Birmingham, AL –City of Birmingham to host the 2023 Crappie Expo September 22-24, 2023 at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. The Crappie Expo is the largest annual expo dedicated to the sport of crappie fishing and brings in the top industry leaders and manufacturers in the fishing industry. The expo, in its 5th year, attracts more than 100 vendors and up to 25,000 fishing enthusiasts to the 3-day show.
The Crappie Expo is held in conjunction with the Mr. Crappie $300,000 Invitational Classic. The 2023 Classic is to be held at Lincoln’s Landing on Logan Martin Lake. The Mr. Crappie Invitational Classic is the world richest crappie tournament with anglers from all over the southern United States competing to win $100,000 for first place.
The World’s Largest Crappie Fry is held on the Saturday of the Expo each year. This year’s Crappie Fry will be September 23, 2023 beginning at 11AM and lasting until the crappie is gone! This portion of the event is free to all Crappie Expo attendees.
“It is so very exciting to be the host for the 5th Annual Crappie Expo scheduled for September 22-24, 2023 in Birmingham, AL” says Sports Development Director Tonia Whatley. “Professional fishing is always a huge draw in Alabama and hosting this event will once again bring thousands of fishing enthusiasts from around the country to see the top crappie anglers, fishing products, seminars, boat companies, live music, and The World’s Largest Crappie Fry! I attended this event in Branson last year and the fish fry was “off the hook” delicious and free to all in attendance on Saturday! We look forward to everyone coming to Birmingham to enjoy our world class restaurants, attractions, retailers, and hotels and know you won’t be disappointed with new additional Expo events planned for this year. Hosting this event reinforces the fact that the Greater Birmingham area is a great professional and amateur sports destination, and we anticipate hosting a record-breaking event so don’t miss out!”
ATHENS — The Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame committee is pleased to announce that Wally “Mr. Crappie” Marshall of Anna, Texas, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2023. Marshall revolutionized crappie fishing through innovative products, tournaments and promotion of the sport. Marshall generously gives back to the fish community through his philanthropic work, teaching youth to fish and donating time and products to multiple charitable organizations and events.
“Wally Marshall’s outstanding accomplishments as a trailblazer in the sport of crappie fishing are unparalleled,” said Dan Kessler, Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame selection committee chairman. “His leadership in bringing forth new ideas and innovative products to crappie fishing and the fishing community in general are second to none. On their own merits, these accomplishments warranted Wally’s consideration for membership in The Hall of Fame. However, it is Wally’s commitment to a lifelong passion for educating current and future anglers as well as the willingness to give his time and resources back to the fishing community that resulted in unanimous support for his induction to the Hall of Fame.”
Marshall grew up in Garland, Texas, for 50 years prior to moving to Anna. Marshall’s first career was as a master plumber, but his love and passion are being on the water casting for crappie. Marshall stepped into the crappie fishing spotlight in 1987 when he won the first-ever National Crappie Tournament at Cedar Creek Lake. That tournament victory opened the door for Marshall to promote and teach crappie fishing through seminars at tackle dealers, tackle shows and boat shows, and on radio and television across the state.
Marshall inked his first sponsorship agreement with Joe Hall, owner of Blakemore Lures, maker of the famous “Roadrunner” jig. Marshall launched a crappie fishing guide service in 1989 that operated until 1994 on Lake Fork, Lake Lewisville and Lake Ray Hubbard on weekends and days off. He was the first “crappie only” fishing guide to set up shop on Lake Fork.
Marshall teamed up with Bass Pro Shops to design crappie fishing products in 1997 and trademarked the name “Mr. Crappie” in 1998. Marshall retired as a master plumber in 2002 and pursued his passion of crappie fishing full time, designing “Mr. Crappie” products and promoting the sport of crappie fishing.
Marshall joined forces with Lew’s to design “Mr. Crappie” and Wally Marshall Signature Series rods and reels along with a “Mr. Crappie” fishing line in 2010. Marshall partnered with Strike King the following year to design a wide variety of specialized crappie lures under the “Mr. Crappie by Strike King” brand. As a result, “Mr. Crappie” is one of the most recognized and popular brands in the country.
In 2004, Marshall created the “Mr. Crappie Big Crappie Classic Tournament” with adult and youth divisions to encourage families to spend time together on the water. Marshall had a vision to create a show like the Bassmaster Classic for the crappie industry. Four years ago, the vision became a reality with the inception of the “Crappie Expo.” It consists of the “Mr. Crappie” $300,000 Invitational Tournament, the world’s largest crappie fry and a three-day consumer show featuring over 100 exhibitors, including lure and tackle companies, boat manufacturers and tackle dealers.
