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Part Eighty-nine

Catching Spawning Crappies

By The Northlander, (aka. Craig Thorp)

It looks like this winter in the northland may be another short one. If this current warming trend holds the water could become . . . well . . . water again. Now if you live south of the 45th parallel the idea of ice on the lakes may have a certain pristine beauty to it. You may look at a frozen lake and think of some Currier and Ives print that you saw at one time and admire it. Here we get 3 or 4 feet of ice on lakes. It holds no beauty, only a huge barrier between myself and the fish.

Some time in April or May, when the lakes are again water, the crappies start to spawn. In Minnesota, my home, this is almost a state event. Catches will be reported in the papers. People, at least the people I know, will call each other to report "hot spots" that have been found. Friends and families will gather to take part in the harvest. Contests are held in the spring just to catch crappies. On some lakes people will almost stand shoulder to shoulder to fish. To understate it in a typical Minnesotan way . . . it's a pretty big deal. Yeah, it is.

Now some sources credit the action of fish spawning to the water reaching a certain temperature and some credit it to the angle of the sunlight hitting the water. I'm certain if we checked into it there are probably quite a few more theories to support why fish spawn when they do. Until we actually ask the fish though they will remain only theories. Really, as long as it continues to happen, who cares why?

In the spring the crappies move in to the shallows to lay eggs. The eggs are attached onto the base of a weed. For some reason, which I don't understand, crappies seem to prefer reed stems, although they will use other kinds of weeds. On some lakes with low reed populations they may move under the surface weeds and use those stems. After the eggs are attached, a crappie will stand guard as the eggs develop. When you view this from a raised platform on the bow of a boat it looks as if a school of crappies has moved into the shallows to feed. If you look closely you'll notice that they aren't moving at all. All the fish are staying in a fixed position next to the reed, guarding the eggs.

Because fishing is an art that involves a jerk on one end waiting for a jerk on the other, it's best not to start flock shooting at this point . . . if you get my drift. Lay your cast down so that the fly is slightly past the intended target. Use the count-down method of depth control to get your fly in front of the fish. Since these fish are 'standing guard' you will have to almost put it on their nose to get them to take it. Your fly will probably have to be about 6" or less away from the fish. As the fly comes up to the target move your rod from 2 o'clock to 9 o'clock across your body to move the fly across the fish.

In this situation I think you would find that almost any nymph or wet fly would work with some success. Using a nymph in a lifting and lowering action will also entice a take, as long as it is close enough to the fish.

Here is my favorite fly to take crappies. I like to use a yellow jig, using bucktail, marabou, fish hair or a combination of them. I tie this on a #4 to #6 hook with a set of dumbell lead eyes in the front. In the very back, buried in the hair, is a #12 to #14 treble hook. The reasoning behind the treble hook is I think crappies will attack their prey from the rear, then turn and break its spine. They then release it to devour it. That little treble hook will increase the amount of crappies that you catch, significantly.

The step by step instructions go like this: 1) tie the treble hook to a 4" piece of monofilament line. 2) with the regular hook in vise, begin your thread. 3) tie the treble hook on, leaving it about 1" or so behind the bend of the hook. 4) tie the bucktail hair at the hook eye. 5) lay the lead eyes on the hook and wrap the hair over them. 6) tie the hair down behind the eyes. Now at this point some people would use head cement or shellac to hold the eyes in place. Here in Minnesota we have northern pike also catching the crappies so you never have one of these flies for that long. I have gone through up to 6 or 8 in a day and at that rate fail to see the point in spending too much time on them.

I hope that you spend some time this spring looking for some spawning crappies. Remember a pair of waders would probably get you deep enough to get into some real good action. If you have the time, try out that fly recipe and let me know what you think. As we say down at the fly shop, "I'll talk to ya wader." ~ The Northlander, (aka. Craig Thorp)

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