When's a good time for pre-spawn crappie?
"As soon as the ice is off," said north woods guide Greg Bohn of Wisconsin. "Areas that were good during the last days of ice fishing will be good now."
To find them, think heat. Warmer water is more important than food at this time of year. If most of the water is 40 degrees, look for 42. If it's 45 degrees, look for 48. "Any increase in water temperature, they really seek it out, and they will find it," Bohn said.
Crappies move in the water column side-to-side and up-and-down to stay in their comfort zone. On cloudy days, look deeper because that's where water is warmer. On sunny days, try shallow. "I've seen days when their backs are out of the water, looking like leaves on the surface," Bohn said.
Crappies change location during the day to stay in the warmest spots. They may be down 10 feet in the morning and move higher as the sun warms the surface. They return to the warmer depths as the afternoon wears on, night approaches and surface water cools. Watch wind direction. Warmer surface water will stack on wind-blown points. Huge schools of crappie will be there. Best spots are points and sand bars with deep water nearby. Add submerged wood, which warms water around it, or weeds left over from last year, and that's all the better.
Start with a long rod. Bohn uses a 7-foot, 2-inch Leech Stick he makes himself or a St. Croix ES70MLF. Longer rods cast light-weight baits better and have more "give" to avoid pulling the hook out of a crappie's tender mouth. Use 4-pound line.
Crappies won't chase baits until the water reaches the mid-50s. Slip-bobber rigs are the most effective until then. Tie a bobber stop on the line and add a small slip float like the Thill Center Slider. If the bobber is too large, lethargic crappie will detect the buoyancy of round bobber.
Try a tiny ice jig, like a Genz Worm or Fat Boy, dressed with a small minnow hooked between the dorsal fin and the tail. As you reel slowly, the minnow is tugged backward, so it struggles to swim forward. The action is deadly. Dead minnows do nothing. As an alternative, try a wax worm, or use two spikes on a #10 gold hook for bonus bluegills.
The slip bobber rig allows fast depth adjustments. Crappies feed upward, so start shallower and work deep. Don't assume you've covered a spot until different depths are tried. If you want to fish without a float, use an ice jig and minnow without added weight. The minnow will struggle to stay up as the jig sinks.
Color can make a difference. Blue/black and chartreuse are good colors. White works well in both clear or dark water. Fish slow. Bohn likes to anchor in order to cover an area well. Drifting moves the bait too fast.
Forget plastic trailers until water warms up to about 55 degrees. Then try jigs with curly tail grubs, tube skirts or Lindy's Quiver Jig or a Little Nipper Jig. NO-SNAGG Timb'r Rock Jigs work great around snag infested wood, which is often an early season crappie magnet. Try the jigs without live bait at first. Crappies in cold water will not go after something that's seems too big.
By 55 degrees, crappies should be moving in mass towards shallow water to spawn. In the northern United States, that normally occurs around the second or third week of May. Look for northern shorelines. Fallen trees or docks make the spot even better. Search back bays with "boggy stuff," Bohn said. "They just love it."
Males will bite throughout the reproduction process to defend the nests. Females stay focused on spawning until done when they too will bite to defend the nests. Minnows make good bait as they are natural predators which attack the nests to eat eggs and the crappies will attack just to keep them away.
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