Marshall has garnered numerous honors and awards throughout his career:
First-ever National Crappie Tournament Champion at Cedar Creek Lake in 1987
Multiple crappie tournament titles on Texas lakes that include Texoma, Ray Hubbard, Lavon, Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Fork, Livingston and Tawakoni
26-time National Crappie Classic Qualifier
2002 National Crappie Angler of the Year
2003 National Crappie Classic Champion
Seven-time National Crappie Classic Runner-Up
Inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame in 2008
Name an “American Icon” in the 2018 February-March issue of Field & Stream magazine
Numerous articles and TV appearances
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Marshall is committed to introducing kids to the sport of crappie fishing. He has donated numerous fishing trips to youth organizations over the years and took youth fishing from the Buckner’s Children’s Home in Dallas.
Marshall has donated thousands of dollars of “Mr. Crappie” rods, reels and lures to youth organizations, schools, churches and the Boy Scouts. He was involved with the Garland Police Departments’ Mad Dog Fishing tournament that raises money for fallen officers’ families. He also donates products and his time to police and fire department functions and fundraisers.
“When I was approached to be nominated, it was a surprise and an honor,” said Marshall. “I look at the years gone by and all the things I’ve been blessed to do in Texas and abroad. I think about all the people I have met who helped me get to where I am at today as the 2023 inductee. You don’t really know how many people you actually touch through your work and I’m grateful that I get to represent Texas in the Hall of Fame. My motto in life and in business is “Whatever It Takes To Get It Done.” I wasn’t looking for success but I worked hard at it — the reward is having the honor to be included in the Hall of Fame with my peers.”
The Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is housed at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Its mission is to “recognize and honor those who have made a lasting contribution to freshwater fishing in Texas, and to foster a sense of appreciation, awareness and participation in the sport of fishing.”
Since 1997, the Hall of Fame has inducted 37 individuals and organizations, including Gary Klein in 2022. Marshall will be inducted as the 38th member during a ceremony at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center on Oct. 6.
Nomination forms and instructions are available online or by calling (903) 676-2277.
BEMIDJI, Minn. – We’re making ice across the upper Ice Belt, and with colder temperatures in the forecast, ice fishing conditions should improve considerably in coming days.
While lots of anglers are pursuing early-ice walleyes at destinations like Minnesota’s Red Lake and to the north, lots of smaller lakes have locked up, too, providing easy access for some great crappie action.
We talked with Northland pro and veteran guide, Tom Neustrom—a master crappie angler on all fronts—and he shared his insights for more and bigger early-ice crappies. Take it from us, Tom’s got the 411 and is worth listening to.
Tom Talks Crappies
“Early crappies, honestly, are probably not as far in the basin as a lot of anglers think,” shares Neustrom. “They have a tendency, but it depends on the body of water, to roam around a little bit more during early-ice. They haven’t set up yet. But when you get into late-December and January, they’re on wintering spots in the basins and are not going to move much.”
Instead, Neustrom says during early-ice, crappies tend to establish by the first break in correlation with deeper water. The key is soft bottom. And sometimes, they’re in the deep weeds, and hang out as long as the weeds are still a little green, because there are all kinds of bugs and forage available.
“Get into mid- to late-December, and crappies start moving to the basins. The key is to find those basin-areas with a soft bottom. That’s where the critters are emerging out of the mud. Bloodworms (midge larvae) are critical; crappies chow down on them during early- to mid-ice. They’ll stay in close contact with that food source,” shares Neustrom.
Neustrom says that a lot of early-ice crappie anglers make the mistake of starting too deep during early-ice, concentrating their efforts in 25- to 40-feet—but quite often the crappies aren’t set up there yet.
“In Minnesota, I’m starting to work the basins in late-December and early-January. Before that, I’m working the first break and available green weeds just inside the basins,” shares Neustrom.
Basin crappies will tend to hold to the bottom, especially in the morning; then, as the day progresses, they’ll move up in the water column.
“If you look at your electronics in the morning—I use a Humminbird Helix 7 Ice Bundle—crappies will show up like a blanket or lumps laying on the bottom. They don’t really appear as suspended fish until it gets a little lighter outside. Critters start emerging out of the soft bottom and the crappies follow them up in the water column,” notes Neustrom.
Neustrom adds that LakeMaster mapping is critical to finding—and catching—hardwater crappies. “The new VX Premium LakeMaster card adds aerial mapping imagery, improved depth contour shading to find those spots-on-the-spot, bottom hardness, and SmartStrike, which is like having your own digital fishing guide.”
