River Currents

by Free Speech on March 19, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
3/19/10
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Hot Spots for Early Spring Crappies on Lake Mendota

Lodi WI crappie fishing

Bob Zownir with a big pre-spawn crappie

The warm weather the past ten days has had me in the mood for open water fishing. This past weekend, I should have been working around the house instead of driving the area looking for early open water for crappies, checking out the Wisconsin River for pre-spawn walleyes and saugers, and walking the fields and woods looking for antler sheds. The smell and sounds of spring are in the air with migrating birds passing through the state, most snow melting, tulips popping out of the ground in sunny locations, and turkeys getting together for the not so distant mating season. We may still get a snow storm or two, but I think that spring is definitely in the air. The Wisconsin River finally has a good current flow which will get walleye anglers out in force to try and catch some of the biggest fish of the year. After a winter of snow and cold, spring is here!

Anglers, after a good ice fishing season, are anxiously waiting to fish open water. The are numerous locations around Lake Mendota for early pre-spawn crappies. The key to catching early ice-out crappies is to know what kind of habitat they gravitate to this time of year. All of the lakes in the Madison Chain and many other waters in the area, produce spring crappies, if you know the locations that they actively seek out and the proper techniques to use.

Even before the ice has totally left the area’s lakes, crappies can be caught in open water around the lakes edges. The water temperature in the open water ranges from the mid 40’s; with 50 degrees being the magic temperature for this early bite. Water temperatures can vary greatly this time of year and shallow water temperatures can rise dramatically on a sunny day. The crappies and all other fish coming out of the “funk” of winter now have a very slow metabolism. Fish will actively seek out warmer water locations where the water is calm. Fish and particularly crappies, actively seek out these warmer water spots with a few degrees warmer being all that is needed to attract them.

Anglers should realize that location is the single most important factor in finding pre-spawn crappies. This time of year, crappies like warm, quiet, and calm waters off and away from the main lake or in this case Lake Mendota. Prime examples of areas where you’ll find this kind of location are; boat channels, secluded bays, canals, feeder creeks, and backwater areas. If any of these locations have a dark or mud bottom, so much the better because these “spots” warm quicker and also hold their warmth longer. Think of these spots as “solar collectors” for crappies seeking out the warmest locations in the lake.

The next location to check for crappies is the wood or timber in these secluded areas. Always, remember that crappies love wood! When available, look for crappies around and near trees, brush, downed timber, wood piers, and boat hoists. The crappies are going to be in shallow water, usually only 2 to 3 feet deep. Another important thing about fishing near wood is that the wood warms up quicker and absorbs the early spring sunshine. The adjacent water warms and begins to get the food chain in motion. The warmer water allows the microscopic plankton to emerge and attract the forage fish (minnows) which in turn bring in the crappies.

Another early season tip is to fish the northern shoreline of lakes because it gets the most sunshine and warms up much quicker than the rest of the lake. Another key element is to have a south wind blowing the warmer surface water back to the crappies in the quiet bays away from the main lake. The mouths of feeder creeks and streams are also affected by the warming southern winds which blow warm water to the crappies.

Lake Mendota crappie

Close-up of a nice Spring crappie

Lake Mendota has many of the keys that you are looking for in your crappie hunt. The north shore of Mendota has numerous feeder creeks that flow into the lake while attracting crappies in the early spring. These feeder creeks are; Six Mile Creek, Pheasant Branch Creek, and the mouth of the Yahara River. Willow Creek, which enters Lake Mendota on the south side of University Bay, is another spot that will warm quickly while attracting crappies. Dingles Bay, University Bay, Spring Harbor, Warner Bay, and Marshall Park are local waters that are calm and quiet. These bays and lagoons also have the keys of wood, piers, and warming waters blowing into them to attract crappies.

Early crappies will use weeds and other aquatic vegetation, if there isn’t any wood in the area. Slack water spots that contain moss-covered rocks can also hold crappies because the rocks will hold warmth and warm quicker than the surrounding waters. Anywhere that there is food and comfort (warmer water) can and will hold pre-spawn crappies. The other lakes in the Madison Chain (Lakes Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa, and Wingra) also have good crappie populations and are definitely worth trying early in the season.

As far as equipment goes, you don’t need anything complicated or expensive for crappies. Ideally, you want a long rod (7 to 7 ½ feet) for making longer casts and you’ll also want a fast tip for feeling light bites. Make sure that the rod that you choose is balanced with a quality reel (Daiwa, Shimano, Garcia) that contains at least 3 or 4 ball bearings. The line that I suggest is Berkley Trilene monofilament in 4 pound test and the green color since most area waters are stained and this line blends in with the water and surroundings. If you’re fishing around wood, you may have to switch to 6 pound test mono to pull out of snags.

As far as terminal tackle goes, use a 1/16th or 1/32nd ounce jig (try the Bait Rigs Cobra) or a light wire # 6 hook under a float or bobber. To this, add a lively 2 inch fathead minnow and you’re set to catch some crappies. Besides minnows, you can dress your jig with a wax worm or plastic tails and grubs like those made by Pure Fishing (Gulp and Powerbait). Jig and plastic colors can change regularly, so have a varied selection to experiment with if action is slow.

Crappies want a slow presentation this time of year. Make long casts to any structure and slowly work the jig and float back with a stop and go retrieve. Try letting the float sit still and twitch it occasionally while retrieving the rig. Experiment till you find what is working the day that you’re fishing. Keep a few crappies for a meal, but let those spawning females go to spawn again.

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