Warmer weather lures popular sportfish to shallow water spawning areas

The Kansas crappie spawn is one of the most exciting times of the year for many Kansas outdoorsmen, but it's been a cool spring in Kansas, and nature has been slow to respond. Mid-May, however, has brought warmer weather, and anglers can expect crappie to start biting as they move close to shore, where they spawn in shallow water. This makes great fishing for anyone with a hook and line.

Crappie move to shallow areas when water temperatures reach the mid-50s and wait to spawn at water temperatures of 60-65 degrees, usually in late spring. They may spawn as shallow as 2 feet deep and are most active at dawn and dusk, when light levels are low. Look for spawning fish near cattails, rock piles, or brush and twigs emerging from water.

Live minnows are good crappie bait, especially during cool spells when fish are less active. Hook the minnow just under the dorsal fin to keep it lively. Use a bobber to set depth, and keep a minnow near structure where the fish are hiding.

When crappie are most active, small, colorful jigs can produce even better catches. Small spoons, spinners, or crankbaits can be effective, as well. For the avid fly fisherman, crappie present a welcome challenge and bite well on a variety of flies. Those that imitate minnows and nymphs are best.

Most crappie anglers use ultralight spinning gear because the fish are not hard fighters and generally weigh less than a pound. Monofilament line of 4- to 6-pound test allows an angler to cast tiny jigs and provides better feel for light bites. A slip bobber or float can help keep a small jig at just the right depth and might help avoid snags.

Spawning crappie are easily frightened by noise, so approach shallow fishing spots quietly. Some anglers use 10-foot rods equipped with short lines, wading and dipping the lure in a technique known as "doodlesocking." Dipping the jig in likely-looking habitat, the doodlesocker can fish from spot to spot without spooking the fish. This is an effective method when crappie are in water less than 3 feet deep.

For anglers fishing for food, it doesn't get any better than spring crappie fishing. This year, the top crappie reservoirs include Fall River, Perry, Hillsdale, Marion, Kanopolis, Kirwin, and Pomona. The best small lakes include Moline New, Eskridge Lake-Wabaunsee, and Sedan Old city lakes, as well as Scott State Fishing Lake.

More information on crappie fishing prospects is available in KDWP's Fishing Forecast. In addition, the most currently-recorded biologists' fishing reports may be found on the agency's Fishing Reports web page, and anglers can report their own experiences and read those of others on the department's Public Fishing Reports page. Water temperatures typically vary from north to south in Kansas, so some movement may begin later in the state's northernmost lakes.

Because they are prolific in most Kansas waters, crappie creel limits are liberal -- in most places, 50 fish per day. Some lakes have 10-inch length limits. Check the 2009 Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary, available online or in printed version wherever licenses are sold.