“I fish both the 3/32- and 1/16-ounce, depending on depth. It rocks sideways and drops quick and cuts the slush if you’re fishing outside. It has a thinner body and an excellent hook. I’ll put three or four waxies or Eurolarvae on it, and if I can’t catch ‘em that way, I’ll fish a really small crappie minnow on it. I hook the minnow through the tail—that’s key.”
Neustrom’s also a fan of spoon-style baits for early- to mid-ice crappies like the 1/16th-ounce Northland Forage Minnow in Super Glo finishes.
Neustrom adds: “The 1/8-ounce version is also a great walleye bait on deadsticks, rattle reels, and even jigging when the fish don’t want a rattle spoon. I’ve caught an awful lot of big crappies on this bait. Funny thing is, when they’re really going, I don’t put anything on it—no bait, no nothing. When they’re really fired up you can catch ‘em meatless.”
Lastly, when the crappies are really going, Neustrom will hole-hop a series of 10- to 15 different spots with a 1/8-ounce Northland Puppet Minnow for getting to active fish fast.
Rods, Reels, and Line
I terms of line, Neustrom uses 4-pound Sufix Elite mono on a spinning reel or in-line style reel.
“I like Daiwa 750-size spinning reels, which I helped design for ice, a nice medium between 500 and 1000 size reels. All of the models, QZ 750, QG 750 and QC 750, are great and have a little larger spool than most ice reels,” remarks Neustrom.
When it comes to in-line reels, Neustrom likes trigger-style models for one-handed operation and quick, vertical fishing. In shallow waters, he will turn to fly-reel-style in-line reels that often require the angler to manually strip out the line.
When it comes to rods, Neustrom fishes the St. Croix Custom Ice (CCI) 32” Perch Seeker, a great medium-light power, extra-fast action rod with a soft tip. He’s also using the economical St. Croix Tundra SCT30LF, a great option for fishing smaller jigs.
“I don’t use spring bobbers for crappies, although I’ll use them occasionally for finesse-bite bluegills. Crappies are a little more aggressive than ‘gills. The bluegill bite is kind of a ‘twitch’; a crappie bite is more of a ‘thunk’,” observes Neustrom.
Typically, crappies feed upwards at a 45-degree angle, flare out their gill plates, and suck in water to inhale the bait. So, you’ve gotta watch the tip of your rod because all of a sudden, the bend will disappear and your line will go slack. Then it’s time to quickly reel up a little bit and lightly sweep the hook into place.
“For my second rod, I run a plain-Jane deadstick, typically a glow hook or a 1/16-ounce Forage Minnow Jig, split-shot, and a crappie minnow. I’m old school; I just set the rod on a 5-gallon bucket top. I also like the St. Croix Custom Ice (CCI) 32” Perch Seeker for my deadsticking,” shares Neustrom.
“A good crappie angler fishes everything—waxies, Eurolarvae, crappie minnows, and soft plastics. You’ve gotta have some maggots in a little container for insurance. Crappies sometimes want that scent over soft-plastics. To go out with one thing is a huge mistake,” concludes Neustrom.
ABOUT Northland® Fishing Tackle
In 1975, a young Northwoods fishing guide named John Peterson started pouring jigs and tying tackle for his clients in a small remote cabin in northern Minnesota. The lures were innovative, made with high quality components, and most importantly, were catching fish when no other baits were working! Word spread like wildfire, the phone started ringing… and the Northland Fishing Tackle® brand was in hot demand! For 40 years now, John and the Northland® team have been designing, testing and perfecting an exclusive line of products that catch fish like no other brand on the market today. Manufactured in the heart of Minnesota’s finest fishing waters, Northland® is one of the country’s leading producers of premium quality jigs, live bait rigs, spinnerbaits and spoons for crappies, bluegills, perch, walleyes, bass, trout, northern pike and muskies.
No, not decorating with them, catching them from Christmas Tree brush piles
from The Fishing Wire
Ladson, SC – Sparkling like fresh lit Christmas bulbs, they dance and glow among the evergreen branches. Dozens, maybe hundreds of big crappies encircle the sunken brushpile, lively little orbs doing their best impression of holiday cheer. You see it happening right on sonar, screen shimmering with star-like bogeys. One cast, and you’re already imagining full livewells–and soon, golden brown fillets decorating your dinner plate.
Late fall through winter, crappies really do enjoy the company of a good balsam fir, though some anglers claim planted hardwoods last longer underwater and ultimately attract a few more fish. Surely, they find solace in the columns and complexes of aquatic cover.
