Targeting Early Spring Black Crappie

My first open water boat outing took place over the weekend and it felt amazing to be behind the wheel and on the trolling motor again pulling fish aboard! It was a very long and frigid winter in Southeastern Ontario but thankfully it seems like all the ice has broken up and melted away exposing the lakes and rivers to boaters, kayakers, canoers and shore fishing anglers as well. One of the first species I target in the early spring are black crappie and I just love kick-starting the season reeling them in!

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A black crappie getting sent back.

The draw to black crappie is that they can be caught in great numbers and they put up an awesome fight for their size! They are stacked up especially during spring, whereas they are typically spread out throughout the rest of the year and can be more challenging to locate. The key factor to locating crappie this time of year is water temperature. Crappie move to the warmest waters in lakes and rivers which can be found in bays and sheltered areas free of current that get the most amount of sunlight. The reason for this migration is that they are preparing to spawn and feeding on minnows, crustaceans and plankton and clinging to any available structure such as docks, pilings, bullrushes, lay downs and stumps. Early in the year vegetation is just beginning to re-grow and is quite sparse. Most fishfinders on the market have a water temperature reading these days, not just the high-end units.

Black crappie fishing opportunities exist throughout the province. A helpful tool if you live in Ontario is the Fish ON-Line website which enables you to search for locations by species. While I do have some honey holes on various lakes and rivers in the region, I do love exploring new waters each year and finding new spots.

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Ultra-light gear is effective and a fun way to battle it out with these scrappy fish!

Having the proper gear is important with any species, but with crappie it can mean the difference of catching or not catching. With paper-thin mouths, crappie often feed upwards and can bite so lightly that it can go undetected. Light line and using the correct sized float have been a huge factor for me in detecting the lightest of bites. My ultra-light set-up consists of: the 7-foot Rapala Finesse Ultralight Series rod and an R-Type size 15 reel spooled with 4lb Sufix fluorocarbon line. I primarily use a 2-gram Drennan float and various 1/16th ounce jigs or lighter often tipped with TriggerX soft plastics to bulk up my jig a little. Float size is determined by the jig or bait size so it is a good idea to have a few different options to accommodate. If the float is too buoyant or too light for the jig, it will not work properly (too buoyant or barely floating). My favourite jigs over the past couple years have been the 1/16th ounce VMC Hot Skirt Glow Jig in Crappie Minnow and Chartreuse Orange.

A couple of nice slabs from the first boating trip of the year!

A couple of nice slabs from the first boating trip of the year!

I didn’t expect a lot on the first day out as with a late spring I knew I would need to cover a lot of water to locate some fish and find some warmer water. I saw a lot of anglers out on the water in many of the usual early season spots but don’t care much for fishing in crowded areas. It was certainly worth-while to go exploring and it resulted in finding a nice sheltered bay with 57°F water and a promising bite to start off! At first I was using the Crappie Minnow coloured jig, but with the stained water switching to the Chartreuse Orange jig resulted in way more bites. The fish were concentrated along the shadow of the dock (a 2 foot by 4 foot section) in about 4-6 feet of water. It was a fish nearly every cast and was such a blast on this very cold and windy day! The crappie were very light in colour.

Moving around and further exploring the area resulted in more catches, but not quite as many as the one dock. Working out to the mouth of the bay to another dock revealed a stellar spot and a staging area for these fish. All the crappie at first were very light in colour, but this dock was producing dark coloured fish leading me to believe they had just moved into the area from the main river. This spot was loaded with quality fish as seen in the photo above. What an awesome way to start the season and I can’t wait to get back out there!

Thank you for reading and good luck out there!

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