Outdoors column: Early spring crappies

The first fishing excursions of the open water season here in central Minnesota are almost always the ice-out, shallow water crappies which usually signals the beginning of our open water exploits. I look forward to this early season because we are all eager to hit the water and crappies are abundant and easy to catch, especially during the early period of May.

Here are some ideas to make your crappie search easier with hopes of putting more fish in your boat this spring.

Choose the correct lake

Too many anglers spend time on the same lakes because they are close to their home and are convenient.

May is crappie time so look to the shallow canals, inlets and outlets for best action. Submitted photo
May is crappie time so look to the shallow canals, inlets and outlets for best action. Submitted photo

That’s fine and dandy if you have a lake with a good crappie reputation.

There are many lakes in this state that are very mediocre in crappie quality and feature tons of numbers but very little size.

It takes time to ferret out the best crappie lakes and they are there if you know where to look.

You can explore the Department of Natural Resources website and check the crappie catches in the DNR nets. Asking a few questions at the local bait shop will get you some information to get you started. The best way is to drop in and sample the lake itself. With a little exploration you’ll find some lakes that feature both numbers and size. Half the battle is knowing you are on a good lake with a quality crappie reputation.

Size matters on crappie lakes

When I do my crappie fishing after ice-out, I look towards the lakes that feature the most shallow water. In other words, I want to fish a lake with very shallow water because shallow water will warm up much quicker in May than a deeper lake.

Crappies tend to get going on deeper, clear water lakes much later in the spring and often don’t turn on until June.

Shallow lakes mean the crappies will move into extremely shallow water right after ice out and the fishing can be awesome right from the start. I have seen water temperatures deviate as much as 20 degrees difference from lake to lake in May.

That is how important sticking with shallow lakes early can be for chasing crappies.

Inlets, outlets and bays

Once a lake is ice free, the crappies, bass and bluegills make a beeline to the warmest water they can find and that means back bays, inlets and outlets and any slack, backwaters that feature shallow water. This movement is triggered by water temperatures around 36 degrees and they will frequent these shallow backwaters well into June.

Most anglers think this is a spawning thing but rather these fish are chasing invertebrates, insects and larvae from the shallow, muddy bottoms of the back waters.

By perusing a map, you can find these little canals and inlets on many lakes and often you’ll find areas that you didn’t know existed.

Chances are these areas will feature water as shallow as 2 feet and you’ll be surprised on how little water these fish will inhabit during May.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.