Warming temperatures bring crappies toward shore

The dark shadow hovered along the emerging pondweed just long enough to make me doubt myself. 

A stick? A weed? I smiled as it swished its tail and darted into deeper, darker water.

“They’re in,” I said to my fishing partner, Dale. “There’s one. There’s another one.”

As I scanned the drop-off ahead through polarized sunglasses I spotted several more “shadows.” A dozen or so black crappies were staging along the weeds on the bottom of a breakline in 10 feet of water, waiting to spawn.

When the water temperature reaches 64 to 68 degrees black crappies spawn, biologists say. The surface water over the weekend on this southern Michigan lake was 63 degrees. 

Our timing was perfect. The fish were moving in towards shore.

Black crappies will hit an assortment of presentations at this time of year including minnows, leaf worms, wax worms even small crankbaits. I’ve found that the best springtime bait for me is a small,  bright pink jig with a white hair skirt, often called a “Pinkie jig.” Tipped with a wax worm, these jigs are killer for crappies.

Using an ultra-light rod and reel, I tossed my jig above the school and let it sink to the bottom. With a slight twitching motion I danced it in front of the school – just above their heads since crappies usually feed up. One of the fish just couldn’t resist. I set the hook as the jig disappeared and was instantly doing battle with a thick, feisty 10-inch crappie. 

We caught several from that school, kept a few and threw back more than we caught. Not one of them was under 8 inches long.

Over the next hour or so Dale and I worked our way along the south shore of the lake and ran into several schools of crappies. All were staging along the drop-offs and all were enticed by that Pinkie jig.

The biggest fish we landed was 14 inches long and wider than my hand. We had another one that was considerably larger right up to the boat.

“I should get the net. I should get the net,” I thought, but before I convinced myself the fish was gone.  

I knew better. Lesson relearned.

Crappies have paper-thin mouths and many big fish are lost because of it. You can hoist a 10- or 12-incher out of the water with your line, but for anything larger than that go ahead and grab the net. No second thoughts.

Calico, spec, paper mouth or crappie?

You can call them what you want, but the time to fish for them is now.


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