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03/02/2015 @ 06:38 AM

Spring Crappies


Spring Crappies By Joe Wilkinson DNR Information Specialist The light tug on his line told Gene Vislisel that he had another one. Keeping the tip of his pole high, he reeled in another crappie from the shallows of Lake Macbride. "I've been throwing some of them back, and keeping some," he said, slipping this one into the white bucket beside him where another eight or nine were held. With a light jig and a minnow, Vislisel, of Cedar Rapids, was getting fairly regular bites early this week, as crappies began moving into the shallows to spawn. Walking down the bank 100 yards, I noticed a nice 9 or 10-inch crappie in Gene Goddard's wire fish basket. He had been having pretty good luck at Lake Geode, near Burlington earlier this month. A deluge the night before, though, redirected him to Macbride. Their crappies, early this week, were among the first of many for anglers this Spring. "As water temperatures get up to about 65 degrees, crappies move in close to shore," explains Don Bonneau, fisheries research supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources. "They start spawning in the rocky areas near shore and they're really accessible to most anglers. They'll bite real well when they are in close and spawning." The advantage of boat fishing is almost neutralized. Just about anyone who can hike a few steps to a rocky bank or brush pile should get some bites. Bonneau estimates that 80 percent of crappie anglers are casting from shore during the spawning period.

Locally, Macbride has always been a good lake for taking lots of crappies. However, 2001 offers a different playing field. Water levels are slowly returning to normal, after the lake was drawn down 20 feet last fall for renovation. Your 'regular' crappie hot spot is still dry land, though. "Along the dam is good this spring," offers DNR fisheries biologist Paul Sleeper, pointing to the rock structure a couple hundred yards from his office. "Any good brush piles that anglers can find will be good, too. You can walk out to the brush and rock (that will be underwater soon)." Sleeper says anglers on Coralville Reservoir should start pulling in crappies by the end of the week, as that larger lake's temperatures rise a little more. "They were hammering crappies on Pleasant Creek Lake (northwest of Cedar Rapids) just before the last front moved through," offers Sleeper. Where ever you fish, remember that the shallow bays warm up first. Most of the action will be concentrated in there, especially if a rocky shelf or riprap bank is nearby. Sometimes, even when the fishing is hot, the size is not. That's true with many of the same lakes that sport good crappie numbers. A cyclical fish, crappie sizes are 'down' in many of them this year. "They are little ones," admits Sleeper of this year's predominant 7- to 8-inch crappies. "They're maybe three years old. Remember, we had the same thing four years ago. That year class did real well for anglers a couple years later as fish hit the 10 inch range. These may do the same thing." Lake Rathbun in southern Iowa, may be experiencing the same 'year class' dilemma. Considered the crappie Mecca for most Iowa fishing fanatics, sizes this year are a bit undersized in 'Iowa's Ocean'. "The biggest group of crappies is that 7- to 8-inch range," reports DNR Biologist Mark Flammang. "There are some 'nines', but you are not looking at a lot of (keeper sized) 10- to 11-inch crappies. You are going to catch a lot of fish, but the size just isn't there." Flammang says with the strong numbers from that 1998 year class, though, next season should hold a lot of promise. In mid-May, Flamming says the Buck Creek and Honey Creek areas were getting lots of crappie fishing pressure. Throughout central Iowa, crappie anglers have their pick. "Just about anywhere you want to go, they're caching some," reports fisheries biologist Dick McWilliams. "They're moving in to spawn. Minnows and jigs are working. The size of the fish varies, though." McWilliams says Easter Lake, Ahquabi, Hickory Grove, Rock Creek in addition to Big Creek are getting angler interest as the crappie spawn peaks. So, anglers will be making a run on bait shop minnow inventories for a couple weeks. "There are a couple reasons," suggests Bonneau. "One, they are very abundant; in most of our lakes and larger rivers and they are easy to catch right now. You don't have to have a lot of expensive equipment; just some light tackle, light line*you'll catch a lot of them." That they are among the tastiest Iowa fish doesn't hurt their popularity, either, acknowledges Bonneau. Possession Limits? No Effect on Crappie Populations With an expected shortage of nice crappies on many lakes this year, the question of possession limits is frequently raised by anglers. After following studies, though, fisheries officials say the way to grow bigger fish is through management of the land upstream from our lakes, not a restriction on the size or number of crappies that you keep. "Crappie are one of our most abundant fish species," notes Don Bonneau, of the DNR's fisheries research section. "We have looked closely at a creel limit, a daily limit or catch limit. These limits, though, would do nothing." On the contrary, Bonneau says some lakes have an overabundant population; but one with too many small crappies. "The reason we have a lot of smaller fish is that we have poorly managed watersheds. A lot of silt and nutrients run in and the water is muddy. That makes for poor fishing and a lot of small fish." In the better lakes around Iowa, Bonneau says crappies are larger and that there is no angler impact on populations.

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Crappie iowa | Goldencove
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