Crappies come here to chew, too. Yet whether you find them huddled around submerged shrubs, tucked into fields of green foliage or suspended in the abyss, catching Christmastime crappies isn’t a guarantee. Especially so as plummeting water temps and declining metabolic rates induce sluggish, unwilling-to-chase attitudes.
In short, dropping a rapidly sinking lure past crappie snouts is a no-no.
A Fresh Panfish Approach
A season of bigtime bass tournaments behind him and back on his favorite crappie lake, Major League Fishing star David Walker understands the situation all too well. It’s Walker’s favorite time to pursue crappies, white bass and other intriguing panfish, after all. This season, though, he’s even more excited than usual, given some interesting new arrivals to his crappie bag of tricks.
“I can’t believe more anglers haven’t discovered the magical properties of these baits for crappies,” remarks Walker, launching his boat near home at Douglas Lake, Tennessee. “But they will. And when they do, every crappie angler out there is going to catch a lot of fish.”
On Douglas and numerous other reservoirs around the country, winter means cooling water and receding lake levels. Dropping water, Walker knows, can consolidate crappies around remaining woodcover, docks, submerged vegetation or suspended in openwater. “When the water falls and a lot of my favorite cover is left high and dry, I’ll chase crappies like I’m bass fishing on a smaller scale,” Walker explains.
“I’ll target ends of points or go right down the middle of pockets in creek arms, looking for bait and groups of crappies on sonar. With live sonar, I’m also sniffing out isolated pieces of cover—sometimes, a single rock or log is enough to hold some fish. What’s also cool is that crappies school by size, and often, you’ll catch the biggest fish in the school first. But I always release those bigger 14- to 16-inchers in favor of 11s and 12s, which taste so much better in crappie tacos.”
“My new favorite crappie bait—a Z-Man Shad FryZ™ swimbait—is orders of magnitude smaller than bass-sized offerings. But its subtle, lively action, buoyancy and durability put it right at the top of my crappie lure depth-chart. I’ve been catching a ton of crappies on this little paddletail lately, part of the remarkable new Micro Finesse system.
“What’s cool is I can rig the Shad FryZ on a slightly heavier 1/10-ounce Micro Finesse ShroomZ™ jighead and retain plenty of weight for casting distance. Meanwhile, the bait’s buoyant ElaZtech® material slows its rate of fall. So, in terms of drop-speed, the lure flutters and fishes more like a 1/16-ouncer; it’s got that nice little tail-kick on the fall that attracts a lot of crappies.
“As veteran anglers know, crappies primarily feed up,” he continues. “So keeping your lure at or a few feet above their eye level is of utmost importance, especially in colder water.”
Unlike traditional PVC soft plastics, which sink like rocks, Walker notes that ElaZtech baits float, slowing the drop-speed of the jighead. “That’s something you simply can’t do with other crappie baits, because traditional plastisol baits sink fast—often, shooting right through the active strike zones of coldwater panfish.”
To further tweak rate of fall, Walker spools with “straight 6- or 8-pound test braided line and no leader,” he suggests. “After trying those micro-thin 2-, 3- and 4-pound test braids, I realized thicker diameter braid, which floats, slows the lure’s rate of fall a bit more.”
While most anglers target shallow water fish, Walker prefers to pursue bigger, less pressured crappies in 15 to 25 feet of water. “Simply count the lure down to the right depth and begin a slow, steady retrieve. The hover can also be key to triggering reluctant fish. While retrieving, I’ll pause every 5- to 10-seconds. Let the bait stop and hang momentarily. That hesitation or hover—when the bait isn’t darting away—often makes a fish that’s been following commit; opens its big pouting jaw and gulps the bait down.”
“Man, I love feeling that thump of a big crappie inhaling my Shad FryZ swimbait. It’s an awesome pattern through at least the first of the New Year. After that, when fishing gets tougher and crappies don’t want excessive bait movement, I’ll trade the swimbait for a Micro TRD™, Tiny TicklerZ™ or LarvaZ™.
“If you’re a fan of the traditional TRD or TicklerZ for bass, all I can say is, the micro sized versions live up to their reputations for crappies and panfish, too.
“And in extra clear water, the LarvaZ shows fish a creepy-crawly bug imitation; perfect for vertical presentations—either right below the boat on a jighead or beneath a bobber. What’s really cool about these Micro Finesse baits is their durability. Especially for perch, bluegills and fish that nip tails and tear other baits to shreds, durable ElaZtech is the answer we’ve all been waiting for.
“As a bass angler familiar with the toughness of ElaZtech, I spent years trying to slice and customize bigger worms into panfish-sized offerings. They worked, but the Micro Finesse baits give me panfish profiles and actions I’m after, no knife needed. When it comes to small shapes and bait action, traditional plastics are simply too stiff; aren’t soft or pliable enough to move like living things—the exact opposite of natural, lively ElaZtech.
