Unseasonably warm weather in the Kawarthas this fall has really opened up opportunities for the “not so hardcore” angler to take advantage of some of the best fishing of the season without having to brave the elements. This time of year typically requires the angler to wear the thermal gear. Not the case so far! There is plenty of open water fishing still to be had and all species are biting exceptionally well in preparation for winter.
The region offers a multitude of angling opportunities and species to target. An often overlooked or underrated fishery present is that of the black Crappie. Not only are they present in the region in high numbers, but also in trophy size! A fish of 15” isnotuncommon, especially this time of the year. Not to mention they are considered one of the best eating fish available. While they are not as tightly grouped in schools during the fall as they are during the spring spawning season, once located they are not difficult to entice.
There are a few essentials that you’ll need to get started. A lake map or mapping device that includes the bottom contours of the lake that you will be fishing. This is imperative as we are looking for staging areas that these fish will hold to. Specifically we are looking for the first major “basin” adjacent to the spawning grounds. Nine times out of ten the bottom type will be a soft mud. All of the baitfish in the area will migrate to this bottom type in search of food and as such the Crappie follow suit. The Basin will be much deeper water in comparison to surrounding waters. Often 20 feet or more in depth.
Once you have located this area, a depth/fish finder is required. I will simply idle over the basin in a zig-zag pattern until I start marking fish on my graph, making note of the position within the water column they are holding as often times they will be suspended at a specific depth.
Now that we have located some fish, it is time to discuss bait and tackle options. I prefer a 7’ ultra-light action spinning rod paired with a small 1000 sized spinning reel spooled with 5lb braided line. My preference is to use a braided line for its sensitivity, especially when fishing for light biting deep fish. I tie a 3 lb fluorocarbon leader to my braided line, in various lengths depending on the technique used as this has increased my success considerably given the fluorocarbons transparency.
It is important to remember that Crappies feed “up”, meaning they eat bait that is in front of, or directly above them. That being said, a presentation of your bait of choice should be above the fish marked on your fish finder. Due to the feeding nature of this fish, bites feel different from your typically rattling panfish strike. In most cases you will feel the fish bump slack into your line. Don’t wait to feel the weight of the fish when this happens. Remember, it has pushed your bait upwards, by the time you feel the weight of the fish they will have often spit it back out, so set the hook right away!
When selecting the appropriate bait I tend to lean towards slightly larger than what would be considered normal panfish-sized offerings. Keep in mind that we are at the tail end of the open water season and all of this year’s baitfish are fully grown in size.
There are several effective techniques to be utilized when targeting crappie during late fall. My personal preference is a vertical presentation. Instead of casting and retrieving, I will sit directly above the fish I am targeting and drop my offering down to them. My top three choices are all baitfish imitations and include;
A 2 1/4-inch soft plastic paired with a 1/16 oz jig head. I will drop this bait down to the fish and gently twitch the offering about 12 inches above them.
A small spoon. I keep colors simple. Gold or silver usually does the trick. I will drop this down to the fish and give it slight snaps of the wrists to make it flutter directly above them.
One of my absolute favorites is a drop shot rig paired with a 1/4-ounce weight and small soft plastic bait. I love this rig because I can set the tag end weight depth according to the depth I am marking fish, ensuring I am presenting the bait slightly above the fish. I drop this down and quiver it ever so slightly to entice a lot of bites!
Late Fall Crappie fishing is a lot of fun and there are several terrific lakes within the region that should be on your list to visit. My top three lakes for the best Crappie fishing are:
Be sure to add these to you list of “must fish” locations for fall Crappies this year. Your next trophy “Slab” awaits!
Fishing during the month of May here in the Ontario Kawartha’s Northumberland region is truly an exciting time of year for any angler. The trees are finally starting to show their leaves, birds are returning from their southern seasonal residence and the lakes and rivers seem to be buzzing with fish activity.
This particular trip was no different. Aside from the nasty approaching cold front we were seemingly caught directly in the middle of. Let’s take a trip back to the previous weekend… A weekend that yielded beautiful warm weather, moderate winds and great company from a couple of very old friends.
We had planned to target Pike during this trip but upon launching the boat I quickly discovered that I had forgotten to load my two carry on tackle bags. The bags that literally contained ALL of my Pike fishing arsenal. We made due with what we happened to have tied on and landed half a dozen nice Pike before deciding to venture to the other end of the lake to check “the spot” in hopes that the Crappie had moved in.
