The ice has left the lake. Birds are on their way back to their nesting grounds. It is time to dust the boat off and go looking for some crappies. This is probably my most anticipated time of fishing for me. It’s a great confidence booster when you can find these eager crappies feeding, and getting ready to spawn.
Let’s get down to some basics to help you target these fish. I’m going to break it down into three key factors that should help you locate those crappies in their feeding frenzies. WATER TEMPS, LOCATIONS, and PRESENTATIONS. When you can align these three elements, you will have a busy day of hook sets and fun.
First, let’s talk WATER TEMPS for those shallow water crappies that we want. Now, I will be the first to admit, I couldn’t wait to get my boat out and run the hot spots, to see if those crappies were defying Mother Nature’s ways too early.
I have hit the water right at ice out looking for the shoreline crappies, when the water was barely flirting with the 40º mark, of course, they proved me wrong. What I did learn from this mistake was, how to look for staging crappies.
These are the crappies still hanging out in the nearest basin closest to their spawning grounds. Crappies in this staging area are hungry, and most likely aggressive. These aren’t the crappies I want, I will patiently wait for those spawning crappies.
The magical water temps we are looking for are the mid 50’s. That 54-55º mark usually gets those crappies fired up and moving into their spawning areas. Once I locate these temps, I can begin the hunt. This will be about a 2-3 week period when the water temps rise into the 60’s and tipping into the 70’s, the spawn is about over with.
One of the tell tales for me is when I start catching those crappies that are all muddled up from sitting on beds. They are a darker black color, once I find these fish, I know I am close to the motherload.
Now we need to talk location.
To find my target water temps, I must be in the right spot, or searching the right areas. Crappies will migrate into areas to spawn, as they are looking for shallow bays and inlets. Also, shorelines, docks, pencil reeds and cattail lined shorelines are also a favorite.
One of my favorite places to target early on is the wood pylon docks. These are those big heavy-duty docks that are permanent and there are a couple reasons why I like these structures. First, they are permanent, and most of the dock owners have some sort of aeration system running throughout the winter months to prevent the ice from damaging the docks, a natural attractant to fish. Secondly, those large wooden poles soak up the sunlight and warm the waters directly around them much quicker than the smaller docks would.
Ok, so now we have figured out when to go, and what to look for when locating spring spawning crappies. Now we need to know how to catch them and what to use and I look forward to this because I love using light tackle and gear.
I start with a handful of 6 to 7-ft. ultralight spinning rods equipped with spinning reels with 4 lb mono. I use an array of rods that are all rigged differently for different presentations. There are several ways to fish these crappies, I personally like all of them, but I find myself using a variation of these and then homing in on schooling fish.
When I find a warmer shoreline, I like to run a Northland Tackle Fire Fly Hair Jig and I start with a 1/32 oz. jig if possible. I want to see how aggressive the crappies are and if they don’t cooperate, I downsize to a 1/64 oz. I usually tip these jigs with a Northland Impulse Mini Smelt as it looks like a minnow, and swims like one too.
I long line these out the back of the boat and cruise along the shoreline at a half mile per hour and this is a quick way to cover ground and locate fish. Another trolling option I like is running size 3 Salmo Hornets. Same idea of long lining them out the boat and troll these up to a mile an hour. This technique may not be as consistent, but you should find larger more aggressive fish.
When I find fish that are stacked up in the shallows or near docks, I like to rig up the Northland Firefly Jig with a Rocket Bobber. The neat thing about the Rocket Bobbers is that they are intended to lay flat or horizontal on the water and the lightest of twitches or movement, will indicate a fish is on and time to set the hook!
I see many people that will use split shots or weights with these bobbers and that is not necessary. They are heavy enough to cast a long way with the lightest of jigs. Fan casting docks and shorelines is a great way to target the schooling fish, and more importantly, staying far enough away not to spook them.
I have learned a few tricks over time fishing for these crappies and have fallen victim to sometimes overlooking some key details as I start my first couple of trips in the boat due to the excitement. If you happen to get on some fish and you can cast, or bobber fish them, I would recommend using an anchor instead of using your trolling motor.
Yes, your trolling motor is more convenient and that is why we all have them, however, in shallow waters the fish can feel that turbulence from the prop and push away from your targeted area. We had a Talon Anchor installed on our boat and it has been a complete game changer for shallow water fishing.
When you are trolling for crappies and end up catching a few, make sure to mark your GPS/graph so you can make a pattern. Waypoints are good to have, but look a little further than just a waypoint. Check the contours on where you’re marking and catching the crappies and try the same presentation in other areas on that lake and even other lakes, you will find yourself catching more crappies.