Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Summer assignment: study crappie patterns

By Steve Heiting
Contributing Writer

Not three hours after my wife, Connie, surprised me by declaring she wanted to go crappie fishing on Mother’s Day, I was thinking about putting the boat back on the trailer and going home. Already we were on our second lake, and after fishing multiple spots where crappies should have been given the water temperature, our catch amounted to only a single crappie, pike, and perch, all of which were small. To make matters worse, the wind was blowing hard across the cool water to the point we were becoming uncomfortable.

As is my nature, I wanted to check one more spot before calling it a day. A small, weed-covered hump sits about two cast lengths from a reed-covered point, which would have been loaded with spawning crappies had the water been another 8 to 10 degrees warmer. I figured I could find some fish staging for the spawn near the hump.

My bobber sank almost immediately following my first cast to the hump, but I missed the hook-set. I engaged my trolling motor’s spot-lock function, and as the trolling motor started up and the wind blew the stern downwind, I realized my position in the back of the boat was suddenly within casting range of the rush point. For no other reason than to eliminate all options, I cast to the rushes and immediately hooked up with a thick-backed crappie.

After I caught crappies from the rushes on three consecutive casts, I switched Connie’s rig from a small shiner to a jig and plastic combination identical to the one I was using and told her to target the rushes. Although we spent the next three hours bouncing in the waves, we warmed up quickly because we were catching crappies on almost every cast.

As I drove home that evening and thought about what had just happened, it didn’t make sense. In my way of thinking at the time, the crappies shouldn’t have been that shallow because the water wasn’t warm enough. At first I thought we had just stumbled into a large feeding school, but eventually I realized the crappies were just being crappies. Since then I’ve applied this pre-spawn, strong wind/shallow cover crappie pattern on other lakes and almost always have enjoyed good fishing. 

The “Great Book Of Crappie Fishing” says the silver-sided fish will spawn near cover – usually dead rushes, fallen trees, and cabbage in 2 to 3 feet of water – when the water temperature reaches the low 60-degree range. If I had to pick an exact number, it would be 62. Before then, however, crappies usually are staging on or just outside weed flats near where they’ll eventually spawn. When it’s cool, they’ll often be in 8 feet of water or more, and on beautiful, sunny spring days, they may move into 4 to 6 feet of water.

I try to analyze every fishing pattern to understand why the fish are feeding because I find it helps me more quickly recognize future patterns. When I consistently found that I was catching other fish species in the same places, I realized the crappies were simply fulfilling their role as predators. All predatory fish, including crappies, use wind and the current it generates to feed more efficiently. 

For me, this pattern completely changed my outlook for spring crappies. Previously, I used a slow, methodical approach to catch pre-spawn fish because I never figured they would feed aggressively. I thought the real fun occurred when crappies became concentrated as they spawned in the same shallow spots they visited every year. 

But now, if the wind is blowing, I simply fish the cover into which the waves are moving. Fallen trees and flooded stumps are almost always good, and rushes can sometimes be even better. All you need is wind to make it happen.

Another change I made is I haven’t bought a bucket of crappie minnows in years. A white, pink, or unpainted 1⁄16-ounce or 1⁄24-ounce jig tipped with a small plastic is all you need. Plastic tails are so efficient you can forget cold, wet hands from baiting with minnows, plus the time it takes to do so.

If I had to pick one plastic color, it would be the “Tennessee shad” pattern – an olive-green back with silver sides and belly. Place a tiny bobber a couple of feet above the jig and when it dips beneath the surface, set the hook. In many cases, wave action is all that’s needed to bounce the bobber and make the jig-and-plastic combo dance.

We all like to eat crappies, and many anglers believe the bigger the better. But in this day of better anglers and tackle and more wide-ranging patterns, entire year-classes can be wiped out from a lake. In the interest of better crappie fishing, remember to limit your take rather than take your limit.

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