Now.. Most of you have caught crappies.. And in most cases they are in numbers in shallow back bays this time of year. A pile of cookie cutter fish in the 10-12″ range with the occasional 13+ incher. Always a great time! This particular lake is different. The fish behave the same for the most part. Suspend in the basin during the ice season, stage prior to spawn and move shallow when the time is right. But they are not in the big schools that we are spoiled by in most other lakes in the region. They are in pairs here. Pairs or at best 2 males and 1 female. And they are massive!! Every single one of them have the biggest set of shoulders I have ever seen. Average fish is 15″ in length and two inches wide at the shoulders. And they get bigger with fish in the 16 and even 17″ range! That’s right! I said it! 17 inches of leviathan crappie! I can remember the first time I ever saw one.. It was paired up with an 18″ largemouth bass cruising in “the spot”… I did a double take! I naturally assumed initially that it was also a bass given its size and proximity to the largemouth it had befriended. “That’s a crappie!!” I said loudly. My fishing partner at the time questioned my comment until we saw them again. Just cruising around the area. Literally the biggest Crappie I had ever laid eyes on.
On this day.. They were “in”. And by that I mean they were present in “the spot” in numbers. We eased in fan casting the area with very light and small plastics when it happened! I set the hook into what felt like bottom until the head shakes started and up came her head and body to the surface! A THICK 15+ inch female found the bottom of our net to which both of my old friends jaws dropped and almost in unison they said “that is the biggest crappie I have ever seen!” The Talons were deployed and we continued to fan cast the area landing PB after PB all the while loading the live-well in an attempt to not spook the targets. A day none of us will soon forget. After posing for a few photos we promptly released each and every one in the exact place we removed them from in an effort to preserve this anomaly. I’m not averse to keeping a few fish for a meal but believe me when I tell you. These were not eaters. These were breeders for a very small and fragile population.
Needless to say we planned to come back the following weekend to further enjoy these monsters before they evacuated the area. And wouldn’t you know it. The night before our trip back to slab town played host to the first BIG cold front of the season. I’m talking about a 15 to 20 degree swing in air temp which yielded wind, rain, and a decrease in water temp of approx. 10 degrees.. Shallow fish and cold front do not mix well! So.. We decided to give it a shot. A day on the water is better than a day of work right?!
The original hand poured X ZONE SHIVER SHAD The X Zone SHIVER SHAD minnow profile is world famous for catching monster smallmouth, walleye for both recreation and tournament anglers alike. Hand-poured and salt impregnated for incredible action and fish holding ability. Drop shot it or rig it with your favorite jig head.
Matzuo’s® DropShot Swivel Hook features a swivel in the eye, that allows the hook to rotate completely around 360 degrees without creating any line twist attracting fish to strike. Our super Sharp point allows for deeper hook penetration and holds fish firmly. The Drop Shot Hook provides the most in a natural presentation.
Off we went.. Questioning our decision from the get go as the wind and rain seemed to worsen as we reached our destination. Not to mention the temperature also seemed to be dropping even more so. We made our way to “the spot” only to find that the fish had seemingly left the area. Insert sad face. Until! I spotted one hugging bottom at the base of an emergent Lilly pad. After quite literally swimming my bait in front of her face for what seemed like an eternity she finally tentatively accepted the offering and she was in the net. This led us to believe that our methods from the previous weekend (fan casting and swimming plastics) would not suffice this time around. The fish were relating to available cover and tight to the bottom. This brought me to quickly tie up a rig that I typically use for Smallmouth bass fishing during the tournament season. A drop shot rig. I knew this would allow me to place the bait with precision in and around the newly emergent lily pads in the area that seemed to be holding the fish. Not only was I able to place the offering exactly where it needed to be, but I could also impart action to entice the strike while pounding the bait directly on the spot instead of making the fish chase. They wouldn’t come to me, so I went to them! And boy did it pay off!! This was exactly what the Dr ordered! Fish after fish hit the deck nearly matching the performance we had put on the weekend prior! The ability to stay back off the fish and place the offering on their nose and leaving it there was just what they needed.. Just a little extra time to have a look and cruise on up for the take.
Don’t stay home on the nasty days! Get out there! Enjoy this beautiful region! And change your approach to match the mood of your targeted species! A drop shot is a fantastic choice for pressured or neutral fish everywhere. Don’t be afraid to use it on all species!
Spring in the Kawartha’s Northumberland region is a magical time of year for anglers. After packing away the ice fishing gear, multispecies anglers like myself are constantly watching conditions to anticipate their next bite. As the ice disappears and the water starts to warm it is as though the entire lake comes back to life within those first few warm days of spring. At the same time the nearby
‘Continuing to notice the subtleties of the technique we were using, we were watching the fish hit the bait while it was falling. A quick rip and pause was the deal and we took full advantage, filling the livewell with eaters and releasing a few big slabs.”
great lakes tributaries begin to rumble as the spring steelhead migration begins. It truly is an exciting time to be a fisherman!
