What is it about a bobber dancing on the surface and then submerging that gives both young and not so young anglers a thrill? Obviously, it is the hope that a solid hookset will result in a fish tugging on the line, and the eventual landing of that fish.
Rest assured that fishing with bobbers, aka floats, is not just for kids, and not all are ‘dime store’ products. For instance, some are round and made from plastic while others are long and skinny, and made from premium balsa. Some are fixed-depth while others are slip floats, with prices from 99 cents to almost nine dollars.
However, this article is not about floats, it is about how anglers can locate and catch crappie during the peak season – which is right now.
Crappies develop a voracious appetite just before, during, and after their spawn. According to Greg Stoner, MDC Fisheries Management Biologist for the lake, crappies usually begin to spawn when the water temperature reaches 55-degrees. Other factors such as the length of daylight can affect spawning. One study showed the spawn peaked when there were 13 to 14 hours between the sunrise and sunset.
Some anglers believe the full moon triggers spawning in all species. Here is good news, the full moon and preferred daylight hours will coincide on April 25, and the water temperature throughout most of the lake should be about 60 degrees by then.
As the urge to spawn progresses, females hold in deep water in front of spawning areas. Males begin looking for suitable sites and as the temperature rises, they clear beds of debris.
When the water temperature reaches the upper 50s and lower 60s, females move to the beds and deposit their eggs. Males fertilize and then guard the eggs until the fry hatch and can fend for themselves. The females return to deeper water to recuperate and feed.
The eggs hatch in four to five days but the fry are ‘attached’ to the nest for two or three more days. The males are predictably aggressive then, guarding the nest and fry since they are the perfect size to be a bluegill snack. In fact, some anglers release males immediately so they may return to their parental duties.
A popular method to catch crappie is with a minnow fished under a slip float. Casting accurately with a fixed float in shallow water can be a chore but when the depth is set for three to eight feet, it is impossible. The solution is a slip float where the line passes through the middle of the float.
A ‘bobber stopper’, usually a rubber bead, goes on the line first, then a small plastic bead, followed by the slip float then the hook. A split shot should be clamped about 5 inches above the hook. A Size 2 Tru-Turn 853ZS Blood Red hook is deadly because of its ability to penetrate a crappie’s upper lip. Use just enough split shot to keep the float half-submerged and vary the stopper’s depth until fish are located.
Minnows are a top choice for slip float fishing; anglers should try both small and medium minnows, and then let the fish show their preference. Sometimes a chartreuse or red Berkley Crappie Nibble threaded on the hook in front of the minnow tempts reluctant fish.
Jigs dressed with soft plastic tails are an alternative to minnows when a gentle breeze ripples the water. Tie a 1/32 to 3/32 ounce jig onto the line so it rests horizontally in the water, and then dress it with a soft plastic tail. Choices include tube, minnow, and curly tail styles. In stained water, choose colors like black, blue, or chartreuse.
Casting and retrieving jigs is also very productive. Anglers can choose from a plethora of brands, styles, and colors. Popular versions are Bass Pro Shops Crappie Maxx, Blakemore’s Road Runner, Johnson’s Beetle Bou, Northland’s Thumper, and Buck Creek’s Lil Swimmer.
Cast these jigs toward cover or pea gravel spawning areas and retrieve them just above bottom or cover. In murky water, consider high contrast colors like black, blue, chartreuse, and jigs with spinners like the Road Runner.
“We are seeing more black crappies at the lake,” said Stoner. He believes clearing water promotes black crappie while whites do well in stained water. “We also seeing a long term trend toward fewer but larger crappie in southern waters, probably due to the food supply”
A fact supported by some of the Midwest’s top crappie professionals who competed here last weekend. Missouri’s Charles and Travis Bunting won the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters with a tournament limit of seven fish weighing 11.57 pounds, for an average of 1.65 pounds each.
The Buntings biggest fish weighed 2.02 pounds – it was also the tournament’s Big Fish. For their efforts, the Buntings cashed a check for $4,399.
From now until the end of the month should be the best ‘crappie time’ of the year, make the best of it.