Fishing for crappies offers a spectacular opportunity for early-season fun
throughout the upper Midwest. The enjoyment includes
not only catching, but eating them as well! Crappie is considered to be some of
the best tasting fish that swim. Early in spring is a peak time to get them
while they're schooled on structure and holding around cover that makes them
relatively easy to find.
On larger lakes, crappies will hold in the same bays where anglers were
cutting holes in the ice to reach them just a few weeks earlier. The best bays
feature water shallower than 10 feet and dark, sandy points and flats where
they'll soon be laying their eggs.
Look for the warmest water you can find. Northern, dark-bottom bays warm
first. Be sure to check bays that receive wind-blown warm surface water. Larger
lakes sometimes have smaller lakes attached to them. That's where you'll locate
the early-season crappies in the system.
Anglers often overlook a key location in Midwestern reservoirs -- feeder
creeks. Water warms there first in reservoir system, and baitfish and crappies
move up to take advantage of the food they can find there.
If you're unfamiliar with the creeks, go slow to avoid knocking a lower unit
against a stump or a tree that's blown down. The wood, especially wood in very
shallow water, will hold crappies. Travel as far back as you can into the
creeks and start fishing. Shore anglers can target those areas, too.
On main lakes, water in the shallows takes time to warm early in the year.
Save shallow targets until the sun does its job. Early in the day, crappies
will merely move higher in the water column over
deeper water. Also find crappies along rocky shoreline riprap, if present.
Key On Cover
But, cover is usually the key. Crappies love wood,
whether fallen timber or submerged brush. Exposed wood collects the heat from
the sun and radiates it to nearby water to ignite the
plankton-baitfish-predator food chain. Deeper brush offers concealment as fish
move toward the shallows to feed.
The shallows can be sight fished. But deeper brush piles can be harder to
find. Old-timers know to go to likely points, lower a jig and move slowly with
the electric trolling motor. That's when a snag is a good thing because that means they've found the brush pile. Toss a buoy and they're in business.
But, there are easier ways now with technology. Enter the next generation of
electronics, such as Humminbird's Side Imaging
technology. The screen details cover, such as brush piles, stumps, or rocks,
out to the sides of the boat up to 240 feet away. The search for spots to fish
just got a lot simpler. Once spotted, just drag your cursor over to the brush pile
and hit a waypoint. It is automatically saved, which makes it much easier to
If the lake features a lot of boat docks, focus on the ones that have deep
water nearby. Another important spot to check is old weed beds that survived
the winter. Methods will vary depending on where and how deep the target is.
One fun way to fish shallow wood is to use a long rod with a quick tip and
some backbone to it in order to reach out over tree limbs and drop a Lindy jig
with a small, crappie minnow into spaces between the branches.
If you need to stay away to avoid spooking fish, use a slip-bobber rig with
the Thill Pro Weighted Series to let you stay back and still get where you need
to go. Use a thread-style bobber stop, a bead, the float, and a barrel swivel
to a leader of line lighter than the main one. If you get snagged, you can
break off without losing the entire set up. Use enough split-shot in order to
balance the float. The key is to get the float to ride just high enough in the
water so that you can see it, yet low enough to allow a light biting crappie to
pull it under easily.
During especially tough bites, downsize your jig and use an ice-style jig,
such as a Lindy Bug or Toad, dressed with a wax worm under small, Thill floats
such as the Mini Stealth and Shy Bite.
Fish The Riprap
Riprap, which warms the water, often holds the most aggressive fish. Use a
small jig dressed with a small plastic grub and/or a wax worm or piece of night
crawler. Move fast along the rocky faces of dams or bridges, casting and let
the bait fall to the bottom before slowly retrieving it just over the rocks.
Count it down for two reasons. If the bait stops short of the last count, set
the hook because a crappie took it as it fell. Counting down also lets you test shallower
depths on subsequent casts to see if crappies are suspended.
Use the same set up to cast over the tops of submerged weeds. Or, drift over
the top with slip-bobber rigs. Drop a buoy or enter a waypoint on the GPS when
you connect with fish. Soon, you'll have an idea off the size, shape and even
direction of travel of the school.
Shallow weeds can be fished the same way bass anglers do. Simply flip a small jig
and plastic into holes in the weeds and reel them back through natural avenues
through the weed bed. Target docks by using light, flexible,
short rods to "sling-shot" Little Nippers underneath.
As the water continues to warm, look for crappies suspended off the outside
weed lines. Cast a Fuzz-E-Grub jig tipped with a minnow and let it fall. Also
check fish cribs with the jig/spinner or a slip-bobber rig. Drifting areas off
weed lines with slip-bobbers can also be productive.
One word off caution: contrary to what some believe, panfish
populations can take a beating from more and smarter fishermen equipped with
the latest technologies. Take only enough for a meal or two. That way, there'll
be more for you when you return next spring.
Shop The Sportsman's Guide for a fine assortment of
Ted Takasaki has many fishing achievements, including in March, 2010, when he was named a "Legendary Angler" in the "Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame" at Hayward, Wis. He had a victory at the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later.