With the abundance of long awaited angling opportunities, I find myself facing decisions about how I will make the most of my time on the water. Do I throw the boat in and invade the shallows in search of slab crappies? Maybe the pike are on a hot jerkbait bite?! And I hear the steelhead are smashing nymphs… the choices!!!
“We tried changing colours, depths, weights and anything we could to try to dial in the bite. But we did not catch fish, in fact we were watching the big slabs swim up to our bait and blatantly refuse! It was frustrating to say the least”
It was one of those warm sunny days of spring that I decided to go out in pursuit of crappie. My partner and I slowly and quietly drifted my boat into the shallow bay where I suspected to find our targeted species. We were not disappointed as we could see their ghostly silhouettes sitting among the mats of thick weeds and dead leaves from last fall. We had a typical panfish float style setup.
Nothing too fancy, just a little tube rigged under a light bobber. We cast amongst the vegetation and watched as our floats sat still. We tried changing colours, depths, weights and anything we could to think of to dial in the bite. But we did not catch fish, in fact we were watching the big slabs swim up to our bait and blatantly refuse! It was frustrating to say the least.
Our success changed drastically when we abandoned the float, and began casting light plastic baits into the weeds. The fish were interested in the horizontal presentation, and were much happier to chase and smash the fast moving bait, than they were to eat the spoon fed option under the float. Continuing to notice the subtleties of the technique we were employing we took notice of the fact that the fish hit the bait while it was falling. A quick rip and pause was the deal and we took full advantage, filling the livewell with eaters and releasing a few big slabs.
The fish turned out to be more active than I had anticipated, and it was nice to dial in the bite, however I couldn’t help but feel like if I had an even lighter jig, it would hold the bait there that much longer…Perhaps it may have even led to a few more bites that day. Who knows? It turned out to be a great day, filled with hooksets and good times.
The next day I woke up feeling satisfied with my crappie haul from the previous day. I was in the mood to feel some weight on the end my fly rod and headed to the river in search of fresh chrome steelhead. The river was high and dirty with all the spring runoff, and although I’m sure the river was loaded with fish, I didn’t catch any.
But something happened that day while I was on the river. I was drifting my woolly bugger through a pool that had more current than usual. I noticed my fly was suspending in the water, but not getting down into the depths of the pool. As I stood there staring into the mesmerizing flow, my imagination wandered and I couldn’t help but daydream about the crappie I had caught the day before. Staring at the slow moving fly, gently falling through the water, all I could do was picture a big crappies mouth opening up to devour that fly.
“Staring at the slow moving fly, gently falling through the water, all I could do was picture a big crappies mouth open up and devour that fly.”
My fly rod was still in the truck from the steelhead adventure and was the first thing I grabbed while launching the boat the next day. I slowly crept back into the bay, and with the grace of a ballerina gently landed my big green bug into the big school of crappies. They were still hanging out in the same clump of weeds, in the same bay, just waiting for me to return! The excitement got real as I
Kypefish Woolly Buggers are all Hand-Tied to perfection on Quality Hooks. The great thing about using Woolly Buggers is that they are extremely versatile in their presentation and what source of bait you would like to try to mimic. Depending on how they are fished they can mimic: Cray Fish, Minnows and Leaches making them a great fly to use for almost EVERY SPECIES and should be in every anglers fly box! They can also be used while Fly Fishing or Float Fishing.
watched a huge crappie dart out from a clump of weeds and snatch up the big bug. Fish on!
I am not a professional fly fisherman by any means. I am just an angler that likes to have fun and catch as many fish as I can. I get a kick out of switching things up and thinking outside the box. But as the day went on, I was growing more and more in love with catching these big crappie on the fly. It was an absolute blast. The fly was the perfect bait to balance the crappies preference for a horizontal moving bait with a dead slow fall. I got bit on almost every cast for several hours that day. By the end of it, my big green bug had been pulverized and was nothing more than some loose string and a couple feathers.
“On the business end I ran floating line with a 5` lead of 8lbs test, followed by 12” of 5lbs fluorocarbon. “
The setup I used was simple, and could be done by anybody with simple fly gear. A 6 weight fly rod worked for me that day, but I’m sure you could get away with a lighter rod. It was nice to have a little extra stiffness in the rod to pull fish from heavy cover. On the business end I ran floating line with a 5` lead of 8lbs test, followed by 12” of 5lbs fluorocarbon. A handful of simple flies is all you need, I would suggest a few natural colours like black and olive, and also a few bright bugs like chartreuse or pink. Be sure to bring your fly rod along for your next Crappie outing. Give it a try! you won’t be disappointed!
