Crappie have become one of the most popular game fish in Manitoba. There range has spread across the eastern half of the province with isolated pockets in southwestern Manitoba as well. Anglers have had tremendous success catching them through the ice and in the springtime when they move shallow to spawn. The question for many anglers is how do you catch them in the summertime?
FIND THE EDGE
When the crappies are done doing the spring spawn they move out to deeper water. The key to finding them is your ability to find edges that these fish will use. These could be deeper weed edges or transition areas from hard to soft bottom
This was the case four years ago when I fished with Jeff Gustafson on Lake of the Woods. While it was fall, not summer, the crappies we found had moved from hard bottom to the edge of the softer bottom basin and had set up right along that transition. Those are the kind of spots you want to look for but the next question you might have, is how do you find those spots?
GOOD ELECTRONICS VITAL
That’s were great electronics come into play. On my Humminbird Helix 10 I can determine edges by the thickness of the return on my regular display. If the red bottom return is thick then that is hard bottom, and will shrink the softer the bottom. On my side imaging display it changes from dark to light. By dropping a waypoint on these edges you eliminate water fast. Crappies love to eat insect larvae so the edge could be mud to sand or to rock. Walleye love the same edges as well.
Don’t even think about fishing until you find the biggest school of fish in the area. When you find them drop another waypoint then hit spotlock on your Minnkota. If you stop marking fish, then you will have move the boat to follow these fish because they tend to roam this time of year on these transition area. They move around, feeding heavily on insects.
The nice things about crappies is that you hardly ever have to use live bait. You can use a small jig with plastic or if you want to be even more efficient cast and countdown hardbaits. Some of the best are the small lipless crankbaits used for ice fishing. One of my favourites is the Rapala Slab Rap in UV colours, either natural or chartreuse depending on light conditions.
Fished on light spinning gear you can be precise with your presentation with these lures. You might catch some fan casting and counting down your bait, or when you get on a real active school, just get on top of them and vertical jig them. Then it becomes a video game and you can pluck the bigger fish out of the school below you. You don’t have to work the bait super aggressively. I like a hold and twitch, then another longer pause. It is important though to get the lure slightly above crappies as the love to move up to feed.
CLOUD COVER A BONUS
Activity level of fish will change throughout the day but cloud cover usually makes them more active, which means they will get up off the bottom and roam, looking for food. You have to be able to countdown your lure to get to the right depth range if you want to be successful. It’s as simple as a thousand and one, etc. The other option is drop to the bottom and work your lure up through the water column, stopping every two feet.
If you find the fish on the deep weed lines, they will typically be out in front of the weeds, suspended a bit of bottom. In these type of areas, parallel casting the weed edges can be deadly.
I can remember this the case a few years back when fishing Lake Minnewasta in Morden in July. We found the fish on the weed edge off a sunken island in one section of the lake. It was a simple matter to cast to them and trigger bite. I had brought the fly rod and caught them on a small weighted streamer fly fished with sink tip line. It was amazing how the fish which just slurp up the fly as it fell along the weed edge.
It is extremely important to have the right rod and reel to get the most benefit out of catching crappies. Many companies make rods specifically for catching panfish. St Croix is one of those. Their Legend Elite panfish model is seven feet in length with a super fast action. Many of the suspended crappies you will be catching will slurp in the bait as it falls, so you will catch way more fish if you can detect these subtle bites. I have a custom-made G Loomis rod that does the same job. Spool your panfish reel with six-pound braid and add a similar fluorocarbon leader and your set. For a fly rod, I like to use a five-weight rod and sink tip line.
Do yourself a favour and challenge yourself this summer in finding and catching these great game fish. Remember though to let any fish over 12 inches go. Keep the smaller ones for supper, they are fantastic table fare!