Warming water spurs fish into shallows to spawn
PRATT — 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. Late April has brought warmer weather, however, and anglers are already catching crappie as they move close to shore, where they spawn in shallow water. This concentrates the fish and makes great fishing for boaters and shore anglers.

Crappie move to shallow areas when water temperatures reach the mid-50s and wait to spawn at water temperatures of 60-65 degrees. 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 vegetation, brush, and rocky gravel shorelines.

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 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 8- 10-foot rods, wading and dipping a jig 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 Perry, Kanopolis, Big Hill, Lovewell, Hillsdale, and Fall River. The best small lakes include Eureka City Lake, Harvey County East Lake, Ottawa State Fishing Lake, Herrington Old City Lake, and Scott State Fishing Lake.

For more information on crappie fishing prospects, go to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Park's (KDWP) website, Reservoir ratings for both black and white crappie may be found in the KDWP 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 more restrictive length and creel limits. Check the 2010 Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary, available wherever licenses are sold, or the KDWP website for details. Fishing conditions may vary depending on weather, particularly storms and heavy run-off. For up-to-date information on lake conditions, go to "Where To Fish In Kansas" on the KDWP website.