Taking on big slab sided crappies is a respectable challenge and can be a real gas
when you put it all together. Catching early season crappies is simple and easy enough but we’re talking real slabs (those in the thirteen to fifteen inch and beyond range), and they’re not everywhere. But the fact is they do exist and they can be caught if you have a little inside information.
When it comes to producing behemoth crappies less is usually more. The lakes that hold big numbers are more likely to produce smaller fish. Probably big enough to put in the pail and that’s perfectly fine, but were not looking for the run of the mill keepers here. Our target is the largest of the species and it’s the lakes that have fewer fish that harbor the real monsters. Some of the best include medium to clear water clarity along with sandy shorelines and stands of hard stemmed bulrushes and may be better known as decent walleye lakes. The sand and the bulrushes make for suitable spawning habitat and the reputation keeps pressure of the slabs and on poor ‘ol marble eyes.
The slab-fest begins at ice-out and continues right through the spawn which can last a couple of months or more from beginning to end and depends on just how fast things warm up. Most of the early action surrounds shallow water including black bottom bays and channels where they will show up in masse and the action can be downright intense. These early runs are all about feeding and nothing more, as the actual spawn may be a month or more off. Somewhere between those first early season feeding runs and the actual spawn is a period of time when you can find big schools of the largest fish holed up in specific areas when they are quite vulnerable.
Pro angler John Janousek of Nisswa, Minnesota lives in a part of the state that has more than its share of primo crappie lakes and spends a good deal of the early season finding and catching slabs and shares some of what he has learned: “Water temperature can be a guide in regards to the actual timing and the hottest action really starts when temps push into the lower sixties. Crappies typically spawn when water temps hold in the mid-sixties but that isn’t the only factor to consider. Consistent weather and steady water temps is the key to finding the largest numbers of fish up shallow and when they’ll be the most active. Severe cold fronts can shut the whole thing down (at least for the sort term) and is something to be aware of.
Finding fish is the biggest piece of the puzzle to place and includes holes or depressions near potential spawning sites. A depression is nothing more than an area that’s just a little deeper than the rest and a place where crappies will stack up just before they make their move to the beds. Heavier stands of hard stemmed bulrushes are where most of the spawning takes place. With that in mind you can first start looking for potential spawning sites and then try and find a depression in the near vicinity. If the water’s clear enough and calm enough you’ll be able to see the depression (and the fish), otherwise you’ll have to rely on electronics to do your investigating. A likely hot spot would include a two or three foot deeper pocket surrounded by maybe four to eight feet of water. Throw in some green weeds for cover and you may have found a real honey hole. With a good graph like the Humminbird 998c you can draw it all out and see the drops and the weeds and get an idea of how the area is actually laid out. It also displays surface temp which can help you stay on top of crappie mood and location.”
The real fun begins when you can start trying to put a few in the boat and there’s a couple of ways to get it done. Slowly trolling with a Minn Kota is preferred as you can quietly creep along and work light jigs in the pockets and over the tops of the weeds and cover some ground until you find a concentration of active fish. Another option is dropping an anchor as staying put may be your best option if you’ve found a tight bunch of fish. Janousek on staying put: “I rigged my boat with a Minn Kota Talon last year and absolutely love it for anchoring in shallower water. The Talon simply put has a pole that sticks in the bottom and is deployed and retrieved by a push of a button and is a super quick and easy way to anchor up. If I pop a fish I’ll drop the Talon and work the area over because where there is one there is probably more.”
Light line like 3lb test along with tiny jigs suspended below a float is a tough combination to beat.
Just because you can find and catch monster slabs now doesn’t mean you should keep them all. With knowledge comes responsibility and the right thing to do is to release the bigger fish. Remember; there probably isn’t that many of them and need to be protected so have some fun, take a quick photo, and then let ‘em go. See you on the water.