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
Targeting Spring Perch: Written By Shelley Langley
Spring has sprung, and another soft water season begins. Before our northern sportfish seasons open up, what shall we do? I’ve got a great idea for you, how about targeting yellow perch in their easy to locate shallow spawning areas.
Taking a drive down to the boat ramp, I could see that the ice on Lake Erie is starting to melt and once again displays the banks of the shore. One of my favorite species to target in spring is the yellow perch. As soon as the ice booms are removed and the ramps are cleared, I head out to the Eastern basin of Lake Erie for the spring spawn of perch.
Perch come into shallow water and spawn at night and early morning to lay their eggs. They spawn once a year in shallow areas of lakes and low current tributaries. Perch do not nest, rather, they lay gelatinous egg mass “strings” over dense vegetation, roots/fallen trees/flooded timber in wetlands, and other substrate such as sand, gravel and man-made structures such as rip-rap, docks etc.
Perch’s eggs contain a chemical “sheath” that is said to make them very undesirable and rarely get eaten by other fish. In this case, Lake Erie has a sandy bottom which makes it ideal conditions for perch, with dusk periods being the best times to get to the spawning areas to achieve one’s daily limit if that’s what you’re after. If you do not have the luxury of getting on the lake in the early morning or just before dusk, I have had success in water as deep as 50+ft during the daylight hours.
As a tournament angler, my fishing season entails using predominately lures or plastics as live bait is forbidden in order to catch fish during the tournaments. Whereas in this case, before I head out in the morning to target perch, I make a visit to my local bait and tackle shop for live minnows, preferably emerald shiners, to use as bait. If minnows are not available, I like to use the Vok Flasher Minnow 3″ as they have a “life-like” appearance. Since perch have a smaller mouth, smaller hooks are used and I use Mustad snell hooks. One trick I find effective is to rig the minnow through the dorsal fin which has lots of action and helps to keep the feel of the minnow.
Other effective rigs are micro/panfish tubes under a float and panfish sized grubs both rigged onto very light 1/32oz-1/16oz jigheads. I set these up on a 6’9″ St. Croix medium-light extra fast action rod paired with a Shimano Stradic CI4 Plus spinning reel spooled with 4-6lb fireline or braid tied to a 4lb fluorocarbon leader or a simple 4lb fluorocarbon mainline. The combination of this rod/reel/line is ultra-lightweight and allows for great sensitivity. Also, a simple technique of drop-shotting with a weight and light jigs off the bottom will contact these fish.
The perch stay down, spawning in the sandy bottom. They are very light biters so a soft tug/weight on the line will be your only indicator that perhaps you have a fish on. Other presentations to note are multi-hook spreaders rigged with emerald shiners, and even flies such as streamers and a particular fly known as the “superglue buzzer”. Light versions of different walleye rigs and modified Carolina style rigs have been known to be effective as well while still utilizing light panfish type of tackle.
The use of electronics when targeting perch will always prove effective as last year my Humminbird fish finder was a wild display of rather large schools of baitfish and the small arcs that represent perch. We were able to quickly catch our limit that day and our live well was full of many fine specimens.
One thing to note here was that we moved around/tried to follow these schools, keeping an eye on the sonar and looking out for bait busting on the surface. Fish catching action that day was absolutely non-stop, we had a blast as not only were we catching one after the other but so were the kids and my brother. There were no complaints of boredom as my youngest was busy handing minnows from the bait box to fellow family members. We literally took one off, and set up another minnow only to have another yellow perch on the line. The banter in the boat made that day one to remember and the reason why I love to perch fish in the spring with my family.
Once you find your hot spots, perch are definitely a species that you can readily catch, no matter your age demographic. Since I practice catch and release for the rest of the season, this is one time that I enjoy a great meal of panfish at the end of a day of fishing and so can you. So, don’t wait for walleye, bass and musky to open up, get out and enjoy targeting spring perch!
Written by Exist To Fish Canada Writer Shelley Langley. Edited by Lead Writer/Editor Jamie Wilson
Shelley Langley- Exist To Fish Canada Writer
Exist To Fish Canada Lead Writer/Editor Jamie Wilson
Ice-Out Pike: Early Spring Tactics by Alex Meletis and Chris Huskilson
With spring just around the corner, my ice fishing gear has been stored and memories of giant Quinte walleyes and northern inland lake trout get pushed aside in preparation for ice-out northern pike fishing.
