Before long, lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota will shed their winter coats of white and change back into a casual layer of sparkling blue. Anglers will make an adjustment in their attire, too, with waders and vests replacing snowshoes and parkas. Those are sure signs the spring crappie bite is approaching! It’s time for fishermen to think about dressing a jig with a minnow and landing some slabs.
Although the date of ice-out varies from south to north in our state, crappies respond the same throughout Minnesota. As water temperatures rise in the shallow portions of a body of water, insects and baitfish begin to appear. Looking for an easy meal, crappies rise from the depths where they have spent much of the winter. They are energized by an increase in oxygen levels and a ravenous hunger. The abundance of food that congregates in the warming water is a natural magnet.
Following is a look at a dozen locations that appear ready for some exceptional, early-season action in 2012. Be aware that crappies are vulnerable at this time of the year. Anglers should not take advantage of the situation by overindulging. Please practice a bit of catch-and-release.
If you search for Cedar Lake on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Lakefinder link, you will discover that 16 counties in Minnesota are home to at least one lake of that name. As far as crappie fishing is concerned, it could be argued that the Cedar Lake found in Martin County ranks close to the top.
Near the town of Trimont, this 700-acre lake is comprised of two shallow basins, with a maximum depth of only 7 feet. Despite the fact that an aeration system is operated in each basin, low oxygen levels are occasionally found there during winter. However, it appears that the populations of both white and black crappies have been surviving quite well there for years.
Test net surveys were conducted in the summer of 2010, and the results could be considered impressive. The lake was found loaded with fish, a fair percentage exceeding 9 inches in length. Of particular interest were a high number of both white and black crappies in the upper portion of the 6- to 8-inch range. Those fish are now 4 and 5 years old and should still be fairly abundant.
According to Ryan Doorenbos, area supervisor of the Windom Area Fisheries Office, a growth rate survey was conducted at Cedar Lake in 2004. The survey found that at two years, black crappies averaged 7.34 inches, while the faster growing white crappies were at 8.03 inches. By age four, both varieties were approaching an 11-inch average. Doorenbos expects that crappie anglers will have good success on Cedar Lake in 2012, and added that the best access to the lake is located in the north basin.
LAC QUI PARLE
LAC QUI PARLE COUNTY
This expansive reservoir covers nearly 6,000 acres, with a maximum depth of 15 feet. Found near the town of Milan, the lake has numerous accesses. The fishery has a history of producing large crappies and the most recent net surveys would indicate that this should continue. In 2010, gill netting results showed that a high percentage of the white and black crappies found in this body of water exceed 9 inches in length, with black crappies averaging more than 1/2-pound in weight.
An impoundment of the Minnesota River, the water level at Lac Qui Parle is controlled at the river’s outlet by the Churchill dam. During the spring, water levels fluctuate from year to year.
I asked Chris Domeier, at the Ortonville Area Fisheries Office, how these varying water levels can affect the movement of crappies early in the year. He responded that the fish normally return to the same areas in the spring, regardless of the level of the lake.
“The primary difference appears to be that the crappies follow the higher water up the shore and will be in the newly flooded areas,” Domeier stated, and then provided the following example. “Voldin’s Pit usually has a spring crappie bite down by the boat access, this year (spring, 2011) the bite was farther up the road in a newly flooded area, but still in the same general vicinity.”