“As more and more crappie anglers discover these advantages—buoyant, super soft and easy to activate and surprisingly durable—we’ll all be sitting down for a lot more crappie dinners.”
About Z-Man Fishing Products
A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.
While the weather cannot seem make its mind up this week, we are still in that fall turnover pattern on the water. The line sides are definitely on the move and headed back in the creeks in search of bait and water quality. It is still a grind but good fish and numbers can be caught using a number of techniques. Long points and humps are really coming into play now as the fish are roaming more shallow. These areas in the middle and back portions of the creek have been getting better as we get deeper into the fall pattern.
Planer boards and free lines have been my staple pattern. As I mentioned in my last report, I will discuss my standard set up in this report. A Captain Mack’s Mustard Stick paired with an Okuma line counter reel is my go-to. I like to be spooled with 17 lb test mono and a 10-12# Sunlike Sniper Fluorocarbon leader approximately 8’ long. I use a #2 Gamakatsu Octopus hook for the Blueback Herring. I use the line counter reel to let 30-40’ back before I clip the Perfect Planer on and then let the planer back around 80’ on my outside rod and then 50’ on my inside rod when running 2 rods per side. Set your reels drag loose enough the fish will pull drag slightly on that initial run but tight enough to get a solid hook set. This is my standard setup but you can vary it to your style. Braid works just fine as a main line and hook sizes need to match the bait you are pulling.
Trolling Captain Mack’s umbrella rigs over these same points and humps in 25-35’ will definitely add more fish to the boat and also the best way to scout out new areas when searching a creek arm. 90-125’ behind the boat is ideal doing this method. Keep a Super Jig (white with mylar or white chart) or top water bait tied on for the surfacing fish.
You can feel it in the air, and you can see it in the sun. Nights are getting cooler, and the days are getting shorter. Fall is closing in on us. While some folks mourn the passing of summer, many anglers are looking forward to autumn. And many of those anglers are looking forward to catching crappies. Crappies are often thought of as a fish that is most easily caught in the spring, and while springtime is a good time to catch crappies, so are the autumn months. Following are some ideas for getting in on crappie action the next time you go fishing.
In many lakes, crappies will be near docks. The best docks will be in deeper water. In a conversation with Mr. Crappie Wally Marshall, he said that docks are one of his favorite places to consistently catch crappies. The dock provides shade and cover that attracts baitfish, the baitfish attract crappies, and the crappies attract Wally. He employs a technique called “shooting.” A sixteenth-ounce jig and spinning tackle is best for shooting. Take the jig between your thumb and index finger, open the bail on the reel and pull the jig back to load the rod. Aim the jig where you want it to go and let go. With some practice, you’ll be able to get that jig into the shaded area of the dock where the crappies live. Six-pound test hi-vis line and a jig tipped with a Shadpole is a favorite set-up for Mr. Crappie.
Several years ago, I was sharing a boat with crappie ace Scott Soderquist in north central Minnesota. We were fishing docks but had slip-bobbers on our line and sixteenth-ounce jigs underneath. We were fishing the deep end of docks and the number of nice north-country crappies that lived at the very edge of these docks was hard to believe. North, south, east, and west, crappies can be found underneath docks.
I have another fall crappie memory. My dad and I were fishing for largemouth bass on a Midwest lake that was like many Midwest lakes. The lake was fifty feet deep at the deepest and a variety of gamefish, including crappies, called the lake home. It was a calm early evening in September. We were casting the weedline in search of largemouth bass, and we were catching a few. Dad noticed something dimpling the surface fifty feet out from the deep edge of the weedline. He had seen this before. I was in the bow running the electric motor, he was in the back. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what he was doing. He liked it that way. Without my knowing it, dad tied on a small jig with a plastic body and started casting to the dimples. He knew that the dimples were created by crappies slurping bugs off the surface. He caught several slabs before I caught on to what he was doing. I put the bass rod down, picked up a light spinning rod, tied on a small jig, and was soon catching slabs. This pattern is effective in many, many lakes across crappie country. Just watch for the dimples.
In some lakes, the basin of the lake will hold numbers of crappies. You’ll need to do some sonar work to find them. Cruise the deep basin areas with a close eye on your depth finder. Watch for fish close to the bottom. When you find’em, drop a jig on’em. An eighth-ounce Mr. Crappie Scizzor Shad or Sausage Head have been good to me. If you see a concentration of suspected crappies suspended, back off and cast to them. Crappies near the surface can be spooky fish. In deep water, catch a few for the table, then move on. Deep water fish of most species can be hard to successfully release.
