The Woodsman Magazine

Fire Up with Early Slabs

By Ron Anlauf

The pot at the end of the Crappie rainbow just might be at the back end of a shallow bay.  

I don’t care who you are; catching early season crappies is fun.  If you can’t get a kick out of boating feisty slabs you might consider stepping back and taking a look at what’s really important.   For me it’s being back on the water and getting in touch with my roots, which include plenty of panfish.  Besides the scrap they can put out using light gear they’re downright tasty, which makes for a perfect combination. 

A lot of the early season action takes place in shallow water and can happen immediately after ice out.  The thing about ice-out crappies is that they’re either in or out.  When they’re in the real fun begins because the main reason they’re there is to fill their bellies which means they can definitely be caught.  When they’re out you may have to spend too much time looking and will depend on the existing conditions. 

Team Crestliner member John Janousek of Nisswa, Minnesota targets big early season slabs on two distinctly different types of lakes and reservoirs including the big sprawling open water variety with attached cuts and bays as well as smaller more protected lakes with out the obvious shallow hot spots.  “Both types of lakes can produce on any given day and the direction I head really depends on the weather.  Shallow bays and cuts connected to a bigger main lake are always a good bet.  My favorite scenario includes a narrow shallow channel that you have to get through to get to a bay because it helps to limit the effect of wind and waves pushing in colder water from the main lake.”  Bays and cuts are typically warmer than the main lake and where things heat up quickly drawing in big schools of crappies.  “They’ll move in and set up near docks or fallen trees and is something you definitely want to look for.  Another thing to keep in mind is that there may be a dozen docks or multiple trees and only one will be holding all of the fish so you better be thorough.  When I’m looking for shallow fish in the main lake I’ll wait for calmer conditions and try to find standing patches of weeds which can heat up and draw in big schools of hungry slabs.  It’s a solid pattern under ideal conditions but starts to come apart when the wind blows which will push in colder water shut it all down.”

Standard crappie techniques apply and includes using light line and smaller baits and minnows but Janousek has found that he can do it all without any live bait; “I haven’t bought any crappie minnows in over four years.  The fact is if there biting they’ll bite on plastic.  My favorite method includes using a Northland Tackle Slurpies Panfish Tube and either casing it out or working it back in, or suspending the bait below an Adjust-A-Bubble bobber and doing the same and using it to cover water.  The minnow and bobber guys will throw them out and let them sit and wait it out.  I’d rather work the plastic and give it some action which will allow me to cover more ground and find the biters.”

When you’re looking for early season slabs keep in mind the fact that they tend to feed up and will often suspend, even in shallow water.  Janousek on depth:  “When I’m in a shallow bay I’ll typically work from a foot to a foot and half down.  When I’m working a main lake weed bed I’ll look for fish to hold in the top half of the water column.  That might mean four feet down over eight feet of water.  I’ll also drop a marker when I do pickup a fish or two.  Most of the time they’ll be packed into a small area and if you’re not within five feet or so of the hot spot you could easily miss out and come up empty.”  

Timing is an important key and it’s the nicest and warmest days that are the most conducive to the hottest action.  Water temperature is good indicator and John will use the surface temp readout on his Humminbird 1197 to find the pockets of warmer water and uses it to give him an idea of just how active the fish will be; “You can find crappies shallow as early as ice out but it becomes a lot more predictable when the water temps push into the upper forties and above range, especially when they reach the mid fifties.  That’s when they really start to chow down and the action can be phenomenal.”

Small bays off of big water can really help to concentrate fish and make location a snap.  The only downside is the fact that it’s not usually a real secret and you may have to deal with a lot of competition.  The main lake weed pattern on the other hand is largely overlooked and when the conditions are right you could really clean up.  And better yet you could have it all to yourself.  It’s all good, see you on the water.

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