As late winter turns into early spring some of our angling thoughts turn to early season crappies.
The water is warming with each week and you can expect the first crappie movement to begin as the water warms to the upper 40’s. As this occurs, crappies begin to follow the creek channels towards the flat areas, adjacent to these channels, in anticipation of the spawn. These fish are the first movers, and, as a result, tend to be the bigger fish. In this regard they act somewhat like black bass. This movement is slow at first but picks up speed as the season progresses. When the prespawn movement picks up, the smaller fish follow in greater numbers.
Prime places to begin looking for slabs are in the flat areas adjacent to the creek channels. The best flats are between 3 and 5 feet deep. The presence of stumps, laydowns, and wood is essential. Some of the most productive places are areas where trees and bushes are growing alongside, or even into the water. The fish use their root system as cover. Low light conditions tend to produce best: Early morning, late evening and overcast or cloudy days. If you are tough, night fishing at this early stage can produce some fine catches.
As the water increases in temperature and approaches the magical mark of 65 to 70 degrees, which marks the beginning of the spawn, the fish become more active. With this increased activity the fish become easier to find and as a consequence easier to catch.
Prime crappie locations in the Meldahl Pool, for both size and numbers, include Eagle Creek, Cabin Creek and Brush Creek. All three creeks are long, have deep channels, and have an abundance of wood on expansive flats and shallow banks. This is prime crappie country. Other areas include small cuts, sloughs and backwater areas along the main river.
Equipment & Bait
When selecting equipment almost any type will do, with the lighter grades of all types being the most popular and the most fun. Many crappies are caught every year on equipment as simple as a cane pole with some monofilament line tied to the tip. Other rigs include the venerable open faced spinning rod and reel. Some anglers double their baitcasting rigs for crappie equipment by choosing to simply downsize their line weight. This will work but you will miss a lot of fun with heavy equipment. Most anglers prefer line of 6 or 8 pound test.
Baits are numerous and varied. The most common bait is, by far, a 2 or 3 inch minnow below a bobber of some sort. Occasionally live bait anglers will choose to hold the minnow down with split shot. Overall this is probably the most effective bait for both numbers and size. Minnows can, however, be difficult to find commercially this early in the season. If you intend to fish frequently with live bait learn to throw a cast net.
Some of the most effective artificial baits include small tubes or grubs in an infinite array of colors. Most anglers find lighter colors work better in clear water and brighter colors work better in stained water. Some of the best are made locally by such companies as Driftwood Lures. More commercial brands are made by almost all of the plastic manufactures such as Cabin Creek, Zoom, Bagley and the like. These can be purchased in local bait shops, major retailers or in the catalogues. Rig these lures weedless with a small jig head or a hook and sinker.
Hard baits will also produce at times. Baits such as small jigs made of hair, maribu or rubber are effective. In-line spinners such as Rooster Tails, Mepps Aglia, and small safety pin spinner baits, such as Beetle Spins, will also work upon occasion. Small crankbaits produce, especially for bigger fish, when the fish are active.
Whatever type of bait and terminal tackle you use, make sure you take plenty of it. If you are fishing where you should be, in the middle of the wood, you will loose a ton of it.
Many experienced crappie anglers like to use some form of scent or attractant. Several flavors are available with garlic or anise being the most popular. Popular brands include Fish Dope, Smelly Jelly and Kick’n Scents.
Remember: Keep only what you intend to eat. Never keep a true trophy. Purchase a waterproof, disposable camera, for under $10. Keep it in your boat or equipment bag and take a couple of pictures. Then, if you want, have a fiberglass replica made or frame the photograph. This will preserve the population for the future.