In many areas of North America crappies are abundant, they’re fun, and they’re great on the table. Wherever you fish for crappies, one of the techniques just mentioned will help you catch a few or a bunch in the autumn.
Many anglers, this one included, can’t wait for ice-out to head for their favorite crappie lake and wet a line in open water for the season’s first time. Those just-after-ice-out trips sometimes produce good fishing, but at other times the fish seem to be non-existent. The fact is that as the water warms and weather stabilizes during spring, the crappie bite gets better. Here are some tips to capitalize on what I call the crappies of “mid-spring.”
Most crappie anglers know that finding the warmest shallow water during spring up until the spawn is key. Warming waters, usually shallow waters, show the first signs of open-water life and draw hungry crappies. Shallow, dark-bottomed bays are classic early season spots, as are boat channels, marinas, and other shallow spots that warm quickly.
Just after ice-out, the crappies invade these areas looking to feed, particularly on warm, sunny days. The appearance of a spring cold front, however, often sends these fish scurrying off to deeper waters where the water temperature is more stable. As spring progresses and water temperatures continue to rise and the weather moderates, crappies spend more and more time feeding in the shallows.
Finding spring crappies involves staying on the move and searching various shallow spots. I often hit several spots during a fishing day, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge on my sonar unit in the boat when going from spot-to-spot. Shore anglers, though more limited in mobility, often do well this time of the year too as shallow areas that hold fish are often accessible from the bank.
Small panfish jigs tipped with crappie minnows and fished below bobbers produce fish, particularly when the fish are finicky. More aggressive fish, on the other hand, are often very susceptible to small jigs and plastics combos. I’ve become a big fan of the Mr. Crappie soft baits in recent years and prefer the Crappie Thunder and 2-inch Tubes during spring. Hungry crappies readily hit soft baits and usually several fish can be caught on the same bait without rebaiting. Regardless of whether tipping a jig with live bait or plastic, fishing the combination a couple feet below a bobber and casting near shallow cover like weeds, brush, and timber usually results in bites if fish are present.
Bobbers and jigs go hand in hand for spring crappies, however, a cast-and-retrieve approach can also yield good catches on some days and can be a good “search” presentation as well. For this method, I rig a Mr. Crappie ShadPole on a small jig, cast it out, and slowly retrieve it back.
Regardless of whether fishing a bobber or cast-and-retrieve fishing, using your tolling motor to quietly approach and work potential fishing spots is important now. Shallow, spring crappies are notorious for being spooky and avoiding excess noise that may easily scatter these wily fish will generally up your catch.
Spring and crappies go hand in hand, especially as the season progresses and the weather stabilizes. Following some of the tips just provided can, in fact, probably help you capitalize on the hot mid-spring crappie bite this season!
As always, good luck on the water and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoor adventure!
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit www.fishingthemidwest to see more fishing tips and view recent TV episodes as well!
Mid-winter can be one of the best times to locate and “stay on” on crappies. Though the fish are often in predictable areas during this time, getting them to bite can be a bit challenging. Here are some thoughts on where to first, find mid-winter crappies and second, on ways to tempt them into biting.
Mid- winter crappies are often found roaming deep basins searching for food. Basin areas in some of the shallow lakes I fish might be in the 15- to 25- foot depth ranges. On other lakes with deeper waters, the basins that hold fish will often be deeper too.
While crappies often roam a particular basin, a good basin one year will often be a good basin the next year too. For that reason, anglers can often return to productive areas they found in previous winters or, on previous trips, and drill holes in the same vicinity to pinpoint schools.
Moving about a basin and quickly drilling holes to find those schools is key and this is where having a sharp, reliable ice auger helps. The K-Drill auger I use works great for searching as it’s super lightweight and is powered by a cordless electric drill, so with a charged battery, it’s a reliable starter.
Another important part of a successful basin crappie search is the use of a quality flasher sonar unit. Sonar allows anglers to “see” any crappies roaming a basin and, since crappies often suspend, is helpful in effectively presenting a bait in the water column at the level the fish are found.
I use the FLX-20 flasher because it does an excellent job of helping me locate fish and has ¼-inch separation allowing me to easily distinguish individual fish and my bait when the fishing starts. This is important as crappies often appear several at a time and “separating” them as they appear on sonar helps catch them!
Finding roaming crappies is obviously important. The challenge then becomes getting them to bite. Sometimes the fish are aggressive and can be caught on small jigging spoons tipped with minnow heads or waxworms and worked aggressively. A 1/16-ounce Jointed Pinhead Mino spoon is my favorite as it comes in all the right colors and its jointed design, and the action the design provides, often makes it appealing to crappies.
