How to find shallow-water crappies

Crappies have become very popular over the last few years by anglers in Sunset Country, especially during the ice season.
Found in many small lakes across the region as well as the big ones, Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, crappies provide some excellent table fare as well as some fun angling opportunities.
Crappies are unique in that during some parts of the year, they can be found rather easily, like during the fall and winter when they school up in the deepest basins of the bays that they live in.
Anglers find these large schools and can do well catching them.
During the summer months, crappies seem to spread out in the mid-depths, sporadically in large weedbeds, and are seldom caught.
But in the spring, when water temperatures rise into the mid-50s F, crappies make a rush for shallow water to feed and complete the spawning process. It is during this time that crappies make themselves available to anglers in shallow water—and it’s happening right now!
So where do we find shallow-water crappies? Crappies love all types of cover, like tree tops that have fallen in the water, large boulders, and especially standing weed growth like pencil reeds and cattails, also known as bulrushes.
In most situations, crappies can be found in two-four feet of water, close to the mentioned varieties of cover.
In most years, this movement into shallow water happens relatively quickly, within a few weeks of the ice going out. This activity has been delayed this year because of the cold temperatures that are preventing our waters from warming up at a normal rate.
The initial shallow water move by crappies appears to be more for food than for spawning. Within a couple weeks of moving up shallow, crappies begin to make small beds, much like the spawning ritual of bass.
Crappies are not shy to eat during their time up shallow, which usually last for about three weeks.
The most traditional way to catch them is to fish with a small jig tipped with a plastic tube or grub rigged below a bobber or float (a float allows anglers to let their bait get into tight cover and hang right in front of the fish, taunting them to bite).
Depending on the depth of the fish, I like to set up my float 15-24 inches above my jig. Slip floats work well for casting while fixed, spring floats are best for really small jigs because the line does not have to be pulled through the float.
My fishing buddy, Chris Savage, is a crappie fanatic and he’s found a neat way to find and catch big crappies when they come up shallow early in the season.
He uses small jerkbaits like a #6 Rapala X-Rap and twitches them around likely crappie hangouts. This bait allows him to cover a significant amount of water to find fish and the larger-than-normal bait really selects for big fish.
These small twitch baits suspend, so he jerks the lure down and lets it hang in likely spots.
Crappies have a soft mouth so you want to use a light rod to catch them so you don’t rip hooks out. I like a six-foot medium-light action spinning outfit rigged with six-pound monofilament.
I would recommend four-pound line throughout the rest of the year when crappies are in open water, but these fish will be found in weeds or around trees so the six-pound test will stand up a little better if a big one wraps you up in some heavy cover.

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