Finding the easy targets for spring fishing
Each spring Mother Nature goes through the annual routines of refreshing nature. The leaves are out, a few flowers have bloomed, morel mushrooms have been found and eaten, and yes, the panfishing is awesome right now.
Every spring, when the water gets to the ideal condition, crappies and bluegills take up hours and hours of angling time. This annual event is happening right now in central Iowa. All area lakes have had very good results of panfishing, especially when searching for crappies. The crappie movement from the deeper wintering areas to the shallows is in full swing.
Crappies are easy targets this time of year, the reason is that they swim in schools, and relate to the same cover for up to a couple of weeks. Crappies are in the shallows right now, you just need to search them out, and you can quickly have an excellent day of “catching.”
Before the catching part, let’s understand why these fish have made their annual swim to the shallows. There are two main reasons for this movement, food and spawning. The shallow waters of our lakes right now are teaming with insects, algae and smaller baitfish. This brings the crappies, and all other game fish, to the shallows to feed up. The water is warming, thus their bodies are warming and they need more nutrients to keep them functioning. The only way to do that is to eat more. Right now, the best place to eat is the shallows, so they are there. The other reason is for the spawn that will be happening very soon. Spawning for the crappies will take place anywhere in one to five feet of water in local lakes. Most often they will congregate around rocky or sandy areas of the lake. When fishing this time of year, keep in mind that most of the crappies will be doing some sort of job in the spawning process. Please consider throwing back as many as you can. This will allow them to do their spawning ritual, and create thousands of fish for future catches. Keep what you need for a meal, and throw the others back for another day.
As mentioned, a great place to start your looking is rocky and sandy areas of lakes. Crappies pick out these areas so their eggs have the best chance of survival. Remember, keying in on those shallow areas, and leaving the deeper areas out of your mind this time of year will help you catch more fish. Other areas to try this time of year include shallow woody cover. Crappies will hang around these also, as they provide a hiding place and wood always attracts food for the food web of a lake. Shallow brushpiles and trees that have fallen into the water are my number one choice this time of year, however, a sunny, rocky bank can be dynamite too.
Now that we understand the process of spawning and the logic behind it, it’s time to catch a few. My favorite bait for shallow crappies is a jig and bobber set-up. I like to use white when the water is clearer and black and chartreuse when the water is dirty. I use a standard jig head and then dress it with a similar colored twister tail or plastic chunk. I then set the bobber at the desired depth and start casting the shoreline. I normally start at one-foot, and then move it deeper if needed. I like to keep moving to many different places until I have found a school of crappies. By hitting many areas, I go to the fish, instead of letting the fish come to me, which in the spring of the year, fish usually stay in areas for a few weeks for the spawning ritual. I make several casts and vary my reeling speed. Some days a steady, but slow retrieve is fantastic, just barely moving the jig back ever-so-slowly is something crappies can’t stay away from. Another good method, especially when it is windy to pop the bobber. This technique “pops” the jig by quickly raising your rod tip. It brings the jig to the surface and then allows it so slowly sink back down the desired depth. Try different things until the crappies tell you what they like for the day.
Remember, the crappies are shallow right now for a reason, to keep the population strong by spawning. Keep what you need for meal, but please release all others back. Also, remember each licensed angler can keep 25 crappies a day, a law set by the DNR. Obey the rules of water, enjoy the beautiful spring weather and get out and go fishing!