Anyone else putting new lines on your reels and getting ready to go catch some pre spawn crappie?

I use to head down to KY lake about this time of the year and fish for crappie with minnows and the KY Lake Crappie Rig with two hooks and a weight in-between the hooks. Back in the late 1950's (1958,59) I used bamboo poles and caught a lot of crappie using those big red/white plastic bobbers that clipped onto the 20lb test fishing line. Back then there was a lot of what we called Buck Brush in the bay we fished. You could just dip the minnows into the opening next to a buck brush plant and catch crappie in 2ft of water. But years went by and the buck brush disappeared.

These days I fish a lot differently. Although I did fish a drop shot method back in the 1970s using a bass bait casting reel and 10lb mono line and a 6 ft or 6.5ft casting rod. Just added the KY Lake Fishing Rig with the two hooks and a weight on it and let the line down to the bottom and reel up two turns. That put the minnows in front of the crappie that were on the lake bottom. We sought drop offs and any brush piles we could find. Back then we didn't have electronic and had to just figure it out by trial and error.

Only today would I be able to find the drop off using Humminbird SI and Lakemaster Mapping. But still the brush piles are hit and miss.

But my go to rig for crappie is an ultra light spinning reel with a 5 ft. ultra light rod and 2lb or 4 lb. test mono line with a slip bobber made out of Styrofoam and a light weight lead headed jig. This rid helps me cast the line out away from the boat. I use a bobber stop that's made out of fishing line and can slide this bobber stop up and down the fishing line to control how deep the jig will go. A tear drop shaped bobber helps detect light bites and it offers little resistance when the fish take the bait. And if the fish inhales the bait and doesn't move it take the weight off the bobber and the bobber will float up a 1/4" and top over letting me know that the fish had the jig in it's mouth. I can set the hook when I see the bobber come up a little and tip over and catch the fish before he spits the jig out of his mouth. The jig is weighted to keep the torpedo bobber sitting half way into the water with the white top showing and the red bottom under the water. If I see any red on the bobber then I know I might have a fish on. Little crappie will take this jig as well as 2lb crappie. Sometimes the crappie will take the jig and swim off taking the bobber under the water easily. If you use a tube jig they won't spit the bait out as fast as it feels more natural. And I'll sometimes tip the 3/32oz jig head and plastic bait with a small crappie minnow and add a chartreuse crappie nibble to ad some scent. Dr. Juice for panfish also works.

They key is finding the fish is always key. In the early spring you will find them staging in the deeper waters near the spawning beds. Find the spawning beds and then fish out towards the deeper water by following the ditches and or creek channels to the old River Channel in Reservoirs. Man made lakes are a different devil. There are flat land reservoirs and upland reservoirs and highland reservoirs. Then there Rivers and old oxbows. Each reservoir fished differently. Low land reservoirs like KY lake have the deep old river channel running though them and then flat land on each side of the River. Areas where the old creek channels that run out though the bays into the Old River Channel are the roadways that the crappie use to head into the back of the creeks to spawn in the shallows. Any big bend in the River Channel with a creek intersecting the old river channel is a good place to start in the cold early spring. Follow the creek channel into the back of the bay to find the crappie in early march. Depending on the weather (light, temperature of the air and water, water clarity, and winds) the crappie will move to different depths throughout the day. Crappie like cover and are designed to turn quickly so they can maneuver in the brush and stickups better than say a long nose gar with a long slender body. Take a big fish like a Northern Pike or Muskie and compare that to the flat sides of a crappie and you see what I mean. One is designed for speed straight forward while the other is designed to turn faster. So crappie will relate to drop offs with brush piles or structure like old tree stumps where they can hide in the roots of the old tree stumps. They will hang around weed lines too. Crappie will school up until it's time to spawn =and then they will spread out in the spawning beds. Some will spawn in deeper water and others in shallow water depending on how the light penetrates to the bottom. The light penetration depends on the water clarity and the winds. Hard bottom that can be scooped out and not fall back on itself or silt over is where the crappie spawn. Really soft bottom that won't hold a bowl shape may not be idea but if nothing else better can be found the crappie may try to spawn in this bottom type. But the bigger crappie (males) will fight for the best spawning grounds. Bottom type and depth and cover determines the best spawning spots. Bigger fish may spawn first. But some may spawn deeper in 10 to 12 ft of water if the sunlight can reach the bottom and incubate the crappie eggs. Water temperature at the surface is not the same at water temperature at the bottom. So a drop thermometer can be use to figure the temperature at the bottom where the eggs are laid. But when the surface temperatures reach 65 deg F or about the crappie will be starting to spawn other conditions are right. For example at KY lake the water level has a huge effect on the crappie spawn as the lake can rise and fall due to the Corps maintaining the lake for flood control instead of for the fish spawn. A rising water level will bring the fish up and if the lake is falling the fish will go deeper to spawn. It won't do any good to lay eggs in 2 ft of water that will be high and dry the next day with a lake level that's falling fast.

