Crappies are a favorite quarry of many spring anglers. When found, they’re ready biters and usually in large groups providing for very fast action, but only if you know how to time their seasonal movements and employ the tackle they respond to.
At this time of year, crappies are getting ready to spawn and their typical breeding grounds are the shallows of protected bays and coves where the water warms fastest. Most often this will be a fairly protected north side of a lake or reservoir with some significant reed beds, cattails or structure such as shoreline trees which may have dropped a few branches or trunks into the water over the years. On any familiar lake, this pattern plays out over and over again, so locating these spots in spring and monitoring seasonal usage should be filed in a fishing journal for future reference.
Depending on passing weather systems, fish my rush up into the shallows from deeper water nearby and then back out again as fronts and cooling conditions influence water temperatures before the actual spawn. I’ve seen spawning crappies as late as mid-June in the northern tiers of Minnesota tucked into a few inches of water in a cattail edge, and in warm springs I’ve caught them in the beginning of April in backwaters on the Sheyenne River in southeastern North Dakota. The timing all depends on how the season progresses, but once key spawning destinations are located, it’s simply a matter of being there at the right time and knowing what to use.
Crappie tackle is basic, fun and inexpensive. Small leadhead jigs in 1/32 to 1/16 ounce fished on four-pound test line are the norm, and they can be tipped with small minnows or fished with two-inch plastic tubes and curly-tailed grubs. Sometimes crappies will key in on a certain color, so picking up a variety pack of crappie tackle consisting of hundreds of plastic bodies for under twenty dollars will provide the options needed and last for this spring and many seasons to come.
An adjustable slip float over a splitshot and a #6 hook or small jig toting a minnow is a great way to find and catch crappies as well. Adjust the depth of the presentation when crappies are located. For a longer stretch of fishing, just slide the bobber stop up and run the rig as shallow as two feet, as fish charge the shorelines on a warming spring day.
Cane poles of 12- to 15-feet in length can make short work of crappie holding areas as well. With fixed line tied to a small jig, anglers can dabble their offerings in pockets around reeds, cattails and emerging lily pads to find fish, while silently drifting near these hotspots in a small boat or canoe.
On the fly rod, small woolly buggers and bigger nymphs work well and match what’s moving in the water at this time of year, but white, silver and gray streamers that imitate minnows will trigger a reaction bite as well. Use sinking lines to cover deeper areas, and floating lines for when fish are up shallow.
Knowing where these popular panfish head at this time of year is key to success, as is being equipped with the right tackle. Take these tips on location and lures to your favorite crappie lake in the coming days for some well deserved springtime excitement…in our outdoors.