Introduction to Springtime Crappies
By Justin Hoffman
all as anglers have our special rites of spring. For some it involves
floating roe down a tributary stream for early season steelies. Others
enjoy the opportunity to lock horns with the ice out water wolves that
slowly cruise the shallows. My early season angling is occupied by one
specie and one specie only - and that is Mr. Crappie.
Crappies hold a certain soft spot in my
heart. I admire their tenacious fighting capabilities when using light
line, their chameleon-like habit of blending into the surrounding cover,
and of course, their exceptional taste when tossed in a pan with butter,
garlic and oil.
Follow me as I offer up some tips on finding
and catching crappie this coming spring.
Location is Key
Timing is everything when it comes to catching crappie, especially at the
start of the season. Once ice out occurs, there will be an influx of
crappie flooding the
They have one thing on their mind at this time, and that is to feed. The
water during the early goings will be too chilly to begin the process of
spawning, yet this migration to the shallows is often referred to as a
"fake spawn." This period of fishing can be hit and miss at best, as they
will usually only stick around for a week or two, then retreat back to
deeper water in anticipation of the oncoming warming trend.
As the water heats up, once again crappie
will head to shallow water. As soon as 66-68 degrees is reached, the spawn
Depending on the type of lake, and the
attitude of the fish, most crappie will stay on this shallow water pattern
for the good part of a month. It is this particular month that we are most
Shallow water can bring about many different
connotations, but there are certain attributes that consistently attract
springtime slabs. The first is depth. Search out areas that are 4 feet or
less. This shallow water will hold the highest concentration of fish, and
will help greatly in weeding out unproductive water.
The next thing to keep an eye out for is
cover. Structure and cover can come in many forms, but at the top of a
crappies list are cane and bulrushes, stumps and wood, man-made docks and
pilings, as well as scattered weed. The best spot I have ever located
contained a mixture of peat/mud with some wood thrown in - an ideal area
for digging nests while also offering safety and security.
Although you can catch crappie out and away
from structure areas, they do seem to prefer an object to lie beside or
under. Old wooden docks can be a gold mine, especially if the structure is
low to the surface of the water. Target the legs of the dock itself, as
this will be the primary location that the crappie will set up in. Trees
or branches that have fallen in the water are also at the top of my list,
and in my experience, evergreen branches or full coniferous trees rate up
there as number one.
Canals (both man and nature-made), shallow
back bays and shoreline areas are where you should be concentrating your
searches on. Keep in mind that south facing shorelines will warm the
fastest, so it pays to seek out these hotspots first thing in the season.
Putting Together a Game Plan
Before heading out and fishing blindly, a bit of preplanning and homework
can go a long way. Whatever body of water you intend to fish, obtain a
topographical map. Highlight the productive looking spots, using depth,
position of the areas and structure points as your variables. Things to be
conscious of are marinas (docks), bays (south facing and shallow) and
canals. These can all be easily located on a map prior to launching, and
can save you considerable time when searching out fish.
I like to stick with clear water lakes. Clear
water allows me to visually see fish (lets you quickly know if fish are in
the area), see structure below the surface, and when everything comes
together, will give me the opportunity to sight fish for those big slabs.
Sight fishing is a very effective technique, as you actually can pick and
choose which fish to go after. I will generally cast blindly less than 25%
of my time in the spring, preferring to get a fish in my sights, before
gently lobbing a cast in his direction.
Stealth is part and parcel of the crappie
game, and an electric motor is certainly an asset when fishing the skinny
water. Crappie can spook easily at times, so make slow and quiet movements
when working your way through productive areas. It also goes without
saying that wearing a pair of polarized glasses is mandatory for this
shallow water fishing.
Stocking the Tackle Box
neat thing about chasing crappie is not having to rely on expensive gear
or bottomless tackle boxes. A 6 or 6.5-foot ultralight spinning rod
coupled with a small ultralight reel takes care of the equipment side of
the equation. Spool up with 4 or 6lb test mono and you're pretty much good
When it comes to baits, the plastic tube
reigns supreme. Choose a panfish-sized micro tube, and pair it up with
1/32 or 1/64 oz. jig head. My most trusted colours have been white, pink,
chartreuse, brown, red and purple. Two-tone jigs allow you to use more
than one colour, upping your odds of discovering which combination works
best. I prefer to suspend my jigs below a slip float, paying close
attention to keep my plastics high as the crappie will always feed
Small cranks and spinners can also work well,
especially when fish are aggressively guarding their nests, or when water
temperatures greatly increase. I've had a few banner outings that included
some true slabs - all falling prey to a small crank slowly twitched along
the surface of the water. I must say - it's pretty exciting to see a
crappie blast a topwater in a foot of water!
As you can see, chasing the crappie of spring
certainly isn't a complicated affair. In order to get in on the game, you
have to know where to look. Whether you head to the Kawartha's, Rice or
the mighty Ottawa, you can be assured of some fantastic early season
fishing - and that's what we all need after such a long, cold winter of
the white stuff.
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