A rite of early open-water angling: ice-out slab crappies

I’m heading to Lake of the Woods this weekend with Outdoor News Managing Editor Rob Drieslein, so I expect to file one more ice-fishing blog yet this season. Still, I’m already getting questions about early-season crappies, and I’m giving a crappie seminar at the Northwest Sportshow next weekend. So let’s talk ice-out slabs.

For starters, with cold-water crappies in the spring, location is everything. If I’m not marking fish in an area, I move. You can up your odds in this department by learning something about a specific water body before you fish it. Know its structure and get a hydrographic map and mark several points where you think you might find fish.

Certain temperatures will trigger a bite. As water temperatures this spring reach the high-40-degree range, crappies will begin to move towards feeding locations, especially ones that offer warmer water. Try windward shorelines, feeder streams, and south-facing bays.

To catch these slabs, use livebait presentations, small jigs (brown or white, or white combinations) tipped with either crappie minnows or wax worms. The tails of crappie minnows work well, too. But always use livebait for crappies.

Small hooks tipped with livebait can be effective. Red and white and even green hooks seem to be the most productive colors early in the spring. I’ve even used small ice-fishing lures with bait.

Bring longer rods, even 10-footers, when casting to crappies with these light lures in shallow water. This ensures a more delicate presentation. When I’m vertical jigging, I use a 6-1/2-foot rod, with 4-pound-test line. And if you’re pitching jigs, keep the retrieve slow.

And use floats instead of bobbers. Floats have less drag resistance in the water compared to traditional bobbers, and this will increase your catch rate, especially during the spring when unstable weather can make bites tough.

I’ve done side-by-side tests with floats and bobber, and there’s no comparison. Use a float.

The next few weeks will likely provide anglers with fair to good crappie fishing in southern Minnesota, then the bite will work its way north. Many lakes have excellent crappie fishing, but the key is finding the right one during the ice-out period. Be versatile with equipment and have fun!

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