The ice is gone from the local lakes and sunny calm days are warming the water in protected bays and channels. Local fishermen who know the secret are already having success. Some of the largest pan fish of the year are caught during the period from ice out until spawning begins. The first warming days cause plants to begin to emerge, creating cover for small minnows and insects. Hungry bluegill recovering from winter cruise the sunlit shallows feeding to replenish their strength and put on weight for the rigors of reproducing. These early fish are usually the largest and are the true breeders.
Crappies will follow the bluegills in to the shallows; however they will usually wait until the water approaches 50 degrees. To catch these early arrivals, fishermen must approach fish holding areas with care and use tactics that do not spook the fish and resemble natural food.
Local fishing guide Jim Hamrick and his wife Linda have perfected a technique that has proven to fill the freezer early in the season. The presentation consists of a light action rod and reel spooled with four or six pound test monofilament line, a casting bobber that Jim refers to as a “torpedo bobber,“ a leader 18 to 30 inches in length of two or four pound test line. Monofilament or fluorocarbon will perform well depending on the user’s choice. Fluorocarbon line will sink faster and be less visible than monofilament, but monofilament will let flies sink slower and has more stretch, which is an advantage for fighting bigger fish in shallow water.
The bait presentations Jim recommends are artificial flies, light jigs, or just a number six Aberdeen hook with a worm or minnow. Gulp or other artificial minnows produce as well as the real thing. The top-producing fly for early season is a Got-Cha Fly, a weighted ice fly produced by local fly tier Doug Smith. This dark green fly sinks quickly and is durable. It seems to be the best imitation of food the fish are seeking. Tipped with a wax worm or spike this fly produces from ice out until mid-summer. “We change to a standard sinking wet fly (black, purple, or chartreuse), as the water temperature approaches 60 degrees and spawning begins. Shallow fish cannot resist this slow-sinking morsel,” Hamrick says.
Crappies follow as the water continues to warm. Crappie presentations consist of a torpedo bobber, pink and white feathered jigs called Flu-flus, tipped with a wax worm. This seems to be the most productive early season presentation. One sixty fourth ounce jigs with curly tail plastics or an Aberdeen hook with a minnow should all work well. These torpedo bobber presentations are easy to rig, inexpensive, and produce in shallow water areas. It is a great system for beginners and kids, Hamrick concludes.
If you are ready to get out of the house and cure your cabin fever, give this proven technique a try.