Aaron Jolicouer- Exist To Fish Canada Writer. Aaron is a true multi species angler. His love for fishing has been prominent his entire life. And that passion holds true today. Aaron is an absolute Muskie Fanatic!! This is his true love and he spends countless hours chasing these true Giants.
Well it’s that time of the year again. The boats are put away for the winter as the ice starts to form.
With Christmas around the corner, many of us are starting to think about what we would like for Christmas or are looking for gift ideas for friends or family.
If you are anything like the Exist To Fish Staff, you probably lost a few baits this year.
We are all excited about new and existing fishing product’s that we have not had an opportunity to purchase or test out. They just were not in your budget at the time or perhaps you are thinking about trying a new lure this winter or in 2016!!
I asked the Staff at Exist to Fish what they where going to ask Santa for this year.
Here are the top picks on their wish list!
Dean Schenk : “On my Xmas wish list would be a pair of Smith Backdrop sunglasses to protect my eyes when on the water and ice”.
A perfect medium-sized complement to the Touchstone, the Backdrop incorporates the same great features like stainless steel spring hinges and megol contact surfaces at the nose and temple tips. ChromaPop™ polarized lenses provide the highest level of enhanced color and clarity, or choose Techlite glass lenses for unparalleled optics and scratch resistance.
“Also a tube of liquid mayhem walleye attractant in my stocking as I use it on the hard water all winter”.
Made with real minnows in a super concentrated form. Contains natural baitfish enzymes infused with powerful amino acids and other bite stimulants
formulated to target a fishes olfactory glands and trigger big strikes. Fish hold on to artificial bait longer meaning more hooks ups and more fish in the boat
No mess formula stays on the bait, not in the boat. Super concentrated. A tiny amount goes a long way.
Mike Lamoureux : “I would like the EzCam post. I would love to have the EzCam mounted to my boat to give me the extra camera angle for my fishing videos with my Go Pro!”
The EzCam Post is the worlds PREMIER universal camera mount. It will work with any camera, smartphone, and/or camera accessory. It will secure to any object up to 3” in diameter and telescopes from 27” to 6’ in height. Not only will you be able to capture stunning pictures and videos, it will protect your camera from falling over. Perfect for use in boats by attaching to seat pedestals, simple and quick to set-up and use. The mounting plate has a reversible thread, 1/4″-20 and 3/8″-16 like any good tripod or monopod, so you can be sure any camera or accessory can be mounted to it.
Chris Huskilson : “I would like a underwater fishing camera!! I can think of a million different situations where I would use this! Having the ability to mark fish on my graph and drop a camera down to identify the species would be a huge benefit! This Camera, from Pyle, looks incredible! And is very reasonably priced in comparison to other models out there.”
Take Pictures and Record Videos Underwater in Color
Drop the Camera in the Water and See Where the Fish are Hiding
Waterproof Marine Grade Camera
3.5” inch Digital LCD Display
Instantly Preview your Videos and Picture on the LCD Monitor
Durable, Reinforced & Submergible Wired Camera
Infrared LED Night Vision Sensors Illuminate Dark Environments
Camera Cable Sinks up to 15 Meters Deep
Micro SD Memory Card Slot
Easily Save Files and Transfer to PC or Mac
System Includes Wired Camera, LCD Display, Display Holder, Pole Mounting Brackets and Charging Cable
Observe Underwater Fish Behavior and Environments Camera:
30 Mega Pixel Wide Angle Lens
Built-in IR LED Night Vision Illumination
Resolution: 640 x 380
Image Sensor: ¼” inch
Size: 0.8” x 1.0” inches
Weight: 0.35 g
Operating Temperature: -10 to 40 Celsius LCD Display:
Screen Size: 3.5 inches
4X Digital Zoom Function
Resolution: 960 x 240
Backlight Brightness: 300cd
Protective Flip-Open Cover
Universal Threaded Mounting Insert
Easy Operation Touch Button Controls
Display Housing (L x W x H): 4.2” x 3.0” x 1.9” inches
Weight: 150 g
Sold as: 1 set
Weight: 1.26 lbs.
Jamie Wilson: “One item I truly want from Santa this year is, without a doubt, several packs of Lake Fork Trophy Lures’ “Live Magic Shads”This segmented plastic swimbait has an amazing and very unique action, along with exceptional durability and a great line of colors. With the ice fishing season just around the corner I have to start gearing up so I’m ready for big, hungry Lake Trout. Then when summer comes, there’s nothing better than a swimbait to fire up big Bass. So come on Santa I’ve been a good boy this year, a couple in every color in both 3.5″ and 4″, regular and boot tail please! P.S- come down from the North Pole anytime and I’ll put you on some big fish!”
live magic shad
Our New Boot Tail Magic Shad Swimbaits feature a “Boot Tail” design that utilizes an innovative tail combined with the patented swim slots of our “Live” Magic Shad Lure. The slots in the tail enhance the lure’s realistic swimming action-especially at slower speeds used for umbrella rigs, jigheads, Carolina rigs, or swimbait hook rigging. Hook slots on top and bottom aid in weedless hook rigging.