Now Lakes like Patoka Lake in Southern IN are classified as Highland Lake Reservoirs. They are a little deeper on average and still have some areas upstream that are more like a lowland reservoir. A single lake can have different features in different parts of the lake. Down by the **** vs up river. Up river in Patoka Lake there are a lot of submerged standing trees. The crappie can use these standing trees for cover and be almost anywhere in the submerged underwater timbers. But they still will use the old river bed to travel to and from the spawning beds. Follow the creek channels back into the back ends of the bays to find the fish. And look for creek and old river channel intersections. Patoka Lake has a lot of natural structure in it. Know your trees and seek out the old Oak Trees and Sycamore trees or look for a big tree among smaller trees. Look for old ditches that have not silted in yet. Most of the creek channels are silted in at Patoka. And the current in Patoka are not nearly like those in KY lake. Also the forage fish in Patoka (gizzard Shad) are different than in more Southern Lakes down in Mississippi. Grenada lake has Threadfin shad which need water water to survive the winter and are much smaller in size so crappie can feed on even the adult threadfin shad. Some lakes in Southern IN that are connected to the Ohio River may have Threadfin Shad in them. Hovey Lake in Posey Country is hydrologically connected to the Ohio river. So are some of the old Stripper Pits in Bluegrass Fish and Wildlife Area in Warrick County IN.

Early in the season look for dark bottoms on the North Shorelines that get the most sunlight in the early spring. These banks warm up faster than the banks on the South Side of the Lake. The banks of the south side are hidden from the rays of the sun that come from the south at a lower angle in early spring than in the summer months when the sun is higher up in the sky. Banks with wood and dark bottom are ideal if they are sheltered from the harsh northerly winds we get when a cold front comes though the area. They are sheltered from the North winds and get more sunlight so they water warms up first in the early spring. But as spring turns to late spring the water temperatures may not be so much different due to wind currents. Note too that the winds can blow the warmer surface waters down wind and setup lake currents. A wind out of the south for several days in a row can blow the warm surface waters into the Northern Banks of a lake and create a current that hits the northern bank and cause warm waters to stack up against the northern shoreline or bank. That may be where the crappie are. The winds and currents will move the phytoplankton with the current and the smaller zooplankton will follow the algae that the feed on. The minnows and other fish will follow the food chain. Try the shallows with long range casts so as not to scare the fish when they are in shallow or very clear water. Then back off and fish deeper to find the pre-spawn fish. If the crappie are in the shallows they will let you know pretty fast. They are hungry when in pre-spawn mode and will readily take a jig or minnow if the presentation is right.

Get those hooks sharpened up and lines changed. You don't want to miss a hook up or have a old line break when you get that big 2 lb. crappie to take your bait.

And remember to wash your hands with some mild soap to remove any foreign smells. Did you gas up the boat and get gasoline on your fingers? You know that the smell of oil and gasoline may turn the crappie off and prevent a good bite? Ever wonder why your wife catches more fish than you did? Did you fill up the boat with gas while she went into the stop and go to buy food? She has clean hands and you have gas fumes on your hands. A crappie's brain has more area devoted to smell than any other part of their brain. Most fish live by smells. They can smell things in the PPB range and a drop of gasoline on your hand can transfer to your baits and turn the fish off. A little soap and water will help. That plus some fish scents that are sold at the local bait store. Scenes like Dr. Juice or Crappie Nibbles can make a huge difference in how many bites you get. Crappie University has lectures on just how scents can help you catch more fish. They held a Crappie University Seminar at USI a few years ago and I learned a lot from guy's like Russ Bailey, Doug Sikora and Doug's fishing partner. If you get the chance to attend one of these the next time they come to town I highly recommend them if you are new to crappie fishing or have been doing it all your life. You will learn something new from these guys.

Also the In Fisherman Book Series on Crappie Fishing is a great book to get your started on crappie fishing. They have books on fishing for bass, crappie, catfish, small mouth, Muskie, walleye and panfish. The Critical Concepts Book Series is a good read for any fisherman new or old.