Timing the Crappie Spawn is Every Fisherman’s Goal
It was the Sunday before Memorial Day 2014, and the weather was hot. As it turns out, so would be the crappie spawn while fishing North Long Lake just north of Brainerd, MN on Hwy 371. We had been out the day before on Lake Hubert just north of Round Lake thinking the crappie spawn would be in full swing as the surface water temperature was 64 degrees, and we’d had a good steady warming trend with a stable weather pattern for the previous four days.
We were vacationing in the area and staying on Clark Lake at a rental home and our plan was to try fishing North Long Lake as the local bait shop was reporting good crappie fishing. There were other lakes that were reporting good panfishing, but you have to start somewhere. There are so many lakes in the Brainerd lakes area, there’s just not enough time to fish them all in on visit.
As I am from Iowa, and in the Cedar Rapids area, the water temperatures were just reaching the low 60s by the time we left to drive north 7 hours, I thought for sure that we would be too early for the crappie spawn in the Brainerd Lakes. But unexpectedly, the forecast for the five days we would be in the Brainerd Lakes, every day was forecasted to have highs in the low 80s and lows in upper 50s and low 60s. Even after the long and cold winter in the Brainerd Lakes, and all over the upper Midwest, this prolonged heat wave warmed the water perfectly for our arrival. I will admit, as much as I like to think that I’m a skillful fisherman, sometimes you just need some good luck. And this week, the timing was perfect to hit the crappie spawn just right as we were fishing North Long Lake.
Having no experience fishing North Long Lake before, we targeted the Hwy 371 Bay for crappie as we had seen from the day prior, a whole host of boats grouped in the shallows near Iven’s On The Bay. If there were that many boats congregated in one area, we figured the crappie spawn had begun and they were catching some fish. Otherwise, why would they all be there?
So that’s where we started. We were casting 1/16 and 1/32 ounce jigs with twister tails and Crappie Magnets. We were fishing a weedy flat that was all consistently about 6 feet in-depth with weeds just below the water’s surface. Within 5 minutes, we had the first crappie in the boat. And then 10 or 15 minutes later, the second crappie. We were trolling slowly with the Terrova iPilot in search of a school of crappie. But what happened for the next hour was unexpected.
My father-in-law caught the next five or six fish, and they were all good-sized largemouth bass in the 15 to 17 inch range. All of these bass hit on a 1/16 ounce pink jig head tipped with a pink body and yellow tail twister. We thought we were fishing the crappie spawn, but for the first hour and a half, it was turning out to be the largemouth bass show. On ultralight tackle, this was a blast. I just wished that my father-in-law would’ve shared one with us, but instead, he caught them all.
Off In Search of the Crappie
While catching the largemouth bass was fun, we were here for the crappie spawn. So we set off away from the cluster of boats, and set the iPilot on a course closer to shore. We moved out of the 6 foot water into more of the 4 foot range with emergent weeds that lined the shore right off of Hwy 371. There were a few people fishing from shore, and a number of boats in this area too, but not nearly as many as where were started.
We did a combination of drifting and trolling with the wind northward along the shoreline. We picked up a few more bass, but not as big as the first few. At this point, we were casting a combination of jigs and twisters, maraboeuf jigs, road runners and crappie magnets, and still no more crappie were hitting since the first two of the day over an hour and a half before. So I decided to change my tactics.
The Crappie Spawn is ON!
I grabbed another ultralight rigged up with a slip bobber, hooked a crappie minnow just under the dorsal fin on bare light wire hook and set my bobber stop to two and a half feet. I casted it out as we were still drifting with the wind to see if this approach would work better. Almost immediately, my bobber went under. On the end of the line was a beautiful 10″ black crappie. Just what we were after. I set a waypoint on the Lowrance HDS-8 and engaged the spot lock on the Minnkota Terrova iPilot to hold us in this spot. After unhooking the crappie and putting a new minnow on, I casted back to the same spot, and BOOM, down goes the bobber within 5 seconds of hitting the water. Another crappie almost the same size.
At this point my friend rigs up with a bobber, and casts off the other side of the boat, with no luck. In the meantime, I pull another two or three crappies out of this same spawning bed. My father-in-law isn’t getting anything casting the jig and twister, other than pulling in weeds.
When Do Crappie Start Spawning?
The crappie spawn usually occurs when the water temperatures reach between 60 and 65 degrees. The crappie will migrate from the deeper holes in the lake where they spent the winter and congregate in the shallows near shore where they make their spawning beds. The male crappie prepared the spawning beds, usually close to shore where there are weeds and brush, and this starts when the water temps near the 60 degree mark. The females join the males on the crappie spawning beds when the water temperature nears the ideal 65 degrees.
Water temperature was reading 66 degrees on the surface, and being we were only fishing in about 3 feet of water, that’s what the crappie were feeling as well. I shared my crappie honey hole with my friend and father-in-law, and for the next two hours, we proceeded to pull out about 65 crappie from an area of no more than 200 square feet. North Long Lake is about 6000 acres, and were held tight to a spot no bigger than my living room. We filled our live well with our limit of 30 and threw more than half of our catch for the morning back for another time.
Location is Key for finding Crappie on their Spawning Beds
I believe the crappie that we were catching would have bit on other baits on this day, but because they were in the weeds, it was nearly impossible to cast a jig and pull through the weeds at the depth we needed to in order to entice a strike without first hanging up on weeds. The weeds were providing the crappie their shelter on their spawning bed, and the only way to get to them was with a bobber. I never did try tying on a tube jig underneath a bobber, but I bet it would have worked nearly as well as the minnows were. I didn’t dare mess with success. I don’t recall a time fishing for any species where they were hitting with this regularity and consistency for this long. The crappie were so predictable, and it was so much fun. You’ve all heard the term, “like shooting fish in a barrel”, well this is exactly like what this was.
The crappie spawn was in full effect, but it wasn’t all over the shallows. I hardly had time to look around me to see what the other boats in the area were doing, but I know they weren’t pulling in crappie with the same regularity as we were. The spawning bed that we had found was very specific. If the bobber wasn’t placed quite right, it wouldn’t attract a bite. The crappies were held tightly to a clump of emergent reeds that made up their crappie spawning beds.
For me, there’s nothing like a meal of fresh fish from the waters of the Northwoods. All of the expense of fishing equipment, travel and time invested in finding the fish. You can easily go to a store and purchase fish for $5 or $7 per pound, and it would feed you just as well for a fraction of the cost. This would make more sense financially. But there are some things we do in life that don’t make financial sense, and the Northwoods experience is one of those things for me.
Catching the fish is just the start of it for me. I enjoy every step in the process. Starting with the fishing research, to the catching of the fish, then the cleaning of the fish and preparation for the fish fry and then all culminating in the consumption of the fish. Deciding on what to eat each night for the family is always a debate while on vacation, but one thing’s for certain, no Northwoods vacation is complete without the fresh fish fry dinner. I make it a point on vacation to provide this experience for the family, and I enjoy every step of the process.
Fish taste so much better when you’ve caught them and worked so hard in the process. All of that hard work and effort is worth every penny in my book. We shared this fish fry with four generations on the lake front, giving thanks for time together in the Northwoods, and the freedoms that we have in this great country because of the brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for us to enjoy these freedoms. On this Memorial Day weekend the timing of the crappie spawn while fishing North Long Lake meant so much more than just the thrill of the catch, but it provided us memories for years to come and special time with friends and family.