Quantity per Package
Alex Meletis: “I would absolutely like my go to bait weather it be trolling or casting for both muskies and pike. The Shallow Invader from Musky Innovations They provide a color chart, so any pattern is possible. Why I want these is because I know they catch fish in all conditions and are a reliable and durable bait.”
LURE DESCRIPTION: TheShallow Invaderis one of the most innovative shallow crankbaits on the market today. This “hybrid” lure combines a hard plastic crankbait head with a hand-poured, soft plastic action body and tail. This knockout combination creates incredible serpentine action that drives large gamefish crazy. The tail is replaceable. If it gets chewed up or you want to change colors, changing it is a snap. Pull the tail straight back until it pulls off the tail post. Push your new tail on the post until the rib on the back of the head is seated on the ridge in the tail. You can add some super glue for an even stronger hold.
LURE SPECIFICATIONS: TheShallow Invaderis 9″ long and is about 2 oz. It has extra strong 3/0 wide gap hooks for best hook-ups. It comes in many different fish catching colors for all your angling needs. TheShallow Invaderruns 2-4 feet and is a lethal twitch bait.
HOW TO FISH THE INVADER: Use theShallow Invaderin all shallow crankbait/twitchbait situations. Cast or troll on shallow flats, rocky points, mid lake reefs, and over the tops of weedbeds. TheShallow Invadercan be used as a very effective twitch bait. A good technique is to pause several times in mid retrieve. Because the lure floats when stopped, it is very effective in the weeds. It imitates an injured bait fish often drawing strikes from even fickle gamefish.
Matt Arrigo : “I would love to add a Deeper Sonar to my arsenal this coming season.”
Deeper – smart sonar is a first of its kind, portable, wireless fish finder that utilizes technology on your smart phone or tablet. Specially designed for amateur and professional fishermen.
2.6″/ 6.5 cm diameter
From iOS 5.0 and Android 2.3 to the latest iOS and Android devices
0.22 lb/ 100 grams
Wireless Bluetooth connection
Up to ~140 ft – 160 ft/ ~40-50 meters. Depends on the OS and smartphone model.
Depth Range Max/Min:
130 ft (40 m) / wide angle – 4.3 ft (1.3 m); narrow angle – 2 ft (0.5 m)
Water temperature Sensor
Celsius / Fahrenheit
-4F to 104F/ -20C to 40C
Lithium Polymer, 3.7V Rechargeable; lasts for 6 hours of non stop usage; takes 2 hours to fully charge.
Shelley Langley: “The best and most functional item under her Christmas tree would be an Eclipse UPF 50+ shirt to protect my skin from the sun while fishing.”
Keep an eye on Eclipse for an exciting new product launch coming soon.
Eclipse is a Canadian company offering UPF 50+ clothing to protect against the sun’s harmful rays. After being cleared of skin cancer back in January of 2014, I decided to protect myself against further damage by creating a line of apparel that offers UPF 50+ with high quality fabric. Eclipse products are Made in Canada and offer protection through the fabric and not a chemical coating. The current product line is a generous size that accommodates both men and women that want protection from the sun while outdoors. More products including long sleeves will be available soon.
Colin Booth: “I have had my eye on Eco Pro Tungsten for some time now and would love to add some of their products to my arsenal. I love to flip plastics so their tungsten bullet weights are an easy pick for me!”
Eco Pro Tungsten Flippin Weights
Eco Pro Tungstenweights are 97% pure eco friendly tungsten. Fray Free, insert free and lead free,Eco Pro Tungstenweights offer serious advantages over lead.Eco Pro Tungstencast farther and more accurately than lead. Actually feel what you have been missing! Smaller, dense tungsten is super sensitive, allowing you to detect more strikes and catch’s more fish while greatly reducing hang ups! Special “seal coat” painting resist chips and scratches.
“Nobody makes all the cool colors thanEco Pro Tungstendoes. They allow me to match my weights with my favorite plastics!”
David Reid: “I would like nothing more than some more Rod Sox. With their proprietary unique feature, a snag proof, hook resistant rubber type mouth makes loading and unloading my rods quick and easy.”
Breathable– Rod Sox can go on wet or dry equipment. The breathable mesh allows air to easily pass through allowing any moisture out and drying your rod and line.
