Tackle & Tactics for Springtime Slabs

By Nick Simonson

One fish that is synonymous with fast springtime angling is the crappie.  Once they are found in the back of some warmwater bay getting ready for the spawn, the fishing can be fast and some of the biggest specks of the season can be caught with a few of the simplest presentations.  However, pinpointing these locations on unfamiliar lakes, or timing things just right, needs to be considered before one of those legendary spring crappie days can occur, and knowing where to go if they haven’t made it to their spawning grounds yet is key to preventing a slow day.

Crappies will be among the first panfish to make their spawning movements when the water begins to warm.  After ice out and a stretch of a couple days’ worth of warm weather, look north on any lake map and find those shallow bays that heat up faster than the main lake.  Add in a couple areas of structure – such as old, shallow reedbeds (or just-emerging ones, depending on how spring progresses), sunken timber or stumps, and maybe even those first couple docks to make it in the water– and it’s a given that crappies won’t be far away.  If a body of water doesn’t have a shallow north area, use electronics or a good old dip-in thermometer to check for changes in temperature, and target those bays that warm up faster than the rest of the lake. If sunken trees, brushpiles or other underwater structure is in the bay or nearby, odds are a plethora of papermouths will be there too.

On those warm days that are part of a consistent stretch of weather, look for the fish to move up and stake their claim on a piece of the spawning real estate, sometimes in skinny water just deep enough to cover their backs.  When the inevitable spring cold fronts bump them back down, explore the nearby edge and depths and work things a little bit slower.  Expect fish to be more aggressive when they’re up in the warm shallows, and a little more sluggish after those fronts.  Right up until the spawn is complete, aggressive males (usually colored darker this time of year than the females) will take to a variety of the presentations set out below. Harvest selectively if possible, using that color cue and bulging bellies full of eggs on the females to help continue the good fishing, by releasing key spawners.

Spring crappie tackle is basic, fun and contributes to fast angling.  Having a slip float rig ready to go will help present small minnows and other baits as the conditions and the mood of the fish dictate.  The offering can easily be raised when targeting fish in shallower waters and lowered when they’re holding back deeper away from spawning structures like reedbeds and flats. Use a size 6 or 8 hook for drifting tiny crappie minnows in high percentage areas and don’t set the hook too hard.  They aren’t called “papermouths” for nothing.

For active presentations to those fish on the move up into the shallows, 1/16-ounce jigs and jig-spinner combos like the Road Runner or Beetle Spin series of lures will help cover water and intercept fish on their way in or entice a spawning site bite by intruding on those territories the fish have established.  The versatility of these lures pays off on those colder spring days as well, as they can also be worked slowly, tipped with soft plastics or small baitfish when crappies aren’t as active.  Other fast-fishing options include tiny crankbaits, such as the Rapala Countdown in size 1, 3 or 5 which cast easily on light line and can be counted down to deeper structure, or just retrieved after splashdown in the shallows.

Like spring’s beginnings, this is just the start to a great season of crappie fishing.  Knowing how and where fish will move, and what to use to catch them will help make it even better.  Target fast-warming areas with a variety of small, inexpensive and effective lure and bait presentations, and this season will be a memorable one.
(Featured Photo: Once located, fast crappie fishing can be had with simple tackle like dressed jigs or a minnow under a slipfloat. Simonson Photo)

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