Late Spring Presentations for Northern Crappies
Story & photos by Darl Black
During the latter part of spring in northern states – May through early June – crappies will be found in relatively shallow water of lakes as this species moves through the various stages of spawn: prespawn, bedding and post-spawn phases. Right now is when more northern anglers pursue crappies than any other time of the year.
However, a portion of anglers undertake springtime crappie fishing in a rather random manner. Without thought to specific tactics, there are fishermen who believe that throwing around any small lure anywhere in the shallows will result in crappies being caught. Of course if that were true, everyone would be successful on every outing.
In reality, just as with bass and other gamefish, both the location and mood of crappies must be factored into the equation in order to arrive at a successful presentation. I’ve come to realize if you want to consistently catch crappies through the spring – as opposed to just being lucky occasionally – you must include a range of techniques in your arsenal. Here are three presentations which all northern crappies anglers should have available during late spring for fishing various situations.
Presentation #1: Cast and Retrieve Jigs. Casting a jig is the bread and butter technique for northern crappie anglers. A 1/32 or 1/16 ounce jig with a 1.5 to 2 inch body should be retrieved slowly and steadily. Jig bodies of hand-tied hair or marabou feather are often used. But soft plastic bodies with subtle swimming action are equally effective. I am particularly fond of Bobby Garland’s Baby Shad, and Charlie Brewer’s Crappie Slider. Do not employ bargain-basement leadheads; instead use heads with quality hooks, such as Garland’s Mo’Glo Heads and Road Runner Heads.
Crappie jigs should never be bumped along the bottom like one might do for walleye or bass. Instead, the jig must be retrieved at a depth that keeps it slightly above the level where crappies are holding. You know the old axiom by now…crappies can’t look down to feed, they look up!
Are you fishing an emerging grass bed? Retrieve the jig so it just ticks the top of the weeds. How about a brushpile, crib, or row of stumps viewed on your sonar screen in 5 to 10 feet of water but not visible to the naked eye? Cast the jig beyond the cover, count it down to the approximate top of the wood cover and begin a slow retrieve; on each successive cast, count it down another foot until you finally brush the cover.
Maintaining a jig above bottom debris in extremely shallow water can be a challenge. However, clipping a small oval-shaped bobber on the line from 6 to 18 inches above the jig (depending on water depth) allows for a clean retrieve that does not drag bottom and gives crappies a visible target. Plus with a bobber, it is possible to move the jig very, very slowly – a slowdown is often needed to entice strikes from bedding crappies.
Casting lightweight jigs on 4 pound-test line is best undertaken with rod action that leans towards moderate forgiving taper rather than a fast tip. Also, a longer rod is far better than a 5-1/2 foot stream trout rod. If you are not satisfied with the current rod, check out the B’n’M 7-foot Sam Heaton Super Sensitive Rod – it is an absolute gem for 1/16-ounce jigs.
Presentation #2: Bobber Suspending Live Minnow. Although I would prefer to cast and retrieve a jig, when the crappie bite drops off I do not hesitate to go with a live minnow. What’s so special about my bobber and minnow? Well to start with, I always use a slip float, or slip cork as some crappie anglers refer to the bobber. Slip float rigging consists of first affixing a bobber stop to the line by sliding the stop knot off a short straw onto the line and tightened at the desired depth level. Next a small bead is threaded on the line, then the slip float itself.
A second bead is threaded on the line before tying the bait hook or leadhead. I always employ a jighead to hold a live minnow. Use of a jighead instead of a bait hook increases the hook-up percentage with crappies.
I prefer Thill’s Crappie Slip Cork; each cork is clearly marked with the weight needed to stand it upright. Utilizing a slip cork allows quick change of depth-setting simply by sliding the bobber stop knot up or down the line.
Furthermore, with a slip float, the bobber slides down to the bait for the cast, thereby allowing a smooth trajectory and accurate landing. This enables low angle power casts under overhanging brush or willows, as well as accurate plopping of the bait and bobber among openings in limbs of shoreline deadfalls.
Rod wise, choose a 7 to 8-foot moderate action instead of a fast action. Bait wise, I use ordinary fathead minnows in the spring. Due to VHS disease in the Great Lakes, certified-free of disease emerald shiners are rarely available for sale on inland water bait shops in many northern states. Furthermore, emeralds purchased or trapped in the Great Lakes drainage should never be transported to inland lakes.
Presentation #3: Dipping jigs in heavy cover. Shoreline deadfalls, pockets of flotsam debris, visible shallow spider stumps and sunken logs, reed beds and emerging pad beds are potential crappie spots throughout the spring – all objects require pinpoint delivery of the jig in order to extract fish.
Casting and retrieving doesn’t work here. Baits must be dipped, dabbled, pitched or vertically lowered to precise targets. This technique calls for an extra-long rod (9 to 11 feet) with a flexible tip and strong backbone for lifting fish out of cover. Among the options on the market is the Russ Bailey Signature 10.5-foot Jigging Rod from B’n’M Fishing.
Spool the reel with 6 or 8-pound Gamma’s Optic Yellow Panfish Line, tie on a 1/16-ounce Glow Series Road Runner Head with a 2 or 3-inch Garland Slab Slay’R and you are ready!
With these three different presentations under your belt, you too are prepared to catch crappies right now!