JEFF KNAPP: Spring brings crappies
Crappies provide some of the first spring fishing of the year, particularly for anglers that prefer still-water environments, as well as the taste of the crappie’s delicate flesh. Fortunately, we have some good crappie waters in the area. Here’s a look at a few of them, as well as some basic tactics in taking the fish.
PYMATUNING LAKE: A super lake for many species, Pymatuning is one of the top waters in the state for crappies. Most years there is an initial flurry of activity right after ice out, particularly on the northern end of the lake. It happened this spring, as crappies moved into large shallow bays such as Stewart’s Bay and similar spots near the Wilson and Padanaram boat launches. Fish relate to the stems of last year’s lily pads. It happens on the northern portion of the lake because it’s the first to warm up, due to more direct exposure to the sun at this time of year.
The early bite has died off in the shallow bays because fish move slightly deeper as the spring spawn approaches. Expect to find activity in brushpiles and other wood structures in 4 to 6 feet of water. After the fish spawn –— toward mid- to late-May –— there will be fish concentrating around deeper wood cover as well as submerged weed edges.
CROOKED CREEK LAKE: Some of my biggest crappies have come from Crooked Creek Lake. At this time of year I’d suggest fishing the shallow flats found up-lake of the main boat launch. There likely will be some emerging weeds on these flats, which will provide cover in which the fish will hold near. Shoreline trees should also concentrate some fish.
Later in the spring, after the fish have completed spawning and have vacated the shallows, I’ve taken some dandy crappies fishing deeper water near the dam. The eastern shoreline just down from the mouth of the small cove has been productive, out in 12 to 18 feet of water. It’s likely these fish had recently left the shallow cove. They showed up clearly on the sonar unit.
KEYSTONE LAKE: I’ve found Keystone to be a productive crappie lake later in the spring, particularly in the lower half of the lake. This makes sense, as it takes a while for the water to warm up in this deep, fairly clear lake section.
By mid- to late-May, shoreline laydowns should hold post-spawn fish. They will also hold on weed edges, just like many of Keystone’s bass do.
KAHLE LAKE: Panfish-wise, Kahle Lake is better known for its strong population of quality-sized yellow perch. But it also has nice numbers of black crappies, some of impressive size. Kahle’s weeds come up early (there was already significant growth when I visited the lake two weeks ago).
I’ve found May crappies holding in the open water just off the outside edge of the growth.
SPRINGTIME CRAPPIE TACTICS: Perhaps the most time-honored crappie tactic is to anchor the boat upwind of a brush pile or shoreline laydown and then cast a rig consisting of a small minnow and split shot suspended under a bobber close to the cover. This certainly works, and it’s a simple, cost-effective way to catch a mess of crappies, if the fish are there. When things are slow it pays to be a bit more aggressive.
A small under-spin jighead like the classic Roadrunner, dressed with a 2-inch curly tail trailer, is a good presentation when searching for crappies. You can cover the water quickly, poking around near wood cover and along weed edges. When you find fish you can then slow down, anchor and work the cover more methodically with a rigging like that previously described.
Another good search lure is a small suspending minnowbait, like the No. 4 or No. 6 Rapala X-Rap, or the 2-inch version of Yo-Zuri’s Pins Minnow. Many of the large crappies I’ve taken on Kahle have fallen to such a minnowbait fish just out and away from the weeds in about 10 feet of water. Give the lure a sharp twitch, and then allow it to pause for a couple seconds. The crappies will drill the lure just as hard as a bass.
Finally, in deeper water, a good option is a 2- to 3-inch tube body fished on an eighth-or three-sixteenth ounce jig.
Crappies, particularly good-sized ones, have large mouths; they have no problem eating a bait this size.