Many factors influence an angler’s success of finding a honey hole, no matter what the species. In a nutshell, a lake’s morphology and its shape influence fisheries. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a fishery as a geographic area that is associated with a population of aquatic organisms, which are harvested for their commercial or recreational value.
The best habitat for crappie is where crappie prefer to spawn and hunt year-round in what region and climate? Adult crappie prefer boulders, fallen trees, and vegetation for cover in clear water in backwaters pools, freshwater lakes, ponds, reservoirs, sloughs, and streams. Crappie bite day or night, and sometimes better at night than during the day.
Lake morphology refers to a lake’s age, origins, chemical makeup, and the organisms that live in it. Lake shape relates to the lake’s surrounding landscape. The lake’s shape determines physical and biological activities underwater. Chemical features relate to variance in nutrients, major ions and contaminants, and pH (potential hydrogen), which tells you whether the water is acidic, neutral, or basic. Even wind affects fish. Lake shape affects how wind blows. All these factors have an influence on fish habitats.
Crappie hunt with their eyesight. Crappie prefer clear water, and especially black crappie. Crappie maintain a spawning habitat ritual and a typically diverse rest-of-the-year habitat. Male crappie fan out a nesting bed for the female to drop her eggs with his caudal (bottom) fins on a hard bottom, with rocks, logs, or stumps near natural or wood cover, like brush piles, cattails, limbs, or stemmed reeds. They build their spawning nests in depths between one and six feet of water with fish cover.
While the male fans out the nest, the females wait at a distance and as close as six feet away at the same depth. Both sexes feed voraciously at the pre-spawn, up until the female lays the eggs. The females leave immediately after dropping their eggs. The male’s job is to protect the eggs. Males behave extremely aggressively after the female lays her eggs. The males quit feeding aggressively then and focus on protecting their nests.
After the spawn, the female crappie scatter. Crappie can spawn more than once a year. They kind of zigzag through water between 8 to 25 feet and deeper after spawning. Most of the year, they suspend in different habitats. After spawning, crappie feel comfortable in woody cover, like sunken trees and brush piles, but also near drops, ledges, rises, rock piles, and stumps. They use river and stream channels as their highway to deeper water.
What Makes a Good Crappie Bed?
Crappie are related to sunfish and black bass species. Crappie beds are best for spawn season. Gravel beds attract crappie during spawn, plus other species. You need to make sure the males have room to fan out a nest. Proven gravel beds are placed under piers, docks, or off bank areas to attract crappie and other species in 1 to 6 feet of water for spawn catches.
You can make effective gravel beds from 10 X 10 feet up to one acre using limestone or river gravel one-inch in diameter or pea gravel at least 4-inches thick to 6 inches. If your lake bottom is composed of soft sediment, you can lay liners under the gravel. You can make simple frames out of wood to hold the gravel, or use large rocks to frame the bed.
How Deep Should a Crappie Bed Be?
Most importantly, your crappie bed or structure must be far enough below the water surface so it does not create a navigational hazard for boaters. This depends on whether you want a crappie bed for spawning or for the rest of the year. Crappie are most predictable when spawning. Anglers and pro guides catch crappie year round depending on the climate, lake morphology, region, and water temperature.
A crappie bed for spawning should be in 1- to 6-feet of water under piers or similar cover or near the bank. Brush piles in 8- to 25-feet of water on lake bed flats and in river and stream channels are common designs adult crappie. Pro anglers who go after crappie year-round place crappie beds with cover at 10-, 20-, 30-, and 40- feet deep.
After spawning, the female crappie are especially unpredictable. You can try them at different depths throughout the year to see what works best for you in your lake. Crappie brush piles in the backs of coves and creeks work well at 10- and 30-feet of water. Off banks that extend off coves, brush piles in 20- and 40-feet of water are effective.
How Do You Make a PVC Crappie Bed?
PVC is not used for crappie beds, but for fish trees and fish cover structures (fish attractors).
How Do You Build a Crappie Tree?
