Fishing from the Shore …Enjoy Success with Only the Bare Essentials
Story & photos by Darl Black
With the arrival of May up north, it begins to actually feel like spring. Temperatures are finally warming and trees are greening up. Although some anglers have been fishing since the ice went out, most fisherpersons wait for pleasant days in May to take to the waterways. And the species most sought by May anglers across the northern tier? Crappies!
While crappies in southern states have likely completed spawning activities by the first of May, the crappie spawn in states around the Great Lakes, in the Upper Mid-West and New England is yet to come, with peak bedding ranging from mid-May to early July.
Of course not every fisherperson has a boat, or a friend with a boat. Therefore, lots of anglers fish from the bank or wade-fish the shallows.
However, simply plopping down in your chair with a fishing rod and bucket of minnows at a random spot along the bank offers no guarantee you will catch crappies. Here are proactive steps anglers without a boat can undertake to improve their catch results.
ID Crappie Location
- Fish natural visible shallow cover. You rarely catch springtime crappies on featureless bottom. Deadfalls, flooded brush, emerging pad beds, protruding stumps and dock pilings are among the most attractive cover.
- Find shallow unseen cover. Every angler will be targeting visible cover so you need to go the extra mile to up your catch. Visit your favorite manmade reservoir during winter draw down. Sketch a map of cover which can be accessed from shore but not visible during spring high water. Possibilities include stump rows as well as man-made cover like low stake beds, cribs or brushpiles that are not visible during normal water levels. Fishing piers likely have a few scattered cribs or brushpiles placed within casting distance of the deck; see if you can locate the tops of them during low water and make note of their location in order to cast to them in May.
- Get off the bank and wade. A pair of chest waders can get you down the shoreline to both visible and unseen shallow cover that anglers stuck on the bank cannot reach. On some lakes, water temp may be warm enough to wet wade in late May, but chest waders guarantee you get in the water when fish are biting. If you do not have boat or kayak, a pair of good waders is a necessity for the serious crappie angler!
Getting your lure or live minnow close enough to the cover (or right into the cover) and at the right depth is critical. Retrieving a jig at mid-depth at a very slow speed is another critical presentation. In order to properly control your bait at the correct depth around cover, there are two basic approaches to consider.
- Long rod dipping. Using an 8 to 11 foot crappie “jigging” rod with 8 or 10 pound test line allows the angler to reach out and accurately lower a jig alongside cover or through small openings in cover to crappies below. This jig-dipping presentation is popular in many regions of the country. Some northern anglers use an inexpensive fly rod or old spinning rod. However, rods built specifically for the technique by companies like B’n’M Poles are a better choice. Check out the 10’ Sam Heaton Jig Pole or the 10.5’ Russ Bailey Signature Series – both from B’n’M. I spool high-vis Gamma Optic Yellow Panfish Line on a small spinning reel. Choose a plastic jig body that has a tantalizing shimmy on the drop, plus a strike-inducing action when paused and shaken. When fishing hard cover (wood, dock posts, etc.) my favorite bait is a 2-inch Bobby Garland Slab Slayer body on a 1/8-ounce Crappie Pro Jighead. However, when fishing over emerging grass beds, I typically use a Bobby Garland 1.5-inch Swim’R Baby Shad or 2” Kalin Crappie Tube on a 1/32 or 1/16-ounce jighead suspended below a bobber.
- Bobber Presentations. Use of a bobber or float allows for a slow enticing retrieve while keeping the bait at a precise depth setting and reducing the chance of snagging cover. Wisconsin crappie guru Matt Bichanich (Sales Manager at Hard & Soft Fishing) offers his favorite bobber technique.
“Most natural lakes in Wisconsin and Minnesota have weedy bays off the main lake. Look for deeper bays with sharp drops but shallow flats close by,” explains Bichanich. “Crappies take up positions hovering above the shallow submersed grass.
“I rig a 1.75-inch Kalin Crappie Scrub on a 1/16-ounce Kalin Triple Threat Jighead, and position a fixed float (a stick style bobber) on the line above the jig at the desired depth. Whether fishing emerging new weeds or remnant weedbeds from the previous year, you must position the stick bobber to keep your jig above the weeds.
“Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you think the water depth is 5 feet with weeds coming 2 feet off the bottom. So I set the bobber so the jig rides at 3 feet just above the weeds.
“Simply cast out your rig and lightly shake it back to you. The only time you turn your reel is to pick up your slack line. You are allowing the bait to stay in the strike zone longer and giving the crappies a chance to react to it. This works well when the water is still cold as well as with water temperature warming towards the spawn. As water temperature increases you can shake your rod faster and move your bait faster depending on the mood of the fish,” concludes Bichanich.
While a fixed float works well in many circumstances, a slip float has the advantage for both accuracy and distance. With a slip float rig, the bobber slides down the line to just above the jig for the cast. This puts all the weight at the end of the line and prevents end-over-end tumbling which occurs with a fixed float. Therefore, your casts are more accurate and achieve greater distance. The drawback is trying to swim the rig back at a constant depth as described above by Matt; with a slip float the jig will rise to the bobber when you being a retrieve. So slip-float fishing from shore is best for still-fishing a live minnow or simply shaking a jig in place.