One of the easiest things to do is to catch crappies when they're on the
spawning beds. All it takes is a boat with an electric trolling motor, a good
pair of polarized sunglasses, and a spinning rod with a jig & bait and a
float. You spot the fish on the telltale bed, pitch your rig in and it's only a
matter of time before the protective crappie grabs the bait to protect the
When conditions are right, you can fill with your limit of delicious crappies
in no time flat! But what about the period of time between winter fishing and
spawning season? How does a person go about catching crappies then? Well, it's
not as easy as plucking fish off the beds, but it isn't rocket science either!
Locating crappies during this period is as simple as connecting the dots
between winter crappie hangouts and the shallow bays and flats where you know
crappies will spawn when water temperatures warm to the desired reproductive
level. In early spring, begin your pre-spawn efforts on the northern end of a
lake or reservoir. With the sun's position in the hemisphere, northern and
northwest shorelines heat up first -- so they'll be the first places to see spawning
action. Using an accurate contour lake map and good sonar, pick a likely
looking spawning bay on the northern part of the lake; then locate the nearest
deep-water basin in proximity to that. Think of those two spots as Dot-A and
Find The Deep-Water Basin
Dot-B, the deep-water basin, is likely the spot where crappies suspended during
the winter months. They're notorious for suspending on these deep holes in
winter. As water temperatures warm, they're driven by instinct to migrate into
shallower and warmer water where the spawn will take place -- to Dot-A. As they
move, females continue egg development and males
become very active to be in the right place at the right time for reproduction.
So, during the pre-spawn, hit the lake and begin snooping around with your
sonar at likely looking spots between Dot-A and Dot-B. These will include
underwater creek channels, stump fields, reefs, humps, or any irregularity that
can attract and hold fish. When you see fish on the screen, they should be easy
to identify as crappies because they'll typically be suspended and not hugging
the bottom. Make a mental note of the water depth where you find them, and
where they're suspending in the water column. This serves as a guide for the
depths in which you'll find crappies in other spots, too.
Now let's say you scoped some sub-surface structure and found a solid
"Christmas tree" of suspended fish on your sonar. Now comes the fun
part: catching them! In this scenario, pitch a marker buoy on the downwind edge
of where the crappies are concentrated. This will give you a visible marker of
their location. Then with your electric trolling motor, make a big, wide
semicircle around the school and anchor your boat a cast's distance upwind from
the buoy. Remember to EASE your anchor down to prevent commotion and a big
plume of sediment when the anchor touches down.
With the boat in position, start with a slip-bobber rig with either a jig or
bare hook beneath a split-shot sinker -- tipped with an active crappie minnow.
This should catch them quite nicely. If they don't start biting right away,
play with the depth at which you have your slip-bobber set. Typically the sweet
depth is where the bait is just above the heads of the fish. So if they're 10
feet down in 20 feet of water, set your bait/bobber depth to 9 feet.
I recommend light monofilament line in the 4-pound-test variety for these
pre-spawn fish. I also usually start with small bait presentations first and
experiment from there if the fish aren't responding. Sometimes these pre-spawn
crappies can get finicky and bite very lightly. When this happens on suspended
crappies, and if water depth and conditions allow, try going right over the top
of them with a vertical presentation over the side of the boat. Your spinning
rod will work just fine, or you can opt for ice tackle and a spring bobber for
even more finesse and feel when the bite is light.
The period between a crappie's winter pattern and the spawn can be a little
tricky, because the fish are in movement mode between Dot-A and Dot-B. But if
you can intercept them in a pre-spawn staging area, you can have a lot of fun
and bring back some tasty crappies for the family. Give it a try as winter
surrenders to spring and let us know how you do at Winkelman.com. Until then...
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Babe Winkelman is a
nationally known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for more
than 25 years. Watch the award-winning "Good Fishing"and "Outdoor Secrets" television shows on
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where you live. Babe writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.