Safety Tip– The hardened tip of our Rod Sox protects the last guide/tip of rod from the wear and tear of placing or removing rods from rod lockers or any type of storage.
Durable Tag– With the addition of a hang hole in the new, durable, rubber tag, rods can now be “hung up” for storage, a great and safe way to save room and keep your rod out of harm’s way laying or leaning elsewhere. After the Rod Sox is completely seated on the rod, a gently tug on the rubber “mouth” will “Lock” the Rod Sox in place, and it won’t slip off. When it’s time to go fishing, a simple push of the mouth upwards releases the “lock” and the Rod Sox will just slide right off.
Easy Identification– The hard tip is wrapped with a color tape indicating the length of the rod it fits so that you can easily tell your rods apart and know which Rod Sox go on what rod when ready for storage. (For Example: green tip tape is for a 6’6″ rod, while red tip = 7′ rod, etc…)
Tangle Free– Avoid the tangling of rods and line when carrying gear to and from the water.
Mesh Density– The Original Rod Sox have the densest mesh of any rod protector on the market. This makes them more durable over time, improves the protection of your rod, and allows a tighter weave for added safety of rod guides, especially microguides.
Improved Mouth– The new and improved pliable, rubber-type “mouth” on the bottom end of the Rod Sox seals the mesh from fraying or unrolling, as well as protects the rod paint from any scratching from open mesh. In addition, the rubber mouth provides about a 1 3’4″ protective barrier between the hook and the mesh to prevent lure hang-ups.
Since I only asked the Team for a couple of products that they would like to have, as I know their wish list would have been too long for this article longer, Please visithttp://existtofish.ca/and check out our Product Reviews and Articles for more ideas.
From all of us at Exist To Fish Canada, Merry Christmas and may your Holiday season be joyous and safe.
Okay folks, the ice is out, and typical nesting areas are beginning to swell in most areas of the north, so let’s wet your appetite for the highly sought after and often elusive black crappie.
Where are they now? When will they be on their nests? When will they move out to deeper water? Let’s look at the factors that will determine the pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn locations of crappie and of course, how to tempt these attractive, tasty “slabs”.
Although black crappie can adapt to a wide variety of habitats, they are structure/cover oriented fish when these elements are available. In natural lakes and rivers, black crappie relate to available aquatic vegetation, especially when this element is adjacent to break lines, points, sunken islands and humps. They can however thrive in any environment, even controlled waterways such as reservoirs and canals that are devoid of aquatic vegetation. In these bodies of water, flooded timber will be the preferred cover. One thing to note is that black crappie and their cousins (white crappie) favor areas absent of current. As far as bottom composition is concerned, these fish prefer muddy or sandy substrates and, depending on water temperature, clarity, seasonal movements and available forage, black crappie can inhabit depths ranging from 1-50+ feet throughout the year.
What’s On The Menu
By nature, black crappie will show a propensity to actively feed in the low light conditions of the early morning and late into nightfall, particularly between 12-2:00 am. On the other hand, they will show short windows of activity throughout the day and will be particularly more susceptible to your offerings during the spawning period as they become increasingly defensive and reactionary. Immature crappie will forage upon emerging insects, plankton and minuscule crustaceans while larger mature crappie lean towards small fish (fingerlings), shad (if available) and minnows such as emerald and golden shiners etc. It is also said that adult black crappie will also consume larger volumes of insects, small invertebrates and crustaceans compared to white crappie.
As the winter comes to an end, runoff and longer photoperiods will push black crappie to staging grounds in preparation for the spawn. This is a transitional period that will last until prime locations become ideal for their annual spawn.
Black crappie are known to actively forage throughout the winter season, so there isn’t a necessity for a sudden feeding frenzy in early spring before the spawn. This factor can make pre-spawn a challenge, along with the fact that they are out in open water, thus harder to locate. The use of electronics is paramount here as they are suspended in deeper water (especially mid-day) and positioned below schools of baitfish which can be spotted using sonar. This pre-spawn area can be defined as the first transitional depth change adjacent to preferred spawning grounds.
Chris Huskilson and well-traveled Kawartha angler Aaron Jolicoeur both venture out in search of black crappie during the spring, as do I, so let’s break it down for you.
