Crappies on the Cusp of Season Fishing Opener

It had been a hard, long, cold winter with a spring that didn’t bring much relief. A week earlier, we had six inches of snow in northwestern Wisconsin. Not good for fishing.

We were at the end of April, on the cusp of Opening Day for the regular Wisconsin fishing season in another ten days.

Finally it looked like there was going to be a reasonable day in the near future.

By reasonable day, I meant it wasn’t going to snow or rain, and ice was off the lake.

This prompted a telephone call to my buddy, Dennis Virden who lives in Burnsville, one of the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities. The Mississippi River had been flooded all spring long, and we hadn’t got a chance to get out on the river for our normal spring walleye and sauger fishing. If we weren’t going to get on the Mississippi for walleyes, we might as well hit one of the lakes for crappies.

Dennis was in for that, and in turn he called another friend of ours, Scott Stevenson of Eden Prairie, Minn. He was in for some crappie fishing, too. So, a day or two later, we left my home in Hudson, Wis., heading north for Polk County.

We were in luck; the weather had taken a turn for warmer temperatures and light breezes. It seemed about time.

After launching the boat, we motored across the lake to a shoreline littered with brush and sunken trees. I normally always find panfish there. We hit the first trees, and after fifty feet of shore and half an hour of fishing, we hadn’t had a strike. This seemed a bit strange to me. We hit another large tree toppled in the water. I cast my tube jig into a fork of the tre,e and retrieving it back toward the boat, I let it sink a bit once it got into open water.

I felt a pop and set the hook. The fish tore off, but I lost it in an instant. I cast back to the same spot, letting the jig drop as it hit deeper water. A fish tapped it again, and this time when I set the hook, my ultralight spinning rod began to dance as a fish took off. The fish came splashing back to the surface as I brought it back toward the boat. It was a 10-inch crappie.

What made the difference was the fish were in deeper water, close to cover. They weren’t hanging tight to the brush as they normally would have been at this time of year. Perhaps because of the late winter and cold spring, the fish were staging in deeper water adjacent to cover they normally use during spawning, waiting for the right conditions to develop to lure them into shallow water.

As we would say when I was in the Army, we broke the code. And with that, we moved a couple boat lengths out from the bank and started casting into deeper water. We steadily got strikes. All three of us were getting hits and catching crappies.

When one spot began to slow down, we moved a bit further down the bank and started all over again, always in deeper water. There were times we caught fish on almost every cast. We lost track of how often two of us would have fish on at the same time. There were times all three of us had fish on at the same time.

Even while fishing for panfish, this is a fairly rare experience.

We were using small tube jigs. I used 1 ½-inch tube grubs on 1/16-ounce jigs. If the fish are in shallow water, I use a lighter jig. But if they are in deeper water, I use a heavier jig so it will get into the target area quicker. Color probably doesn’t matter on most panfish, but that doesn’t stop me from having my favorite colors. My favorites are either black or red with a chartreuse skirt. My second two favorites are either dark green or orange, again with a chartreuse skirt. Generally, anything with chartreuse in it will work just fine. The nice thing about tube jigs is, there is no need for crappie minnows.

After about an hour and a half of fishing, with lunch while drifting across the lake, we came back to the first spot and start catching fish all over again. Almost all of our fish were crappies. There were a handful of bluegills. There are a lot of bluegills in this lake, but apparently, they were still in even deeper water, as it normally would be another month before they would spawn anyway.

We were using ultralight spinning rods. They make for the most fun while fishing for panfish. Five- to 6 -foot spinning rods are perfect, especially with three people fishing in the same boat. Line size can also make a difference. I am not a proponent of the real light lines such as 2-pound-test. In spring, you can have a good chance to catch an early season northern pike or bass. Although they are not in season then and would be released anyway, with 2-pound line, you cannot only expect to lose the fish, but lose your jig as well. I prefer either 4- or 6-pound-test line. I wouldn’t advise using anything heavier, as it is hard to cast light jigs with heavier line. And in the case of clear spring water, it could spook finicky fish.

A number of years ago on this same lake, I fished a bay at the back of the lake and found lots of crappies there. It seemed like a good time to try that area again, so we moved there. Within a few casts we started catching crappies again. I kept count of the fish we were catching with a golf counter, but when we got to 125, I stopped counting. We released almost all of the fish we were catching, except Scott wanted to keep a few fish for a fish fry. By the end of the afternoon we had caught and released well over a hundred and twenty fish, mostly crappies with a few bluegills. Scott also kept a dozen crappies to take home.

It had been a very successful day of fishing despite the wintry weather we had been having for most of the spring. The next morning, Scott and his wife had the crappies he caught for breakfast. Can’t think of a better way to start the day.

So the moral of the story is, regardless of the weather, crappies are still a good bet for late-spring fishing. Use tube jigs and be willing to move around to find the depth at which fish are staging. You can always find good crappie fishing on the cusp of the fishing season opener.