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How to Find and Catch March and April Crappie

Day 2: Minnesota Crappie through the Ice in March and April with Matt Johnson

Editor’s Note: Matt Johnson, from Blaine, Minnesota, fishes southern Minnesota and the Horseshoe Chain of lakes and often guides as many as 6 days a week for both ice fishing and open-water fishing. Although he’ll guide for any of the species found in Minnesota, he’s a panfish specialist.

Click for Larger ViewQuestion: How are you catching most of your crappie?

Johnson: I like to fish with plastic lures and rarely use live bait when I go fishing, except when I’m converting a live-bait fisherman to being a plastic-bait fisherman. I only carry minnows, maggots and worms to teach people how to fish plastic baits. But I’ll explain that later. My favorite baits for panfish are the Mister Twister Micro Shad, Micro Nymph and Micro Crawfish, because I try to imitate exactly on what the bluegills and the crappie are feeding. When I fish with these small soft plastics, I’ll often use some type of float. Then I can cast the bait to the fish’s strike zone and let the bait sit in the strike zone for a longer time than if I’m casting and retrieving. A float allows me to keep my bait at the depth where I think the fish are feeding. Also floats make my casting easier. I can cast further and stay further away from the fish, so that I don’t spook them. I jig with plastics in deep water, and I fish with floats in shallow water.

Click for Larger ViewQuestion: Matt, are you fishing deep water or shallow water in late February and March?

Johnson: Right now we’re fishing on the ice and not fishing from boats at all. So, when I’m fishing through the ice, I fish all different depths. If the water gets a lot of oxygen in it and still has green weeds, I’ll fish shallow. But if there’s not a lot of oxygen in the water, I’ll fish deep.

Question: Okay, how do you rig for crappie and bluegills at this time of year?

Johnson: When I’m ice fishing, I’m using a horizontal presentation. I like a jig that doesn’t have a collar. I like to thread the Micro Shad, onto the jig, so that the plastic is straight to make it look natural. I like the 1-1/8-inch Micro Shad because it presents a small profile and exactly imitates what we call pin minnows that we find in our waters. We call these fish pin minnows because they’re so tiny. Often the crappie will herd these pin minnows into the shallow weeds and gorge themselves on these pin minnows as they feed along the edges of the weeds.

Question: Matt, how do you find the places where you’re going to fish?

Johnson: I use a Marcum Flasher depth finder, which is very similar to a Vexilar flasher. This flasher is round, features three different colors and is so sensitive that it not only shows the bottom and the fish but also my Micro Shad jig. Too, I can detect weeds and tell whether the bottom is soft or hard with this depth finder. If the ice is thin and clear, especially in the early part of the season, you can slide the transducer over the ice and locate the weed edges and the fish. However, at this time of the year, with a foot of snow cover over the ice, I have to punch holes in the ice when I’m looking for fish. I use a hand-held Lowrance depth finder to help me locate the spots on the lakes where I want to fish. I put the map chips of the lake in this depth finder to enable me to see the contours of the lake, which cuts-down on the amount of time I have to spend looking for drop-offs and weed lines. If I can find green weeds under the ice, then I look for the first bottom break in 7 to 12 feet of water. If I can’t locate those bottom breaks, I look for structure on the edges of deep holes out in the lake.

Most fishermen will be searching for that structure on the edges of those deep holes. So, the fish staying in those areas receive the most fishing pressure. That’s why I really prefer to identify secondary drop-offs away from those deep holes. Once I identify the location I want to fish, I drill my holes in the ice, put my depth finder over the hole and then drop my Micro Shad down in the water to the depth where I see the fish holding.

Click for Larger ViewQuestion: What size jig head are you using on that Micro Shad?

Johnson: I don’t use any jig head that’s heavier than 1/16-ounce. Generally, I use a 1/32- or a 1/64-ounce jig head – really-small profile baits. We generally fish very-small jigs during the wintertime.

Question: What color Micro Shad are you using for March crappie through the ice?

Johnson: My two personal favorites are pearl-white and pearl-pink. And I’m fishing them on 3-pound-test made by P-Line. The line, called Fluroclear is a copolymer, a monofilament coated with fluorocarbon. The advantages to this type of line are that it has very-little memory to it, it’s invisible, it has tremendous knot strength, and it helps shed water, which helps with freeze-up. I can watch the jig fall from the surface down to the depth where I see the fish images on my depth finder. I feel like I’m looking at an adult video game, because the fish show up in different colors, depending on what size they are. The sonar picks up the air bladders of the fish. When the jig image is overlapped by the fish image, I can set the hook, whether I feel the bite or not.

However, I still use spring bobbers attached to my rod, because the spring bobber either rises or falls when a crappie bites. Particularly during the winter months, we catch a lot of up-biting fish. When the fish are biting-up you may not notice the strike, if you don’t have a spring bobber. When the fish picks up your bait, if it’s biting up, the spring will lift up. And you won’t be able to feel that light bite through the rod without a spring bobber.

Click for Larger ViewQuestion: How deep is the water you’re fishing now during the first part of March?

Johnson: I’m fishing 16- to 20-feet deep. And, we catch both crappie and bluegills at that depth. Oftentimes during the winter, the crappie and bluegills will school together, which will allow you to catch both fish out of the same ice hole.

Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and SummerLearn more about catching crappie from some of the top pros, anglers and guides for crappie in the country. Get your copy of the Kindle eBook, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer” by John E. Phillips by clicking here. Amazon Prime members can receive the book free for 5 days.




Tomorrow: Taking South Carolina and North Carolina March and April Crappie with Stokes McClellan

Check back each day this week for more about "How to Find and Catch March and April Crappie "

Day 1: Finding Early-Spring Crappie in Kentucky with Malcolm Lane
Day 2: Minnesota Crappie through the Ice in March and April with Matt Johnson
Day 3: Taking South Carolina and North Carolina March and April Crappie with Stokes McClellan
Day 4: Fishing the Tunica Cut-Off During March and April with Ed “Dawg” Weldon
Day 5: Catching Black and White Crappie on Reelfoot Lake in March and April with Billy Blakely

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Entry 658, Day 2