Chris explains “with water temps around 48-50 degrees, these fish are positioned just outside the prime shallow spawning areas. In my go-to lakes, black crappie are suspended in 15’ of water in thick schools. I catch active fish on a 1/32oz jig paired with a Lake Fork trophy Lures ‘Baby Shad’ with a mild coating of Liquid Mayhem ‘Garlic Minnow’ attractant”. Chris will locate and then mark the school of crappie on the sonar, drop a waypoint on his GPS unit and then he will simply back off and retrieve the chosen rig through the school. He continues “as the bite tapers off/slows down I will switch to a jig and float system consisting of a 1/16oz Lake Fork ‘Sickle Rig’ paired with the same ‘Baby Shad’. These fish are very finicky, so to up the odds I’ll mold a pinch of Fizards attractant onto the jighead. I’ll run this bait 7’ under a float, which keeps it in the strike zone of the suspended crappie”. Other bait options for myself include both weighted and un-weighted streamer flies such as ‘woolly buggers’, ‘clousers’ and any other minnow imitations.
The breeding season will differ geographically as black crappie are so widely distributed. Spawning occurs shortly after water temperatures reach 55 degrees with optimal temps being about 58-68 degrees. Males will fan the nest in mud, sand or gravel, in close proximity to the shoreline, in the most
protected areas near timber and/or active vegetation. Females drop their eggs and males will then guard the nest until the eggs hatch within 3-5 days. The newly hatched larvae are approximately 2.32mm long and appear translucent. These offspring will remain under the watchful eye of the male for several days before moving to the shallow protected waters such as flooded timber, vegetation and undercut banks.
To target them, keep in mind that once water temps hit 55 degrees, black crappie will stack up in the shallows. This is when most anglers begin to go after them. Chris Huskilson explains “they will stack up on laydowns and overhanging timber, over a mud bottom which is the key, and will also use vegetation and undercuts during the afternoon periods. Also, the north shore of the lake is the perfect place to look as waters will warm faster there”.
In this situation/spawning period, Chris likes to swim the same baits he leans on in the pre-spawn, as opposed to float fishing as he finds it more exciting to feel the aggressive strikes indicative to spawning crappie. Also, Aaron Jolicoeur makes a great point about this. “Sometimes taking the float off and sight fishing for the bigger fish is the deal. I often spot bigger crappie sitting lower in the school. To get access to these larger fish, I will cast over the school and let the bait sink down past the ankle biters. I can then retrieve the bait, targeting the bigger fish”. Aaron favors micro-jigs, hair-jigs and marabou jigs in this case. To present these rigs, a 7’ medium light rod, paired with a 1000 series spinning reel spooled with 6-8lb braid tied to a 4-5-6lb fluorocarbon leader will be sufficient. Chris favors Power Pro braid and has been using Lake Fork Trophy Lures leader material.
Post-Spawn and Beyond
Once crappie are finished procreating, they will transition back out into the depths to suspend. This post spawn period can be challenging as these fish will occupy a much greater expanse of water. Large tightly woven schools are the norm so the use of sonar
will become more important. Spotting bait balls and schools of crappie in open water is the game plan so do not be intimidated, it will simply take more time to locate them. But before you decide to head out to the main-lake basin, stop off at the first depth transition that the crappie were staging on before the spawn. Use the same tactics associated with pre-spawn such as long leads from the floats to the bait and so on. Keep in mind, some of the males will potentially show a negative response but those larger females may be ready to engorge themselves on bait until the cows come home so don’t put your gear away and give up. You might just catch them moving out before they arrive at the great blue yonder.
Once they hit their summer spots, all bets are off. As the water warms to 70 degrees and above, you can bet that black crappie will then occupy much deeper water columns. Look at your electronics very closely throughout the day then return to adjacent shallow water to where you have marked them on the aforementioned low light feeding locations.
It seems like a large undertaking but really, it isn’t. The best way to be an effective crappie angler is to understand their movements throughout the year. Take this information that Chris, Aaron and yours truly shared today and run with it. Trust me, it’s worth it.
See you out there.
Exist To Fish Canada Lead Writer/Editor Jamie Wilson
Well, here we go. Time is running out on this hard water season but don’t you worry, some of the best action you will experience will take place during the late ice period.
It has been said that crappie are elusive yet easy to catch once located. During mid-winter, they can school up and be suspended just about anywhere (or nowhere it seems), but, during the late ice period something favorable happens. What you ask? The predictability level of these tasty, handsome fish hits a boiling point.
Location, Location, Location
Crappies spawn in the spring, which becomes a key factor when locating them at this time of year. River/creek mouths and adjacent shallow weedy bays/flats are the preferred areas for procreating crappie. Now, are all creek mouths created equally? No. The presence of abundant aquatic vegetation is of utmost importance. An area of a lake that has both of these features at late ice can usually be found on the north shore of a lake. Healthy green weeds usually flourish in late fall, and ultimately throughout the winter because of the longer photo-period/longer growing season indicative of a south facing shoreline.
As the ice begins to melt, along with runoff from shorelines and the ensuing current from the adjacent creeks and rivers, crappie will begin a migration to these areas to stage. As with most species, pre-spawn is their opportunity to feed up before a taxing spawning period. These are the areas to concentrate your efforts upon from now until the post spawn period in spring. Trust me.
