Slab frenzy 2014: Top tactics for ice-out crappies

Prime ice-out crappie conditions are evolving right now across the northern part of the United States. These first open-water fishing opportunities for slabs since autumn 2013 coincide with their movement into the shallows. Once I see water temperatures hit 40 degrees you’d better believe I’m wetting a line for crappies.

Combine those water temperatures with stable spring weather, and you can expect an absolute slab frenzy in many lakes. These fish are moving in to feed, not spawn, and they’re going to target shallow areas that warm quickly. Look for areas with wind protection that gets good sun throughout the day. Combine it with a soft, dark bottom (that absorbs the sunlight), or maybe a channel leading into a bay, and you have a recipe for crappie fillets. Any cover, like an overhanging tree, provides an obvious specific location to start fishing.

Crappies are chasing minnows that are feeding on zooplankton populating the emerging food chain in the warming water. My first choice of lures is small hair jigs, say 1/32- or 1/64-ounce under a small bobber. We’re working shallower water here, but still keep that jig up off the bottom and tip it with a small minnow. Use a float to keep it off the bottom, to hold at a prescribed depth, and of course as a strike indicator.

About that, especially at this time of year, if your bobber starts to push up or lay on its side, set the hook because that’s a bite. Frankly, that scenario is true with crappies year-round, because they’ll often come up with the jig and minnow, thereby offering little drag resistant. Bottom line, the bobber does not need to submerge to mark a fish.

As for tackle, I’m using an medium- to light-action, 8- to 9-foot rod, which allows me to swing my presentation into tight locations accurately and quietly. Stick with light line, no heavier than 4-pound-test line. Cast with an light reel with a larger spool; the setup reduces friction so you can cast farther.

Again, these fish won’t spawn until late spring, so we’re targeting aggressive feeders here. Remain extra quiet. It’s still cold out there, and sound carries. These are spooky fish, but proceed deliberately, and you’ll enjoy the year’s best bite of slabs.

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