Pike move shallow in spring with the sole purpose to spawn. This takes place immediately after ice-out in 37-40 degree water temperatures. The window in which spawning takes place is quite short, often taking place before we can even get a boat in the water. They spawn over shallow, submerged vegetation on flood plains in rivers and back bays in larger lakes. Once the Spawn is done, they immediately move slightly deeper to recover from the spawn and wait for the water temp to increase. When the water approaches 50-55 degrees it seems Pike are most susceptible to angling tactics.
Targeting Pike in the spring can be challenging but extremely rewarding with multiple fish days when considering these few factors. Focus on areas where these pike have recently staged before the spawn. I look for transition areas that are in close proximity to where the spawn would have taken place. The first depth variation is typically where they will start to stack up in 6-8’ of water. Bays, shoals, and narrow river channels are all great areas to start.
As most bays tend to be shallower in comparison to the rest of the lake, weed growth tends to start in these areas before anywhere else on the lake. Weed growth provides more oxygen and cover for hunting bait, so look for
spots that are becoming abundant with aquatic vegetation. Sight fishing can be very effective at this time of year as fish recover from their spawning period. Polarized Glasses are an absolute must to see staging fish and structure in shallow water. I prefer Smith Optics Outlier glasses to get the job done.
Shoals surrounded by deep water are also a great starting point when targeting pike after ice out, as these areas provide structure for schools of bait fish that pike forage upon. Temperature fluctuations are also a major factor when targeting northern pike on shoals or humps, as warmer water conditioned by muddy bottoms, rocks and logs speeds up their metabolism, driving these predators to feed aggressively, thus striking your baits. As Surface Boils and dark shadows of pike start to disappear and water temps reach 65-70 degrees northern pike tend to seek deeper water, similar to their cousins, the musky. As water temperatures increase, you will want to move from on top of the shoal to the sides where deeper water is accessible.
Channels that funnel baitfish, especially schools of walleye in early spring ice out conditions should also be considered. As the walleye leave their spawning areas in rivers and streams, most Canadian Shield lakes have tight passages or channels to get to the next stretch of river or lake. These are key areas in which the walleye and other bait fish have to pass through, creating a perfect ambush area for Pike to feed.
Typically in early season ice out conditions, slowly working smaller inline spinners, medium to small sized spoons and smaller jerk baits seems to entice fish to bite. Because northern pike are so aggressive by nature, don’t
be surprised that when locating fish, more than one will follow your bait boat side. Like most apex species these fish will compete for meals. Surface baits are also great lures in early season. I generally start with top waters, then I will lean towards ‘Bulldawgs’, ‘Springdawgs’ and ‘Helidawgs’ by Musky Innovations throughout the late spring, and then the summer months in these three key areas. Ripping the ‘Springdawgs’ along the top of the weeds in bays during the spring period, and beyond can be deadly because of their smaller profile and light weight design. Working a ‘Bulldawg’, ‘Hellidawg’, and/or the ‘Manta’ by Riverrun Tackle with a twitch/pause cadence on shoals can be the ticket in spring. Also, trolling these baits along main channels/breaklines will help up your odds in spring, and ultimately throughout the entire season.
Photo Courtesy of Ben Gosselin and Devin Kloosterman
As far as jerkbaits, both hard and soft are effective. The Jackall Squad Minnow 115SP Jerkbait is a great choice, and for soft plastic jerkbaits, the 5″ ‘Magic Shad by Lake Fork Trophy Lures rigged weightless can be just deadly for finicky Pike. Another option is the ‘Live Magic Shad’ swimbait (Lake Fork Trophy Lures) or a 5″ Jackall ‘Ammonite’ Shad rigged onto a chatterbait for more strait/steady retrieves. For the ‘Springdawgs’, ‘Bulldawgs’ and ‘Helidawgs’, you will be utilizing musky rods/reels and heavier braided line of the 65lb variety. For jerkbaits, both hard and soft, medium-medium heavy spinning combos spooled with 20lb braided line coupled with heavy fluorocarbon leaders is perfect.