Choices: Hard bait/live bait and plastics
There are many different styles of baits an angler can have in their repertoire including live minnows and plastics on jig heads, various hard baits along with combinations of both with many rigging options.
As far as hard baits go, small ‘Buckshot’ rattling spoons (and a mainstay in ice angler’s tackle boxes) the ‘Jiggin’ Rap’ (Rapala) is still very popular and effective. One little trick you can apply is replacing the split ring with a small snap. This gives you the ability to remove the treble, and tip it with a real minnow head. Just clip off the head, thread it onto the hook shank and re-attach the treble back onto the lure and viola, you have the scent, look and feel of live bait without having to constantly re-rig. Also, I like adding extra scent to the mix. I have had success adding Fizards, which is moldable/pliable scent that smells of natural minnows, with a bubbling, fizzing reaction in the water. I molded this attractant to the rear single hook on the ‘Jiggin’ Rap’, which definitely put a few more crappie on the right side of the ice. Another great lure for more aggressive crappie is the smallest ‘Rippin’ Rap’. The same treble/minnow head modification can be applied to this lure as well.
Also, there are times that a larger profile will tempt crappie. Cutting a live minnow in half and rigging it onto any of these baits can be effective as it will leave a much larger scent trail as well. As far as colors are concerned, bright and gaudy usually rules the day. Firetiger, chartreuse and orange bellied perch imitating patterns are a great starting point, with shiner and shad patterns rounding things out so have an array of choices with you.
Plastics can be very effective as well. Micro or ‘panfish’ tubes and micro grubs have their place along with small minnow imitations. One very fine minnow imitator some of us have come across is the 2 ¼” ‘Baby Shad’ which is a part of the Lake Fork Trophy Lures crappie line. This bait has a very natural action, with many colors to choose from that mimic a wide variety of forage. Simply thread these plastics onto a very light, 1/32oz-1/16oz jig head, or if you prefer, a darter head. With this bait, an attractant can be added, in this case in the form of a liquid. Liquid Mayhem Attractants has a garlic minnow scent that can be applied sparingly with long lasting, very effective results. This attractant can be applied to both hard and soft baits and is made with real live bait, so in combination with any of these plastics or lures, you can be very efficient thus maximizing your time fishing rather than re-rigging ad nauseam.
One constant that seems to remain when presenting all types of baits/lures to crappie is the subtle jigging motion I like to refer to as “feathering”. The fact is that crappie like to suspend over weed tops and tend to feed upward, so once you position yourself in these pre-spawn staging areas, you should use your electronics to spot crappie over this cover. Drop your offering down to the fringe of these weeds, jig up and down a few times, then simply reel the bait up to a few feet below the hole, then ever so slightly bounce/feather the bait until a hungry crappie swims up for the kill. If the bite is slow, just repeat this process until you trigger a school, and always consider running and gunning the entire area until you find the sweet spot.
As far as depth is concerned, crappie will be relating to shallower water at this time of year. While it is possible that they may pull out to the closest main break mid-day, the active schools can be found in depths no more than 7-10ft, especially during the dusk transition. You can expect to catch large numbers when presenting the baits discussed here, utilizing the vibrating, ‘feathering’ action suspended 3-4ft (mid water column) in these shallow depths.
Targeting these light biting fish requires light equipment. A 28” ultra-light, fast tip rod, coupled with a 1000 series spinning reel spooled with 4-6lb test braid or Fireline, paired with a light 4-6lb fluorocarbon leader is the ticket. Using a heavier action rod/line combo will inhibit your ability to feel the light bite indicative to crappie and other panfish. Are electronics a must? I believe so. Crappie are chasers so having the ability to spot them as they are stalking your bait will up your odds. Without the knowledge of how they are reacting to your offering, you are basically leaving it to chance. If you can get your hands on a color sonar do so, as these units will give you a clearer picture of bottom transitions/composition and higher quality units give a real time representation of movements, and of course, arcs (fish). A simple flasher is also useful as well. I’ve used flashers on fish like lake trout and walleye with good results, so if this is what you have access to you are good to go.
There you have it – baits, locations, presentation and equipment. That being said, please keep in mind that we are talking about late ice. Always be aware of ice thickness/conditions and take precautions when venturing out in search of these fine fish. DO NOT risk your safety for a bent rod and some fillets for the table. Spring is upon us so it won’t be long until you can wet a line in open water. Get out and enjoy the rest of this hard water season because time is tickin’.
See you out there.
Jamie Wilson-Exist To Fish Canada Head Writer/Editor