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Get out on the lake for early season crappies

This is the earliest ice out I can ever remember. This means we will have many opportunities for pan fish outings before the walleye and northern pike "opener." This year's opening date for walleyes and northern pike is May 12. Bass fishing will open May 26, and Muskie will open June 2.

Crappie fever will be starting for many this weekend. Typically, about 7-10 days after the ice comes off our lakes the crappies start moving to shallow water. When they school up in shallow water they are very willing feeders. It is a great time to get kids out as on the active biters, and enjoy a fresh meal after you cook up what you catch. Crappies are delicious and nutritious.

Crappies will move shallow as the water temperatures warm. Two factors create this transition. The first is following the baitfish, and the ease of a quick meal that is provided for them in shallow water. The second motivator for them is the preparation for spawning activities. Shallow, dark lakes warm the quickest and will develop some of the earliest active bites. Shallow bays off main lake areas also become a prime area to check for active fish. The north side of lakes and bays warm the fastest.

Other factors that warm water and draw fish is current situations. River inlets and outlets, culverts between lakes, creeks and runoff areas will all be worth a check to find early active crappies. Trees, shallow stumps, or boulders absorb the warmth of the sun and transmit that to the lake, warming those areas also. Because of the warmth and protection, these areas can be "honey holes" for early season crappie.

Early developing submergent weeds become a baitfish and fish holding magnet area. If you find some early emergent weeds with some green, healthy, submerged weeds, you have probably located another fish holding area.

Rigging up your presentation for crappies can be as easy as a hook and split shot under a bobber. Tip the hook with a crappie minnow or fathead and you have a productive technique. Kids love watching bobbers go under knowing a fish is at the business end. Heck, adults love watching bobbers go under, setting the hook, and tussling with a scrappy pan fish. Trout fisherman call them "strike indicators." They are still bobbers, no matter what fancy name you want to give them. Crappies are willing chasers, so if fishing with a bobber isn't your thing, feel free to throw light jigs around and twitch or swim them aggressively. You can tip the jigs with a minnow, twister tail, or almost any of the modern plastic imitators sold at local bait shops.

I know some advanced crappie chasers that are plying new techniques perfected in southern waters that can really produce. They are rigging crappies with tiny crank baits trolled over the top of the crappies suspended just above them so they chase and attack the offering. It takes practice to learn and perfect this crappie strategy, but is a deadly presentation.

Always remember that crappies will feed at the level they are swimming and holding, or will feed up. A good gauge is to start with your bait, is about 1/2 the depth you are fishing, and adjust up or down from there. You will know when your depth is right because you will start catching fish.

The best way to catch them is to get out and try for them. Some days will be more successful than others. You will have some great days, and that always gets us back out, as we want that experience again. Even if you don't have some days with a lot of catching, the fishing is still good!

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)

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