Riege: Slab Crappies in the Spring

Published 6:01pm Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I watched old Ed bring a small white jig with a spinner on it to the boat and immediately cast again. A flick of the wrist, dropping the lure softly into a partly exposed brush pile, he paused for a spilt second. Letting the bait sink briefly, he started it back. After a few turns of the reel handle, he abruptly stopped reeling, at the same time lowering the rod tip. In almost a continuous motion he lifted and the tip stayed down, the rod bent.

I knew what he had done. It was a trick he taught me years ago. Sometimes a crappie only nips at the lure rather than taking it. When you feel the peck-peck of a crappie nipping the bait, stop your reeling, drop the rod and take up the slack, then raise the rod and you usually will have the fish. Why this works, I only can speculate. When the lure drops, the crappie probably thinks it has killed its prey and it quickly pounces on it before one of its buddies grabs the easy meal.

When crappies are holding tight to cover because of a change in water temperature or barometric pressure, or because the water has suddenly fluctuated in depth, it is essential to fish the crappies in a vertical motion. The problem may be that they are tight to cover and usually shallow, with adjacent deep pockets or holes near by, but not enough to position a boat over the top of them.

Therefore, a vertical presentation with a slip bobber might do the trick. It will allow the presentation of the bait over the top of the crappie (something that is important to remember is a crappie always feeds on food that is in front of them and just slightly above them). The bobber should be set so that it will present the bait in a suspended offering, and once you find the depth you can work the shoreline around structure like stumps and points. I like to use a small 1/16 ounce Whistler or Foxee Jig tipped with Power Wigglers or Power Grub. My bobber is slim and the design is European that resembles a pencil rather than the original round bobbers we all used as kids. I even touch up the bobber with fluorescent paint to improve the visibility. To get the desired depth, I will utilize rubber snubbers from Northland Tackle. I can move these snubbers to any depth selection quickly and easily. To stop the bobber from sliding down to the jig head I will attach a split shot placed up the line a few inches so when a crappie picks up the bait the bobber will immediately signal a strike. If you don’t add additional weight, the crappie may run for a while before you notice that you have a fish. The additional split shot makes the crappie pull the bobber down allowing you to detect and catch more fish.

This same technique can be used on suspended crappie because the rubber snubber can be reeled up into your real without causing any problems. You can cast out your slip bobber to the area that has suspended crappie and allow the bobber to present the bait right in front of their nose. If you don’t get a strike, swim the bobber and your bait towards you taking in any slack line as you go. This will present the bait in a surge pause surge method driving the crappie crazy.

Small bays and backwater areas will be where we see the first sign of panfish. In fact, the main lake could still be frozen over when these locations turn on. As soon as the water starts to warm and bugs and minnows start becoming evident, the bluegills, crappies and sunfish will go on a feeding binge. If you’re there, the action can be fast.

Bays on the north side of the lakes and places where streams feed the lake will be good starting points. Locations of these types warm up first and see the earliest panfish usage.

Late afternoon is probably the best time to be on the water, or in some cases, on the bank. Many of the best spots can be reached from shore. Later in the day is generally best because the water has had a chance to warm for several hours, and the fish will be most active when the water is warmest.

Quiet is a must. If the fish are tight to shore and you’re fishing from the bank, move slowly and quietly to prevent spooking them. When I’m working from a boat, I use an electric motor to get me into casting position. My MotorGuide trolling motor allows me to sit above the fish without alarming them and I can spend more time on active fish in the shallows. I’ve seen a lot of fish scared from the shallows by a noisy electric motor.

Start off fishing an area with jigs. If crappies are the quarry, try the 1/16 oz. size – 1/32nd and 1/64th ounce jigs will be good for ‘gills and sunfish. Foxee, fire-fly and Gypsi jigs are all favorites. Tip them with a tiny waxworm or grub, or if the fish are active, a Power Wiggler. The Wiggler will stay on the hook longer, which means less re-baiting and more fishing.

Use the tinier jigs for bluegills and sunfish below a small slip-bobber, and add splitshot if necessary. Work this rig around vegetation, logs and any trees that might be in the area.

Try the same types of spots for crappies, but don’t use the bobber unless the fish are reluctant to hit a swimming bait. Try casting and swimming the jig back. If the crappies don’t respond to this presentation, go to a bobber and slow down.

When all else fails, a splitshot, a small bobber, and a hook with a minnow attached will commonly be what it takes to get a few fish to open their mouths. There are times when live bait will produce, when nothing else will; and this early spring fishing is one of those times.

If you’re not an ice-angler, you probably haven’t had a fresh supper for several months. Now’s the time to change that and there are loads of panfish in the shallows just waiting for you to show up.


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