During this period, crappies are schooled on structure and holding around cover that makes them relatively easy to find.
On larger lakes, you'll find them holding in the same bays where anglers were cutting holes in the ice to reach them just a few weeks earlier. The best bays feature water deeper than 10 feet and sandy points and flats where fish will soon be laying eggs.
Look for the warmest water you can find. Northern (south-facing), dark-bottom bays warm first. Be sure to check bays that receive wind-blown warm surface water. Larger lakes sometimes have smaller lakes attached to them. That's where you'll locate early spring crappies.
Anglers often overlook feeder creeks, a key location in Midwestern reservoirs. Water warms there first in the reservoir system, and baitfish and crappies move up to take advantage of the food they find there.
If you're unfamiliar with the creeks, go slow to avoid knocking a lower unit against a stump or downed tree. The wood, especially wood in very shallow water, will hold crappies. Travel as far back as you can into the creeks and start fishing. Shore anglers can target those areas, too.
On main lakes, even the shallow water takes time to warm early in the year. Save shallow targets until the sun does its job. Early in the day, crappies will merely move higher in the water column over deeper water. Also find crappies along rocky shoreline riprap, if present.
But, cover is usually the key. Crappies love wood, whether fallen timber or submerged brush. Exposed wood collects heat from the sun and radiates it to nearby water to ignite the plankton-baitfish-predator food chain. Deeper brush offers concealment as fish move toward the shallows to feed.
You can sight-fish in the shallows. But deeper brush can be harder to find and fish. Old-timers know to go to likely points, lower a jig and move slowly with the electric trolling motor. That's when a snag is a good thing. Toss a buoy and you're in business.
But, there are easier ways. Enter the next generation of electronics, such as Humminbird's Side Imaging technology. The screen details cover like wood or rocks to the sides of the boat up to 240 feet away and down 100 feet. The search for spots to fish just got a lot simpler.
If the lake features boat docks, focus on the ones that have deep water nearby.
Another important spot to check old weed beds that survived the winter. Methods vary depending on where and how deep the target is.
One fun way to fish shallow wood is to use a long rod with a quick tip and some backbone, in order to reach out over tree limbs and drop a NO-SNAGG jig with a minnow into spaces between the branches.
If you need to stay away to avoid spooking fish, use a slip-bobber rig with the Thill Pro Weighted Series to let you stay back and still get where you need to go. Use a thread-style bobber stop, a bead, the float and a barrel swivel to a leader of line lighter than the main line. If you get snagged, you can break off without losing the entire setup. Use a rubber-core sinker instead of split shot. If you do get hung up in the branches, it's often the weight that's caught, not the hook. With a rubber-core, you can often pull the sinker and get it to slide free.
During especially tough bites, downsize and use ice jigs in Techni-Glo colors dressed with wax worms under Thill floats like the Mini Stealth and Shy Bite.
Riprap, which warms the water, often holds the most aggressive fish. Use something like a Road Runner, a small plastic trailer like a Munchies Thumpin' Grub and/or a wax worm or piece of nightcrawler, and fish fast along the rocky faces of dams or bridges. Cast and let the bait fall to the bottom before slowly retrieving it just over the rocks.
Count it down for two reasons. If the bait stops short of the last count, set the hook. A crappie took it as it was sinking. Counting down also lets you test shallower depths on subsequent casts to see if crappies are suspended.
Use the same setup to cast over the tops of submerged weeds. Or, drift over the top with slip-bobber rigs. Drop a buoy or enter a waypoint on the GPS when you connect with fish. Soon, you'll have an idea of the size, shape and even direction of travel of the school.
Shallow weeds can be fished like bass anglers do. Simply flip a small jig and plastic into holes in the weeds and reel back through natural avenues through the weed bed.
Target docks by using light, flexible, smaller rods to slingshot Little Nippers underneath.
As water continues to warm, look for crappies suspended off the outside weed lines. Cast a Little Joe Quiver jig and a minnow and let it fall. Also check fish cribs with the jig/spinner or a slip-bobber rig. Drifting areas off weed lines with slip bobbers can also be productive.
One word of caution: contrary to what some believe, panfish populations can take a beating from more and smarter anglers equipped with the latest technology. Take only enough for a meal or two. That way, there'll be more for you when you return next spring.
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