Walleyes may be Minnesota's state fish and the most sought-after species around here, but DNR creel surveys show panfish are what we catch most often. Crappies rank high in that group. Crappies and walleyes share two qualities that make them popular: like walleyes, find one crappie and you find a school. And they taste great, especially in the spring.
Spring crappie fishing provides some of the hottest action of the year. There may be no better way to teach a youngster the fun of fishing than a day on the water chasing "specks" with light gear.
Simple spinning equipment is best. Whether fishing shallow or deep, use a 7- to 10-foot rod to reach into weeds and timber without spooking fish. If you get hung up while targeting deeper brush, you can often reel down to the snag and free your jig or hook with the rod tip. A fast action rod tip is OK, but make sure the rod has enough backbone to quickly lift fish from heavy cover before a circling crappie can tangle the line. Spool the reel with 4- to 6-pound mono.
A crappie bite can be so light it often is undetectable with heavier, old-style bobbers. Choose sensitive European-style floats like the Thill Mini-Shy Bite or the Mini-Stealth. They can be balanced with just enough split shot to respond to any movement below when used with plain hooks or NO-SNAGG hooks tipped with a small minnow.
Floats will also balance with 1/16th or 1/32nd ounce jigs, like the Little Nipper or the Quiver Jig. Also try micro sized, ice-fishing jigs, like the Genz Worm, as well. Set the hook at the first sign of movement. If a crappie sits motionless after inhaling the minnow, the float might merely jiggle before sitting still. Sometimes, the float will tip over or lift on the surface as a crappie takes it from below. And, sometimes, they will dart underwater fast when an active fish takes the bait. There is something about the sight of a float going under that excites even grown men.
Try going float-less for deeper fish. Measure the length of the line against the rod with a float stop so you can return to the same depth over and over again.
As always, location is the key. Early in spring, big females stage on deep breaks near spawning grounds. Most often crappies migrate toward dark-bottoms bays on the north side of lakes first most often. The food chain revs up in those areas quicker because they warm the fastest. With this year's late ice-out, that factor could be especially important. Some of the more noted crappies lakes in the area include North Long, Mission, Sylvan, Gull and the Whitefish chain.
A trough located in a neck-down between two points leading into the bay is another good place to locate concentrated fish. Use electronics to reveal deeper ledges. If heavy cover such as brush is present, all the better. Use No-Snagg hooks or Timb 'r Rock jigs and a minnow to see if crappies are there. It won't take long to learn. Use a marker buoy or GPS to mark the spot.
As the weather warms, crappies move into spots with emergent lily pads and reed beds or fallen trees. Check depths of 3 to 6 feet. Floats can quickly change the placement of your bait in the water column. Remember, crappies feed up. Place your bait above the fish.
Stealth is critical. Use an electric trolling motor to move silently along the weed edge. Dip the bait in pockets on the outside edge or inside the weedbeds and in visible channels passing through the vegetation. Anchor when you find a bank where crappies are concentrated. But we like to keep moving with the trolling motor until we check the entire length of cover. Crappies often use one area over others. Chart a milk run once the spots on the spot with bigger, more active fish are identified. Move down the bank, then circle and return. We've literally taken crappie after crappie by returning to the same places time after time all day long.
Take some fish home for the pan, but don't overdo it. Release big, egg-laden females. Contrary to what some people think, panfish populations can be harmed by greedy fishermen.
While the walleyes spots might be spoken for, this could be a great time for crappie fishing galore!
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