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Crappie time!

By Mike Frisch - April 11, 2016
Many Midwestern lakes are ice free, and for the anxious open-water angler that means its crappie time! These scrappy panfish take center stage for many anglers now because, as panfish, they are legal for the taking, while gamefish like walleyes and northern pike are still protected by some state's closed gamefish fishing seasons.

Crappie anglers often think shallow water and finding the warmest shallow water is often the key. Warm water, at least relatively speaking, usually attracts crappies as the spring's first signs of life often occur in the warmest of the shallows, drawing hungry fish. These fish are to there to feed first, and later to spawn.

Classic early season crappie spots are shallow, dark-bottomed bays. Marinas and boat channels are other shallow spots that will warm quickly and draw panfish as well.

Staying on the move and searching various shallow spots for warm water and fish is sound advice for the early season angler. When fishing from a boat, I keep an eye on the temperature gauge on my sonar unit when going from spot-to-spot as, again, finding warm water is key. Shore anglers, though more limited in spots than the boat angler, often do well this time of the year too as shallow areas that hold fish are often accessible from shore now as well.

As for fishing presentations, small panfish jigs tipped crappie minnows, and fished below small bobbers are long-time favorites. My favorite crappie jig has long been a 1/32-ounce Gypsi Jig in the pink/white pattern, glow sunrise, or chartreuse color patterns. This bait features crystal flash tinsel and a teaser tail that shallow crappies usually can't resist.

Fishing the jig/minnow combination a couple feet below a slip-bobber, and casting it around shallow cover -weeds, brush, and timber - usually results in bites pretty quickly if fish are present. One key is to fish the bait up above the level the fish are holding at as crappies are notorious for "feeding up."

Also, using a small bobber will also usually increase the catch rate as a small bobber that slides easily under water on the bite works better for finicky fish that are often spooked by the use of a bigger, more buoyant float.

Small jigs tipped with crappie minnows go hand-in-hand for most spring anglers. Recently, however, small jig and softbait combinations have gained notoriety as panfish producers as well. In fact, the Impulse Jig'n Tail Mini Smelt is a bait I have been using fishing open-water and through the ice for outstanding crappie catches the past couple years. It does a great job of imitating young-of-the-year minnow fry, and its darting action is often irresistible to crappies.

Spring is here and the irresistible urge to fish open water is present in lots of us who enjoy the outdoors. Crappies offer some of the first angling opportunities of the year, and fortunately they are often cooperative now too. Following some of the tips just provided can probably help you land more fish on your spring fishing trips this year!

As always, good luck on the water and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoor adventure!

Author Mike Frisch
Mike Frisch
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series and is a co-founder of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's School of Fish. Visit to see all things Fishing the Midwest.
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