It looks like this winter in the northland may be another short one. If
this current warming trend holds the water could
become . . . well . . . water again. Now if you live south of the 45th
parallel the idea of ice on the lakes may have a certain pristine beauty to
it. You may look at a frozen lake and think of some Currier and Ives print
that you saw at one time and admire it. Here we get 3 or 4 feet of ice on
lakes. It holds no beauty, only a huge barrier between myself and the fish.
Some time in April or May, when the lakes are again water, the crappies start
to spawn. In Minnesota, my home, this is almost a state event. Catches will be
reported in the papers. People, at least the people I know, will call each
other to report "hot spots" that have been found. Friends and families will
gather to take part in the harvest. Contests are held in the spring just to
catch crappies. On some lakes people will almost stand shoulder to shoulder
to fish. To understate it in a typical Minnesotan way . . . it's a pretty big
deal. Yeah, it is.
Now some sources credit the action of fish spawning to the water reaching a
certain temperature and some credit it to the angle of the sunlight hitting
the water. I'm certain if we checked into it there are probably quite a few
more theories to support why fish spawn when they do. Until we actually ask
the fish though they will remain only theories. Really, as long as it
continues to happen, who cares why?
In the spring the crappies move in to the shallows to lay eggs. The eggs are
attached onto the base of a weed. For some reason, which I don't understand,
crappies seem to prefer reed stems, although they will use other kinds of
weeds. On some lakes with low reed populations they may move under the surface
weeds and use those stems. After the eggs are attached, a crappie will stand
guard as the eggs develop. When you view this from a raised platform on the
bow of a boat it looks as if a school of crappies has moved into the shallows
to feed. If you look closely you'll notice that they aren't moving at all.
All the fish are staying in a fixed position next to the reed, guarding the
Because fishing is an art that involves a jerk on one end waiting for a jerk
on the other, it's best not to start flock shooting at this point . . . if you
get my drift. Lay your cast down so that the fly is slightly past the
intended target. Use the count-down method of depth control to get your fly
in front of the fish. Since these fish are 'standing guard' you will have to
almost put it on their nose to get them to take it. Your fly will probably
have to be about 6" or less away from the fish. As the fly comes up to the
target move your rod from 2 o'clock to 9 o'clock across your body to move the
fly across the fish.
In this situation I think you would find that almost any nymph or wet fly
would work with some success. Using a nymph in a lifting and lowering action
will also entice a take, as long as it is close enough to the fish.
Here is my favorite fly to take crappies. I like to use a yellow jig, using
bucktail, marabou, fish hair or a combination of them.
I tie this on a #4 to #6 hook with a set of dumbell lead eyes in the front.
In the very back, buried in the hair, is a #12 to #14 treble hook. The
reasoning behind the treble hook is I think crappies will attack their
prey from the rear, then turn and break its spine. They then release it to
devour it. That little treble hook will increase the amount of crappies that
you catch, significantly.
The step by step instructions go like this: 1) tie the treble hook to a 4"
piece of monofilament line. 2) with the regular hook in vise, begin your
thread. 3) tie the treble hook on, leaving it about 1" or so behind the bend
of the hook. 4) tie the bucktail hair at the hook eye. 5) lay the lead eyes on
the hook and wrap the hair over them. 6) tie the hair down behind the eyes.
Now at this point some people would use head cement or shellac to hold the
eyes in place. Here in Minnesota we have northern pike also catching the
crappies so you never have one of these flies for that long. I have gone
through up to 6 or 8 in a day and at that rate fail to see the point in
spending too much time on them.
I hope that you spend some time this spring looking for some spawning
crappies. Remember a pair of waders would probably get you deep enough to get
into some real good action. If you have the time, try out that fly recipe and
let me know what you think. As we say down at the fly shop, "I'll talk to
ya wader." ~ The Northlander, (aka. Craig Thorp)