Scent is Key!! especially in cold water conditions! I prefer Liquid Mayhem scent products. A small one time application will often last all day long. And the pike absolutely love it!!
So, as the ice begins to melt, you should start planning and getting your gear ready for the high waters and transitioning, hungry pike that early spring is famous for. Research local areas and get prepared because soon, your go-to lakes will beacon you.
Exist To Fish Canada’s baits of choice as mentioned above
Getting Prepped: Pre-Season Boat Tune up
After a long winter that seemed like it would never end, many anglers are itching to get out in their boats. We at Exist To Fish are no different, so we would like to share a few tips with you to ensure your first trip of the season goes smoothly.
Now is the time to check your tires for any wear and tear. If needed replace them now. The last thing anyone wants is to be changing a blown tire especially on their first trip of the season. Speaking of tires, if you did happen to blow a tire last season and didn’t have a chance to pick up a new one, now would be a good time. After sitting all winter I like to check the air pressure in my tires to ensure that I haven’t loss any air in them over the winter months. Since you’re already checking your tires, take a minute to grease your wheel bearings and if your wheel bearings are filled with oil make sure the oil level is correct before heading out, because there is nothing worse than blowing a wheel bearing on the highway.
Seeing that I already have my grease gun handy, I like to take a moment to grease all my outboard fittings to ensure easy handling of my outboard. After they’re greased, I’ll take a minute check the outboard mounting bolts and nuts by putting a wrench to them. Loose bolts and nuts can lead to wearing larger holes in your transom were your bolts are, hence leading to damaging your transom and costly repairs. It’s amazing how this step is overlooked as I was one of those anglers that over looked it until saw my friend Lund Pro Staffer Craig Salmonson checking his. Since then I check them regularly throughout the season.
While at the motor, take the time to drain the foot oil and replace it with fresh gear oil if you didn’t last fall. For the guys with four stroke outboards, now would be a good time to also change your oil filter while draining your engine oil. A little thing I like to do that seems to get overlooked at times by anglers is that I like to change my fuel filter every two years. If you didn’t add any fuel stabilizer last fall, now is a good time to add some fuel gasoline stabilizer such as Amsoil Quickshot SE Additive & Stabilizer (AQS).http://www.amsoil.com/shop/by-product/fuel-additives/gasoline/quickshot/?page=%2fstorefront%2faqs.aspx Next thing I like to do is to remove my prop and check for fishing line. If you find any, remove it immediately to prevent the line from cutting into the seals which could then leak water into the leg, saving you from having to install a new seal. Be sure to check that you have proper nut torque requirement for your prop when reinstalling it. If your prop nut requires a cotter pin, replace it with a new one.
Next step like to do is to check and replace any worn tie down straps and the winch strap. Better to replace them now than having them break on the highway or at the boat launch. After checking my winch strap and changing it if needed, I like to inspect the bow rubber on the winch pole for any damage and replace it if needed. While I’m still at the bow, now is a good time to check your trolling motor nuts and bolts to see if they loosened off and retighten them as needed. After I finish that, I like to take some time to check all my compartment, live well, bait well, rod locker and floor screws and retighten any that may have loosed off.
I then like to hook the boat up to the truck and check my lights. If any are burnt out, now is the time to change them. I’ve heard from time to time that some anglers had to change their trailer ball as the ball was corroded which caused their trailer lights not to ground properly.
Before you put those tools you have just used away, lug nut socket, power bar, torque bar, outboard motor prop nut socket, spare cotter pins, outboard motor mounting wrenches, and screw drivers, place them into a Rubber Maid storage bin. Placing some rags on the bottom of the bin and then some on top of the tools afterwards will prevent any bouncing around causing unwanted sound from your tools. Now you can place this bin with the right tools should you ever need them one day, into your truck/tow vehicle. If you’re using another anglers truck to tow your boat for a tournament/day trip, just take your tool bin from your truck and place it in his/her truck. Now you have all the right tools, should you need them, with you.
Finally if you know you have to change or replace any bunks or carpet on your bunk, now would be a good time to head down to a boat launch, launch your boat and replace it.
From the Staff at existtofish.com we hope by following these simple steps, the start of your season is safe and trouble free.
This article was written by Exist To Fish Canada writer David Reid and edited by Jamie Wilson-Lead Writer/Editor