Don’t call it a comeback. Lake Murray’s crappie fishing is still going strong since the unusually mild winter has kept water temperatures higher than normal. The action is expected to get even better as spawning season nears.

Despite a handful of cool days, the average daily high temperature in February has been a balmy 69 degrees. The temperature in Columbia on Feb. 20 reached 76,with Lake Murray’s surface water temperature registering in the 60s. Opinions differ, but experts generally put the optimum spawning temperature for crappie at 50 to 56 degrees. That means the conditions are perfect for love.

“The fish are gradually setting up,” said guide Brad Taylor of Taylor Outdoors (www.tayloroutdoors.com) “They’re only about 2 1/2 weeks away from spawning, so they’re beginning to work their way toward their spawning grounds.”

Crappie usually move to secluded riverbeds in mid-March. Larger fish spawn first, followed by progressively smaller ones, but Taylor says the effect will be less than spectacular this year. Anglers probably won’t see the discrete waves that often mark the occasion.

“I think 50 percent of people will not even acknowledge it happened, because it’s not going to be a big transition,” Taylor said.

Creek mouths offer access to riverbeds and also provide a buffet of various baitfish. Crappie come to gorge themselves before moving into the rivers to mate. As Taylor put it, they have only two biological goals in life: eat and breed. Creek mouths facilitate both.

Taylor said savvy anglers will troll spider rigs with tiny jigs and grubs. When the catch turns to only small fish, head upstream and target the banks to run into larger ones. 

“People have been catching them on brush piles — spider-rigging, trolling — and what you’re going to see is all those patterns gravitate farther back in the creek system.”

But Taylor warned anglers that the crappie spawn is a brief event, sometimes lasting a single night. Fish hard and make the most of it.