By Nick Simonson
The wakeup temperature on Saturday morning was seven above. Slackjawed, I stared at the readout in the upper right corner of my watch and laughed. I thought no way was that single digit reading ever going to reach the 48 degrees promised on the far side of the curve as I stepped into the garage and wistfully looked over my puddle jumper parked in my truck’s usual spot to defrost. The dogs whined with excitement for their morning walk as I clipped the leashes to their collars and opened the man door. Met by a strong pre-dawn southerly gust, the chill was as bad as any north wind we had faced this season and I raised my hood up over my red-white-and-blue beanie and took a swig of coffee to warm up as we headed out.
Despite the chill, I began working on the craft as soon the dogs’ breakfast bowls were filled, hoping that perhaps with the strong southerly winds, those temperatures would still become a reality and a sample of spring would come with them ahead of this week’s predicted plunge back into the ice box. With the nearby power plant lake always open, and the water at the outlet of the cooling canal a balmy 65 degrees, I would be ready for whatever window the warm winds could provide. Following some clean-up work, a quick vacuuming, and a testing of the trolling motor, I again checked my watch. The mercury had spiked to 35 by midday and I set about readying my rods, all doubts of the short-lived warmup erased and excitement growing for a late afternoon run to the warmwater lake.
On the drive, the truck thermometer touched 50 degrees a couple of times, before settling back into the upper 40s as I arrived at the launch and, donning waders, dumped the 16-foot aluminum craft into the lake. The southwest winds sailed overhead, leaving an entire side of the lake open for exploration and the first openwater casts of the year. Tying on an orange Roadrunner jig with a chartreuse one-inch tube for a trailer, I began casting around the canal for crappies, moving to the rocky break on the far side of the outlet and leaving room for the pair of shore anglers working the moving water for bass.
With only a couple hours ahead of sunset, I fan casted the area, counting the lure down and working it back to the boat, finding scattered fish and bites that came only when the bait reached its slowest point of motion at the trough of its arch back to the boat. The hard work was worth it as a handful of crappies – both black and white – came to the boat, all running 10 to 12 inches with no small ones in the mix.
Even on the artificially warm lake, their spawn was still four or five weeks off, and I’d likely find them in a month or so staging on the north side of the water along the rocky points of its two main bays. While the wind prevented it on this pre-pre-spawn outing, I thought of previous springs on the lake with fly rod in hand, hooking fish after fish on brightly colored streamers as they staged and defended their prime spots in a rocky cradle across the lake.
The biggest speck in the warm afternoon sampling was a white crappie of twelve inches and it was so lightly colored it was difficult to identify its trademark bars in the yellow light of the afternoon sun. With a quick picture, I turned it back and wondered what it would look like in a few weeks as it prepared to spawn. Likely, its back would darken and the stripes running down its side would turn a blueish black as it entered the nesting area, a pattern that for me was synonymous with spring and some of my favorite angling opportunities of the year. Like the short sampling I had been given of the season to come, and the items I had to check off to get ready for the opportunity, I started a list of patterns to tie, jig colors to craft, and lure restocking necessary for real spring as I fired another cast into the water.
With a dinnertime warning text from my wife buzzing on my wrist, I checked my watch and saw the official temperature had indeed reached the promised levels as I turned on the trolling motor and headed to the concrete slab to load the boat back up in the muddy gravel lot. I called the outing a success, and chalked it up as a reminder that, like the outlandish appearance of the morning’s temperature prediction for the mid-February day, spring will arrive soon as well; even if the crashing cold predicted for the week to come makes that seem impossible…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Spring Fling. The author caught this very light colored white crappie on an open water outing as temperatures allowed for time on a nearby power plant lake. Simonson Photo.