The first day of spring 2015 brought heavy snow to many parts of Pennsylvania. With the long-lasting misery of the cold and snow the past winter has heaped upon us, that should have come as no surprise.
Still, even with a crusty blanket of snow and stubborn ice covering most lakes, one can dream of open water and fishing. I keep thinking of casting to some promising shoreline cover for a shot at some tasty crappies.
When the ice finally does clear from local lakes, I’ll be heading to their still very cold waters for some crappie fishing. Most likely I’ll be in a boat, but shoreline wading is also a possibility.
Here are a few tips I learned from Pennsylvania crappie-fishing experts to keep in mind.
When the time finally comes that the ice leaves the lakes, the water will certainly be cold. This timeframe for crappie fishing is commonly known as the pre-spawn. Spawning activity for crappies generally occurs when the water reaches the 57-65 degree range, so ice-off conditions will have much lower temperatures.
At this time of year, shallow lakes will hold crappies in 6-8 feet of water. In deeper reservoirs, they’re usually found in the 15-25 foot zone. Since their preference is for layers with the most oxygen, the aforementioned depth zones in early spring are where abundant oxygen is usually located. Look to target the drop-offs just outside of these zones.
The specialists at crappie fishing also seem to be in agreement on one distinct aspect of early springtime crappie fishing, whatever lure or bait you use – present it ultra slowly.
Small jigs with oscillating tails in white, chartreuse, yellow and lighter green colors with reddish flecks are good choices. Smallish tube lures in the same colors are also effective. Working them just fast enough to keep the tails moving is the key.
I’ve had some very good outings using small live minnows. I fish them on a long-shank size 6 hook with a very small split shot secured about 15 inches above the hook. Allowing the minnow to sink slowly to different depths will find the zone where the fish are. When a consistent “strike depth” is found, I often attach a float to the line that keeps the bait at that level. The float also indicates a hit without rod in hand, which is a good thing if you’re using an additional rod to cast artificial lures.
Some experts suggest that if you’re fishing from a boat, try trolling for crappies. They use small jigs and tubes attached to 4-pound test line to move slowly through prospective cover and structure. They troll at a speed just fast enough to keep slack out of the line, and use only an electric trolling motor to help lessen sound.
Some of the most enjoyable crappie fishing in Pennsylvania occurs in coming weeks when hoards of anglers flock to stocked streams and lakes for trout. I, too, love trout fishing, I’ll never deny that. But for me, that will come later in the spring. The trout obsession results in very little competition for catching early crappies. I like that.
After this brutal winter, I'm confident early crappies – those splendid fish for the pan –will finally warm me up.