How to locate black crappies

June 4, 2012

In an earlier post I recounted my attempt to find black crappies in shallow water in the early season and how I managed to catch only a few by casting around stumps in shallow bays. Turns out I should have left those males alone: they were guarding egg masses until the fry hatched.

Last evening on Newboro Lake I faced the ongoing problem that post-spawning schools are hard to find because they are very small and dense. There can be a couple of dozen fish or as many as a hundred in each, but it covers a very small portion of the surface of the lake, and crappies generally only strike at baits above their noses. This makes black crappies hard to find.

After a couple of unsuccessful trips I picked a cool, very quiet evening after two days of rain. The lake was like glass where I popped the trolling motor into the water. A school of minnows in the middle made quite a fuss on the surface, attracting not only my attention, but also that of a pair of loons who swam over in a leisurely manner.

I chased the school with the trolling motor, casting around it without success. Giving up, I moved closer to shore, looking for a drop-off near a weed bed.

At length I felt an indeterminate pressure on my line and it went sideways. That’s about as dramatic as a crappie strike gets: I had my first fish. The excitement of crappie fishing lies in locating them, and then keeping the paper-mouthed treasures on the line long enough to get them into the live well.

To cover a lot of water I had been using ¼ ounce jig heads with 3” vibrotails on 6 lb. monofilament on my lightest bait casting rig. Still not sure where the school lay (some estimate that casts must be within a 3’ radius to be effective against a crappie school), I stuck with the heavier jig. I also didn’t want to risk the bite turning off while I fought with my tackle box. The heavy jig may have limited my success, but over a half hour I managed to pull about a dozen large but skinny crappie out of the school. Only one was a male. The females had a few eggs in them, most likely next year’s embryos, but none had any food in their digestive tracts.

They started to strike as the school of minnows approached my weed bed. I think they must hear the confusion on the surface and emerge from hiding in the weeds to feed. Action was brisk as long as the minnows were in evidence. It shut off as soon as the bait had moved about a hundred yards away from my shoal.

So the problems in locating crappies are not only the small size of the schools, but also their tendency to lie in the weeds, unresponsive to lures, in anticipation of a school of minnows.

The crappies ranged from hand size to 11 ½”. Bet washed up fillets from eleven keepers. Not a bad evening’s work.

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