The Pulse

Spring Crappie Fishing on the Chippewa Flowage

Crappies are abundant, great eating and open all year long, making them one of the most sought after species on the Chippewa Flowage. Like other fish, crappies are on the move in the spring. By understanding their movements and a few basic presentations you can take advantage of some excellent spring crappie fishing and kick that spring fever which has been eating away at all us for the past 6 months.

Once the ice melts crappies follow a natural progression toward spawning areas, movements are dictated by water temperature changes. The majority of crappies spend the winter months in deeper wintering holes. These areas are typically 18-30 feet deep. The best wintering areas are located near spawning locations. Big shallow bays and creek/river inflows are excellent spawning areas. Look at a map and find the largest shallow water bay on the north side of the lake and then begin to look for concentrated holes with water deeper than 22 feet. These are likely crappie wintering holes. You can then draw a line from the wintering hole to the backs of these shallow bays following the deep water or river channels as best you can. This will essentially be the primary migration route.
This line is extremely important, but without knowing the temperatures at which these fish move it is useless. Just as a map without street names or locations would be of no help. So let’s fill in some street names, intersections and destinations.

37-44 Degrees: These are wintering hole temperatures, simple. Fish will be suspended anywhere from a couple of feet off the bottom to 10 feet down.
45-53 Degrees: At the lower end of this temperature range you will see fish leaving their wintering areas and relating to structure in the 12-20 foot range in close proximity to the mouths of spawning bays. On the Chippewa Flowage the primary structure is deep wood. Most of the time these fish will still be balled up in fairly large schools and will suspend a couple of feet off bottom in and around the wood. Towards the upper end of this temperature range you will see fish moving progressively further into spawning bays, typically in 6-12 feet of water. This is when seeking out the warmest water will play a big role in finding the masses of fish. Wind plays a big part in moving around the warmest water. If the wind has been blowing into one corner of a bay for a few days during a warming trend, it is likely the water will be warmer in that corner. Find the warmest water and you will find the fish. If weeds or wood are present these are excellent areas to look. If neither are present fishing a neck down or the first break leading into the shallows can be the program. Also it is worth saying that without the presence of wood or weeds you can simply drive around and look for the schools as they will be suspended.
54-60 Degrees: This is when you see many of the males in the shallows beginning to make beds and linger near the surface. Females will typically be a bit deeper as they move shallow a bit later than the males. Once again finding the warmest water is the key. The entire bay may be 51 degrees, however one corner behind a tree could be 57 degrees and may hold hundreds of crappies. Never underestimate very small, isolated pockets of these larger bays. I have seen some of the best crappie fishing in pockets so shallow I can barely get my boat through.
60-66 Degrees: This is generally the ideal temperature to find crappies spawning in the shallows. On the Chippewa Flowage the ideal depths are 1-5 feet of water. They spawn in areas with a sandy/gravel bottom. Typically an area with a very dark or muddy bottom will hold a ton of crappies prior to the spawn however most fish need a firm bottom to lay eggs. Any type of harder bottom shoreline/point near these muddy corners within a bay are perfect spawning locations.
One topic to quickly touch base on is changing water temperature. This rule applies to all fish during the cooler water period. The cooler the water the smaller the temperature change it takes to affect fish location/activity. For example, if you were catching crappies in 4 feet of water around brush with a water temperature of 53 degrees and a rain cooled the water to 51.5 degrees it would likely push the fish out towards a secondary break line overnight. On the other hand, if it was 60 degrees and the water temperature dropped to 58.5 degrees it would not force the fish out of the shallows as easily.

Red Star: Spawning Bays (60-65 degrees) Find the warmest water. Visually search the shorelines for fish on the surface as well as bedding fish. Don’t start fishing until you see fish!
Yellow Star: Shallow Staging Areas. (53-60 degrees) When the water is in the mid-50s look for fish in the first break coming out of the shallows. Typically this is where many of the larger females will hang out while the males move to the shallows once the water closes in on 60 degrees. Fish around isolated wood or weed edges.
Red Oval: Deep Staging Areas. (45-53 degrees) Look for brush, cribs or smaller structural variations to concentrate fish. Fish will suspend close to cover/structure.
Black Star: Wintering Location (36-44 degrees) Crappies will likely suspend anywhere from 10 feet down to a couple of feet off of the bottom.

Enough technical talk, lets discuss some presentation options for catching Chippewa Flowage crappies. Rarely do I use live bait to target crappies regardless of the season. If live bait is your go to all of these presentations will work with a minnow as well.
When fish are in water 12 feet or deeper and within 6 feet of the bottom drop-shotting gets the nod. If you are not sure how to drop-shot look it up as it is pretty simple and the most effective way to keep your bait in the strike zone. I will typically drop shot with a 1 or 1.5 inch gulp minnow in chartreuse. If fish are in the 7-12 foot range and holding tight to cover I will typically use a slip bobber with a 1/32 ounce jig and a gulp minnow or a twister tail. This is one situation where it is important to buy the expensive weighted bobber with metal grommets on both ends. The weight will make the presentation castable and the metal grommets will help line pass through the bobber mush easier while using a 1/32 ounce jig. I will make a cast, let the lure settle at the depth the fish are holding and simply pull the bobber a foot or two and let it settle for a few seconds before pulling it again. If fish are less tied down to cover, but still holding in the same depths I will swim a jigs through these areas in order to cover more water. Small beetle spins, hair jigs and small jigs and plastics will get the job done. 1/32 or 1/64 ounce jigs are typically the go to. 4# braid with a 7’ or greater light action rod will help you cast further, more accurately and detect bites 100 times better!
As the spawn approaches and the fish move into 1-6 feet of water the presentation changes again. Crappies feed upwards, it is important to remember that! If you are seeing fish in 4 feet of water you don’t want to be fishing 3 feet down. Unless a cold front hits you want your presentation to be about 12 inches down. The best presentation I have found to target fish in the shallows is a fixed float. I am sure there are a few different varieties, however the one I like the best is the A-Just-A Bubble bobbers. Google it if you are not sure what they are. You can buy them in either a clear plastic or a highly visible color. When crappies get shallow they can be very spooky if you get too close to the schools. These bobbers give you the ability to cast accurately from a great distance. Put a 1/32 ounce jig tipped with your favorite plastic 12 inches below your float and you are ready to rock.
Many times when fishing the Chippewa Flowage just prior to the crappie spawn you will move into a shallow corner of a bay and see hundreds of crappies just an inch or two under the surface. In this scenario a bobber would only scare the fish away and unless you have a fly rod this can be a very difficult situation. Most of the time these fish will be in water 2 feet deep or less. I will tie up a drop-shot with a 3 foot gap between the weight and the hook. I will use a very light split shot for a weight and a smaller plastic on the hook. By doing this you can make a long cast without spooking the fish and present your lure absolutely weightless on the surface of the water. This is a killer presentation for spawning gills as well.

The Chippewa Flowage is a great crappie fishery and spring is the time to capitalize on some of the fastest crappie action of the year! Catch a bunch of fish for a meal, enjoy the warming weather and say goodbye to the winter blues!