Fish trees stand up vertically and utilize natural and man-made materials to make “branches”. You can fashion PVC into several models to make crappie fish attractors, along with other materials. Also, you can make several smaller PVC structures over time and keep adding to your crappie complex over time for cost effectiveness. As your fish structures grow, so does your honey hole.
You can make a PVC fish tree by filling 3- to 5-gallon buckets with concrete and anchor bamboo stalks, irrigation tubes, or PVC pipes in the wet concrete. The TPWD reports these types attract all types of sport fish and support forage. Bamboo is the best natural material for fish trees and for adding to brush piles because bamboo stalks hold air pockets.
A PVC cube developed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources uses PVC and corrugated drain pipe. It is a PVC pipe frame connected at corners to make a box frame with corrugated drain pipe twisted throughout the frame. This attractor creates tight spaces for small fish and bigger spaces for larger fish to hang out in and ambush smaller fish, and bonus, air pockets.
Corrugated drain pipe comes in different sizes, but 4” to “6 inch bends easily enough to wrap around the PVC box frame. Wrapping includes drilling holes in the PVC pipe to fit onto the box frame as it turns corners as you are designing it. Many state fish and wildlife departments use PVC structures, plus they recommend spider blocks. Spider block fish trees use PVC pipe, bamboo stalks, or irrigation tubes inserted and cemented in quick-set concrete.
How Do You Make a Crappie Brush Pile?
Brush piles are great for crappie habitation but also for other fish species too. There are decomposition issues with brush piles. Older trees are not as effective as green trees. As green trees soak, they lose their effectiveness over time. You can always add more brush over time to maintain an effective and reliable fish habitat.
Vertical brush piles are the key ingredient. Brush piles need to stand up vertically at least four feet high. Hardwood trees make for much longer-lasting brush piles. Black Ironwood from Florida is the strongest hardwood found in the U.S. Beech, hickory, maple, oak, sycamore, and walnut trees are among the strongest hardwoods in North America.
Almost every lake in the U.S. has an official governing entity. Usually, that entity is a state or federal governance. Cities govern some lakes, but those cities follow state or federal guidelines and tack on extra fees to cover their expenses of operating their lakes. If you want to build brush piles in your lake, you must consult your governing authorities to make sure you are not violating any laws or statutes.
When designing a brush pile, never mess with or add to the tree stumps left behind when the authorities impounded your lake some odd years ago. With native hardwood trees and stumps from before impoundment, these stumps can be established fish habitats. You will be competing with and disturbing a perfectly productive fish domain. If your lake’s region naturally supported hardwoods, the hardwood stumps left behind upon impoundment have become historical fish habitats.
Pine trees left behind years ago have rotted away and created lake bottom flats. These flats are perfect locations for new brush piles. Brush piles about 10- to 20-feet long and 4-feet high create a productive crappie habitat. But, you can always make them larger and taller, and up to 10-feet high. With a crappie brush pile, bigger limbs hold more crappie. Trim off smaller limbs and leave a lot of forks in the road.
Christmas trees only last about a year and are not ideal. A good rule of thumb is to use Christmas trees for 20% of your brush pile and for adding to eroding existing piles. Christmas trees have tight limbs and can trap lures. If you use Christmas trees, you want them to stand up. Tie cinder blocks to the base of the tree and a floating device to the top of the tree, like StyrofoamTM blocks. An empty plastic jug will leak in a short time.
Use rope to tie cinder blocks to branches or bundles of branches and overboard they go. There are several types of rope used specifically for marine purposes. These ropes have distinct qualities. For example, some marine ropes float, some absorb water, and some have more stretch. Nylon rope is strong, but absorbs water and weakens in time. Polyester rope does not float or absorb water and is stronger than nylon.
When Should I Put Out Brush Piles for Crappie?
Put crappie brush piles out year-round. You can design them for spawning season or for the rest of the year. After spawning, crappie either suspend in different depths near cover or they are traveling to an area where they prefer to suspend via river and stream channels. Crappie move to deeper water after the spawn, but what channel they take is how well you know your lake.