When the water temperatures rise up to 45 degrees, fish activity begins to pick up noticeably. During this time, anglers can get away from the deadsticking techniques of mid-winter and start to fish more aggressively in deeper waters. Live, tail-hooked minnows will begin to draw in lethargic fish that had largely been unwilling to commit to a moving bait during the coldest parts of the hardwater season. Small, lipless crankbaits fished vertically over structure can draw out big feeders of various species, including crappie, walleye, white bass and even the occasional largemouth as fish break out of their tightly-bunched schooling behavior and begin to seek out sustenance.
As the water temperatures begin moving toward that magic 60-degree mark, crappie will begin moving to shallow water and feeding more liberally as they prepare for the spawn. During this time, fish fatten up nicely as they aggressively feed on minnows, insect larvae and small crustaceans in the shallows near cover, rather than the plankton that got them through the worst parts of winter.
My favorite early-spring technique for bluegills and crappie is the jig-and-bobber method. I typically use two 32nd-ounce or 64th-ounce jigheads rigged about a foot and a half apart, running about another two feet under a crappie float. Any sort of black or brown feather or marabou jig will work nicely regardless of weather, as will stinger-tailed grubs. If frequent rains leave the water looking murky, mix in a bit of chartreuse with the black presentation to catch their attention, especially on sunnier days.
My top panfish lures for this method are the Fle-Fly Lead-Free Feather Jig and the VMC Hot Skirt Glow Jig. For larger presentations during the peak of the summer crappie bite, I’ll go with a bigger bobber and move up to a pair of 2-inch or 2 1/2-inch Fle-Fly Crappie Kickers on a 16th-ounce Big Eye Jighead, or go with the B&P Jighead Carrot plastic jig. For fishing thicker cover, I’ll use B&P’s Tru Set Weedless Crappie Jighead to prevent snagging on brushpiles or other cover.
I usually tip whichever lure I’m using with wax worms or Berkley Crappie Nibbles, but bits of nightcrawler or even just a small piece of shrimp on an unpainted jighead will draw bites quickly. Fle-Fly’s Bubble Gum Lure Flavor also can draw nearly instant bites from big crappie.
After the crappie have spawned and the water continues to inch toward the 70-degree mark, the abundant shallow-water crappie will suddenly head toward the weed edges in deeper waters to allow the bluegill and, typically with them, largemouths into the shallows to stage for spawning. Gills will typically be more apt to seek cover such as docks, rock piles or brushpiles in the shallows during this time.
By April and May, simply dropping in an unpainted jighead and wax worm a few feet under a dock can trigger a strike from a big bull bluegill.
Because bass and bluegill spawn at roughly the same time, bluegill-colored baits make great lures for drawing defensive strikes from bedding bass during this time, as the bass attempt to protect their young from hungry panfish. Post-spawn bass also have been known to stake out bluegill beds waiting for a recovery meal.
Walleye typically will begin spawning even before crappie, when waters are in the 45- to 50-degree range, seeking windswept rocky areas in lakes or gravel areas in streams and rivers. They typically move upstream in rivers or into shallower water near big dropoffs in lakes from their wintering grounds prior to the spawn to stage. Fishing the calmer parts of creeks or rivers can be great for walleye at this time, such as bends in the river. Heavy spring rains can create excellent feeding opportunities for walleye, as well, as rainwater and release from overfilled lakes can sweep crustaceans and other walleye favorites downstream.
Lake Shawnee was stocked with 7,000 pounds of rainbow trout on Saturday and will be closed to fishing until 6 a.m. March 2 to allow the fish time to disperse and acclimate to their new environment. According to the Shawnee County Parks and Recreation department, the county will not be stocking Ward-Martin Creek this spring. Those wishing to trout fish must purchase a state trout fishing permit through the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, in addition to having a valid fishing license. Licenses and permits may be purchased online at http://www.ksoutdoors.com/,