Spoons are favorites as they appeal to bigger fish and the aggressive ones. At times, however, crappies require more finesse. This is when small tungsten jigs get the nod. In fact, a small tungsten Drop-Kick jig tipped with either waxworms or a small panfish plastic has put lots of crappies on the ice when the fish refused other lures. Pink, red, and white jig and plastic color combinations have worked well for me when finicky crappies are encountered.
I usually start a fishing day jigging a spoon and go to the tungsten jig if the fish won’t cooperate. These jigging methods are, however, only one part of my 1-2 winter crappie set up. The other involves a simple crappie minnow fished on a plain hook beneath a bobber with some split shot weights added to the line about a foot or so above the hook.
This “do nothing” approach is often effective when fish are attracted to a jigging bait but refuse to eat it. Often, these fish simply slide over to, and inhale, the minnow!
If getting fish to inhale your baits this winter is a goal, consider targeting crappies. By heading to the basin of your favorite panfish lake and employing the tips suggested you can probably find and catch some mid-winter slabs right now. As always, good luck on the ice and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!
Mike Frisch is co-host of Fishing of the Midwest TV and a multi-species Minnesota fishing guide, view the website: www.fishingthemidwest.comto see more from Fishing the Midwest.
Time for Lunker Panfish By Frank Sargeant, Editor from The Fishing Wire
While most anglers are still focused on spawning largemouth bass in late April across the South, a few savvy panfish anglers know that this is the time to home in on catching the largest bluegills, warmouth and crappie of the year as the “jumbos” cruise into the shallows to feed on bass fry around the beds.
Crappies spawn earlier than bass, bluegills and warmouth later, but both species love 1 to 2 inch long baby fish, and with the bass spawn beginning in late March and continuing into early May, there are millions of these fry in the shallows of many lakes at present.
While small bluegills and warmouth mostly eat grass shrimp and insect life, the hand-sized “jumbos” seem to prefer fish. Crappies, of course, feed heavily on minnows of all types throughout their adult lives.
Bream beds are not hard to find—or at least that’s usually the case. This year, high, muddy water in many lakes around the Southeast has made it more of a challenge to pick out the beds. They’re shallow bowls scooped out on firm sand or shell, typically in 1 to 4 feet of water on the edge of grass, or around boat docks, stumps or other cover.
They’re easiest to see on a calm day with high sun. This year, the challenge is just finding water that’s clear enough to see down any depth, but barring further downpours, the water should clear quickly.
Beds that hold panfish may or may not have adult bass still in them. While the male bass guards the nest for the first week to 10 days after the eggs hatch, they leave them on their own after that. Big panfish prowl around both guarded and unguarded nests.
Matching the hatch is the sensible way to catch these panfish, which often are far bigger than typical schooling bluegills or crappies found offshore. Tiny 2” floater-diver minnow imitations from Rapala and Rebel are particularly effective.
These fly-weight lures are best fished on ultra-light spinning gear and 6-pound-test mono—heavier line ruins the action. It’s also essential to tie them on with a loop knot like the turtle rather than a uniknot or improved clinch, because if the knot draws tight on the eye, the action of the little lure will be ruined by the resistance of the line.
A little reel like the Shimano Syncopate 1000 is all that’s needed to handle the lightweight minnow imitations from Rapala and Rebel that attract these jumbo panfish.
Fly rod poppers also work well when the panfish are around the beds—choose light-colored bugs with minimal dressing, because in this case you’re imitating a minnow rather than a bug or a frog.
Sometimes all it takes is casting the lure over the bed, letting it set for a 10-count and then twitching it once—bluegills in particular like this presentation. I’ve caught some close to a pound with this tactic this spring.
Crappies and warmouth, on the other hand, seem to like a moving target. Slow cranking the bait so that it comes wobbling across the bed and nearby shallows draws the strikes.
When you catch a panfish off a bed, the disturbance flushes most nearby panfish for a time, but sit quietly for 5 to 10 minutes and they’ll come cruising back to the free feast. You can probably catch another and then another with well-timed casts.
It’s also possible to catch these fish with tiny jigs of 1/32 ounce or there-abouts, again fished on UL tackle. The smallest Beetle Spins also work well, cranked just fast enough to make the spinner blade turn.
For fly-rodders, a silver/green streamer fly about 2 inches long on a size 8 long-shank hook does the job. Very short, jerky strips of an inch or so at a time draw the bites.
