Look to shallow, warmer water for crappies
We are finally ice-free! This week the DNR wrapped up a very successful walleye spawn collection at Dunton Locks. They met their quota and more. The reports are that the whole state had a good collection, and this should help with the improving stocking programs. We are a couple of weeks behind last year at this time with ice and warming water temperatures.
Remember to get your new fishing license and make sure your boat registration is up to date.
It is now time to turn attention to early season crappies and sunfish. The crappies will start to move into shallow bays, creek inlets, or backwater areas that warm more quickly than main lake areas. Warm, stable weather, especially if it is calm and sunny, will start drawing crappies and sunfish into shallow areas. Initially, they move to warmer shallow water to feed on small baitfish. They will stay close to these areas as they get ready to spawn.
Crappies will spawn when surface temperatures start getting above 50 degrees. The north side of our lakes warm first as they are exposed to more sun and are also more protected from cold northwest winds. Dark bottom areas, darker waters, and weed areas will also warm more quickly.
Crappies also like protection and cover when they are in shallow water. Look for areas with reeds, weeds, fallen trees, or brush piles.
During stable weather the fish will remain in these shallow areas. During cold front conditions the fish will move out to deeper water and relate to the first deep water drop off area. If you find one, you will likely be able to catch several.
You can increase your chance for success by approaching your shallow water area very quietly. Stay out away from the fish and pitch to them. Minnows on plain hooks or small (1/64 or 1/32 oz.) jigs under bobbers will work great. Swimming small jigs tipped with minnows or plastic also works well.
Usually you will be fishing in three to eight feet of water, and the fish will be suspended in the water column. Set your bait under your bobber slightly higher than the fish. When swimming your jigs you will also want to retrieve them above the fish. Crappies will feed up to get food and rarely feed down. You can be pitching to a nice pod of fish, but if your bait is under them you will not get the bites. In clearer water lakes you can sometimes see the crappies as dark movement in the pockets of weeds.
I recommend using light (4-6lb test) monofiliment lines for crappies and sunfish. You can also use lighter action spinning gear to maximize the enjoyment of these decent fighting fish. Early season crappie and sunfish are fun to find and catch, and they are great at the table.
After you locate fish you can usually return to them several times for more action. Sometimes they will move as they chase baitfish. If your action slows or stops, move up or down the edge of the area you are fishing and pitch around until you find them again. This is a wonderful time to get the kids out and get them hooked on fishing.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)