jig arsenal with the Southern Pro Rattle Eye Jig. Features two rattling eyes, a baitkeeper, comes in four colors, and two sizes – 1/32 oz. #4 hook and 1/16 oz. #2 hook.

5) Northland Fishing Tackle Tungsten Crappie King Jig

Unlike a lot of the jigs listed here, these new 2024 crappie jigs form Northland are made of tungsten, which means they’re more compact by weight, fall faster, cast a mile, and show up good on electronics. Of course, you don’t always need some of that in shallow water, but as crappies transition toward spawning grounds, the 1/8 oz. w/#6 hook might be a contender, probably tipped with a crappie minnow or your favorite plastic. The smaller, 1/16 oz. with #8 hook is their other size – and both can easily be positioned under a float and whipped a mile to spooky fish. Available in eight colors, including three new Super-Glo patterns. Also features big red holographic eyes and a unique body shape. We fished them last season in open-water and the ice and they definitely catch crappies.

6) Northland Fishing Tackle Tungsten Crappie King Fly

Like the plain tungsten crappie jig above but with hand-tied hair and tinsel, which we found eliminated the need for live bait when crappies were in shallow, warm water and really aggressive last season.

While hair jigs are nothing new, with everybody fishing this and that kind of soft plastic, we found going back to hair definitely has merits. For starters, you don’t have to put on a new plastic when a fish rips it off. Negative to neutral fish? Just add a small minnow, small Gulp! Minnow, or spray with scent. Pitch with or without a float. Again, they catch fish. Available in eight colors, including three Super-Glo patterns and 1/8 oz w/#6 hook and 1/16 oz. with #8 hook.

7) TTI Blakemore Road-Runner Original Jig Head (w/underspin)

Maybe not the jig you want to start off the cold-water, open-water season with, but it’s a crappie-catching legend. Features the classic horsehead-shaped jig head and underspin blade to nab active crappies. As the water warms in spring, it’s a good option for covering a lot of water, especially in the lighter 1/8-oz. size to avoid hanging up in weeds. Dress with a soft plastic or crappie minnow, pitch it out a good distance, and slowly reel it in.

8) Scheels Outfitters Minnow Head Jig

When you burn through a lot of jigs springtime fishing gnarly stuff or in the same waters with small, ravenous northern pike, best to stock up on a lot of jigs. Our boxes are full of these quality, low-cost crappie jigs from Scheels. Feature a hook-keeper which make keeping plastics on easier. Available in 1/32- 1/16-oz. sizes and eight colors. 10 jig packs are only $2.49 – that’s a quarter each!

9) Slayer Custom Jigs

We had a couple buddies who turned us on to these handmade tungsten jigs made somewhere around Pipestone, MN, which are build-to-order only by a “two person business.” Their glow is pretty dang impressive and the color combinations are unlike anything we’ve seen elsewhere. The dozen we ordered have worked on everything from crappies and ‘gills through the ice—as well as sniffer walleyes with a dorsal-hooked small fathead. The #5 is standard fare for all. In super-stained open-water, might be adding a few to your arsenal, but they aren’t cheap.

10) Z-Man ShroomZ MicroFinesse Jig Head

Built as the perfect jig head to pair with Z-Man MicroFinesse panfish plastics, these jigs are like a classic Ned-style mushroom head only much smaller. Tell you this: the hooks are sturdy and super-sharp. That whole test of testing sharpness on your fingernail leaves a little hole right out of the package. Jigs are available built around a size 6 black nickel hook (1/30- and 1/20-oz.) and size 4 (1/15- and 1/10-oz.) Four colors: black, chartreuse, red, and glow.

We fished them quite a bit last year and liked the hook-keeper for keeping Z-Man MicroFinesse plastics on. As far as baits, one Z-Man MicroFinesse bait (we like the StingerZ) will probably last you all season—and if you combine it with a dab of superglue, well – honestly, there’s no need to buy any more than one bag of each style of their panfish baits unless you want a Crayola box of different colors to try. And seems like the more fish you catch on one, the better it works.


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