Early season crappie action can be wild. Fish that were lethargic and uncooperative a few weeks ago have now strapped on the feed bags, looking for food to satiate their increase in metabolism.
Locating these fish can be simple and difficult all at once. The easiest route is to visit a lake that’s produced for you in the past. Crappies typically inhabit the same areas year after year, so all you have to do is wait for the water to warm and the fish to arrive. However, many anglers find these staging areas from word of mouth or by witnessing another angler succeed from a distance. It doesn’t take long for a handful of boats to fill a small back-bay, and sharing a group of fish can limit your success. So step out your comfort zone and either go to another area, or try another body of water.
If you decide to do this, a few criteria can quickly eliminate unproductive water.
First of all, focus on shallow, muddy bays. The smaller, the better. I’m talking about areas that can accommodate one, maybe two boats. Many anglers search specifically for bays on the north side of the lake, but those are not always the preferred areas. Look for places that will soon become choked by vegetation in the summer months. The dark, muddy bottom will warm quickly, and the decaying weeds provide just enough cover for crappies to ambush minnows, and thwart the attack of a bass or northern.
While pursuing the pre-spawn slabs, do your best to remain incognito. Using a trolling motor is the preferred method to position the boat within casting distance of logs, sticks and beaver houses, but you need to be acutely aware of how deep the propeller reaches into the water, making adjustments so the prop is barely beneath the surface. If the prop is too deep, the current produced will stir the muck, diminishing water clarity and spooking the fish. Also remember to keep noises to a minimum. Many of us have fished with an old timer who, in our early years of angling, shushed us for talking while in the boat. That’s a bit extreme, but try to keep your victory dances to a minimum. Since sound is amplified underwater, and travels nearly five times faster than when airborne, dropping a splitshot in the bottom of am aluminum boat can sound like a gunshot to a crappie. That may or may not adversely affect their feeding attitude, as each fish is different, but by limiting the chances to negatively impact your angling, you’ll have greater success in the long run.
Presentations for these shallow water crappies are simple. Using four or six pound Berkley XL, tie on a 1/32 oz jighead and hook a crappie minnow just ahead of its dorsal fin. Suspend the minnow slightly above cover with a brightly colored float, like a Thill Bubblegum float. If the fish aren’t as aggressive, use the ice fishing approach. Use a lighter line and hang an ice jig, like a Genz Worm tipped with a waxworm, beneath a tiny float. The finicky biters won’t be able to pass up such appealing fare. The only problem you encounter with this technique, because of the extremely light presentation, is the compromise of an accurate cast. Remedy this by using a larger reel and a 6 ½ or 7 foot medium or light action rod. And, of course, check your drag often. A hefty bass or northern will make a fool of light line and a tight drag!