As soon as ice goes out across the northern band of the country, we witness a great opportunity to catch slab crappies.
Everyone thinks spring, ice-out crappies will be exclusively shallow. Will they always move shallow? No. Most move shallow, but we also need to consider the warmer-water temperature factor, and – now that we’re past the March 20 vernal equinox – the increasing length of day.
A good rule of thumb: If your main lake is still frozen over but you can access an open bay, fish shallow.
When water temperatures are still in that low 40-degree temperature range after ice-out, that’s when I often see black and white crappies moving shallow. Calm, sunny days are the best. At 48 degrees, fish definitely make a pre-spawn movement.
Search for areas of a lake that warm faster than others. We hear lots of emphasis on dark-bottomed bays as if that’s the only location. Too many people fish those areas, often creating noise and spooking fish. If you run into that phenomenon, look at sandy shorelines on north sides of lakes, windward shorelines, incoming streams, and on some lakes, reed beds.
If a front comes through, crappies will head to deeper waters, then suspend.
Understand that large, deep lakes will warm slower than shallower, small lakes. Work that to your advantage by searching small lakes first, large lakes second. Right after ice-out when crappies begin to move, I often find them suspended right outside of bays and flats in deep water. Such locations serve almost as pivot points where these fish are moving from winter homes to suspending to outside their feeding grounds.
As for the shallows, we could be talking seriously shallow – 2, 3, 4 feet of water and skittish fish sensitive to any noise. To avoid spooking them, cast with long rods to those locations. Consider a bobber and jig and minnow, or toss jigs into those areas, too – 1/64-ounce at heaviest! Even 1/100-ounce is appropriate tipped with a small crappie minnow.
Everyone wants to know top colors. I find black and brown very productive in early season, especially with hair jigs. Keep in mind that minnows in these shallows are feeding on zooplankton, so depending on the mood of the fish, waxworms on small jigs also will perform.
Getting back to time of day, generally, the sun will warm shallow waters, and midday bites can be the most productive. Watch the surface water temperature closely on your liquid crystal graph because a few-degree difference can really affect the locations of those slabs!