The walleyes moving into the nets at the DNR this year set a record for early arrival. They showed up at Dunton locks on March 30, beating the previous early record date by a couple of days.
Unfortunately, the cold fronts that have rolled through the area over the last week have moved the fish out. They will move in and out based on water temperatures and comfort. Nights that stay warmer and don’t cool off the water after sunshine and warm days will bring them in in numbers. We need a warm-up with stable weather to really let the spawning ritual get into full swing. The early ice out, but slow warm-up has been the situation all over the state.
To the north, the early Rainy River ice out raised high expectations for a long early season. The water has remained between 35-38 degrees and the bite has been inconsistent due to the low water temps, high water, fast flow, and dirty conditions. It looks like the last week of the season will be the best.
To the south, the Mississippi River continues to stall in the low 40 degree range. Cold fronts, cloudy days, and a couple of snow storms have had a yo-yo effect on the water temps and the bite activity. A few good days, a great day, and some poor days have been the cycle of the last month.
With the early ice out, local anglers can look forward to a longer early season pan fish season. It is delayed some due to Mother Nature. Typically, the week after ice out will bring the water temperatures up enough to get the bite activated in the shallow water. The cold and cloudy days, and the cold nights have stalled the warm up. The high winds of the last week have made it challenging and uncomfortable to get out on a consistent bite pattern.
When the water stays in the 40 degree range, look for the crappies to be in the 8-15 foot water outside some of the shallow weed spawning areas. As the water warms into the 50-60 degree range, the males will move into the spawning areas first and hold for long periods of time. The females will move in and out of the area. As the water warms and the spawn time gets near, the fish will become aggressive in there feeding. Not all lakes warm the same, and not all the crappies will spawn at the exact time and water temperature.
Most times they will be suspended close to half the depth of the water they are holding in. Fish slightly above them with your bait presentation. A slip bobber rigged with a hook or small jig, and a crappie or fathead minnow is all that is needed. Casting small jigs tipped with minnows or plastics can pull the aggressive fish out of the school. Popping and dropping, or snapping and twitching the jig just overhead will let you know what they like.
Colors matter. Play with colors for jig heads, hair jigs, or plastics. Some classic starting colors will be white, pink, black, and chartreuse. Most times, a different plastic body (or hair) color and jig head color works best. The contrast can make for an easy target for the fish. Get the rods, reels, tackle boxes, and boats (if you have them) ready. It will be happening soon.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)