While panfish are the primary target, fishing the beds with this gear also occasionally turns up a surprise. This spring I’ve caught black drum, catfish and perch in these areas and also landed bass to a couple pounds, a real handful on the ultra-light gear.
It’s a change of gears for those of us who are confirmed bass-heads, but a pleasant diversion for a few weeks in spring—and when it comes to eating, you can’t beat fresh-fried fillets off these oversized panfish.
From Northland Tackle Pro Joel Nelson from The Fishing Wire
It’s been an odd spring, and for that matter, and even more peculiar winter. Open water in the southern part of the northern states has been around for a few weeks, while in the north, there’s still ice, albeit a poor version of it, clinging to memories of a winter that wasn’t.
Early season panfish bites are a rite of spring, typically happening in mid-late April for most northern lakes. This year due to the unseasonably warm weather, I’m happy to say, we’ll probably have some bonus time in my state, Minnesota, with crappies already snapping in the shallows.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when tracking down a good spring crappie bite.
Water temperature is a key contributing factor to everything crappies in the spring. Cold nights below freezing, cool-water runoff from melting snow, and heavy cloud cover can all contribute to the death of a seemingly un-killable bite. As black-bottom bays and rock-laden shorelines store what solar energy they can, crappies flood to the shallows as water temps hit 45 degrees and above. In most of the lakes I fish, this seems to be as close to a “magic number” as I can find in helping to predict not only locations, but mood of the crappies I’m after.
Anything much off that value, and shallow water crappies become much more rare and hard to find. Even after locating them, you just don’t see the large congregations of fish that are willing to eat like you do in the 45-50 degree range and above. That said, spring is a roller coaster of conditions in northern states, full of false-starts, short intense feeding periods during warm weather, and then eventually spawn and post-spawn behavior. Your best bet is multiple trips that allow you to track changes in water temperatures, such that you don’t hit before the front end, or after the spawn.
Regarding location, when warm water is scarcer in the early season, those shorelines that are even a few degrees warmer can be full of fish. This is true even when they lack good cover, provided you’re fishing the warmest water in the lake and it’s still early. Black bays on the north side of a lake are a good start, and don’t hesitate to fish shallower than 5 feet, especially in systems with poor clarity. Even as water temps rise into the 50’s, fish remain shallow, feeding on baitfish drawn to the warm water and emerging life that’s brought on by warm afternoons and an even more aggressive sun angle.
Cover is king for pre-spawn crappies, and while any wood or timber is good for finding them, brush is better. An isolated log or stump may hold a few fish, but large concentrations of fish will be found where they can bury themselves within and along brush piles. Unfortunately, most anglers miss the bonanza by fishing only around the edges, rather than within the heavy cover. Occasional fish are to be had this way, but to do well in these situations, you’ll need to be prepared to fearlessly fish inside of the heavy stuff, not just around the edges. For that reason, especially in darker, more turbid water, I’ll fish 8lb test mono or heavier, as small jigs and small line are an exercise in brush-fishing frustration.
In northern natural lakes with broad and shallow shorelines, timber can be hard to find, so crappies focus on bulrush and pencil-reeds for cover. Whether wood or vegetation, getting in the middle of it seems to pay dividends.What to use is an important factor during this time of year, with water temps again dictating presentation and lure selection. Especially early, the temptation is to fish fast and cover water to find larger schools. Just coming out of winter, locations can be a mystery, and bobber-fishing shallows is simply too slow for most anglers.
That said, especially during the early season, crappies will rarely chase to eat moving baits presented on the edges. Fish with floats, and use meat. Crappies are carnivorous little beings, and you’ll be surprised how savagely they’ll strike a minnow offered on a jig with hair, tinsel, marabou, or flashabou. This larger profile requires some aggression, and hookups seem much more sure as crappies are required to fully inhale such a presentation.
Keep in mind however, that bluegills which can be found in the same areas this time of year, are less likely to be able to eat such baits. I have been pleasantly surprised by large perch, especially when fishing backwaters bites, that will be more than happy to eat a 1/32oz jig with a minnow.
Plastics bites are still to come, but typically require warmer conditions yet. It’s unfortunate that minnows are best fished when your freezing fingers would otherwise want you to use artificial bait-only, but it seems like warm weather and glove-less hands are about the best predictor on when to start looking to retrieved plastic presentations. For this reason, bring bait until moving presentations readily out-perform more stationary live-bait options.
It’s a great time of year to be on the water. Wait till a warm afternoon, and pick apart the shallows until you find some fish. Keep it simple, have fun with it, and save the ultra-serious stuff for later.For more fishing tips, visit www.northlandtackle.com.