Supposed to snow tonight. Temperatures are going to dip into the 20°F range again, with snow squalls and gusts up to 40 mph.
That will send the bluegills and crappies scurrying back to the “elevator.” Do you know where the elevator is on your lake or pond? It’s the sharpest drop between winter and spring habitat. In lakes, it often connects a main-lake basin to a large, shallow shelf or bay. The earliest shallow movements tend to take place in bays, where water warms fastest, and in those cases, the elevator tends to be just outside the bay, near the steepest slope into depths of at least 15 feet.
Typically, after a massive cold front, we find crappies stacked and suspended, about 12 to 18 feet down over depths of 20 to 25 feet, just off the sharpest drop in the area. That is, we know they’re crappies because we can see them with our Aqua-Vu cameras, not because we’re hauling them into the boat. They tend to develop a serious case of lockjaw.
But for the past few days, we’ve been lucky enough to experience stable, warming weather with air temperaturess topping 70°F and water temperatures reaching 54°F. As mentioned in the last post, we needed Thill Shy Bites to detect most of the strikes. Even though the water is warming fast, bigger bluegills in lakes around here are wary creatures. The long, thin profile of a Shy Bite allows it to shoot through the surface tension like a dart with the merest touch. We use 1/80- to 1/64-ounce TC Tackle ball-head jigs (406/683-5485) that we paint ourselves with nail polish. Our leaders are composed of 4-, 5-, and 6-pound fluorocarbon lines, 18 inches to 3 feet long, depending on how deep we find them and how heavy the cover is. The main line on our reels is 4-pound Berkley FireLine, which is easily tougher in weeds than 8-pound mono, and it casts much farther. And it floats. As far as I’m concerned, coated braids are the only lines to use when fishing floats.
The small barnyard animal Mary holds in the photo was way out on a huge shallow flat, relating to the last stands of green cabbage left over from last year. We had to work the entire flat to find them because the cabbage was too deep to see, and the water wasn’t extremely clear. We then used the GPS function on my Humminbird 958c to outline the area with waypoints. The area was 4 to 5 feet deep and heavily infested with both live and dead cabbage stalks. Obviously, we’ve been using the heaviest leaders we can get away with, and in this instance used Toray Super Hard 6 pound.
These big saucers turn their side to you and dig into the cabbage. Nothing you can do about it. Every battle is touch-and-go, reeling down to the fish then lifting the 7-foot St Croix Avid AVS70ULF as high overhead as you can reach to tear them free. Then the battle is on for a half minute or so before they bury you again. The problem is accentuated by the fact that they absolutely will not tolerate having the boat within 20 feet of them. Even when turning the depth finders and trolling motor off and anchoring, in six trips to this Flat of Pigs this spring, we have yet to see a float go down within 20 feet of the boat. These are extremely wary fish. Catch two and it’s over. You have to move about 50 feet to catch two more. Typical, too, for the float to sit in one spot for over 4 minutes before anything will touch the bait.
Yesterday, the fish were just beginning to reach shore. We caught 4 or 5 right up in the wood, old reeds, and shallow boulders, where we’re accustomed to finding them this time of year. My guess is the mild winter left more green weeds out on the shallow flats than ever before. Whatever the reason—they haven’t been bound to the shoreline as they have in years past in these temperature regimes. Now we can look forward to the whole process reversing itself again while we clean snow and ice off the windshields. Ick.