Year in and year out when the calendar turns to May, it is often one of the best times to target panfish. Whether the fish are pre-spawn, post-spawn or in the act of spawning you can usually find some cooperative fish. The key is adjusting your fishing location and presentation to match the conditions at hand.
It had been about a month since I last put the boat in on a small, clear-water lake in central Wisconsin and the conditions had changed dramatically. On the trip a month earlier, water temps had climbed to the mid 60’s and there were many fish up shallow, basking in the warm sun and beginning to fan out beds for the approaching spawn. A trip to the same body of water yesterday revealed a totally different scenario. After a few days of cold front conditions and night time lows dipping into the mid 30’s, the panfish had completely vacated the shallows in search of more favorable water conditions. As other boats raced in to secure their spots on known spawning grounds in shallow water, I was creeping along the mouths of these shallow bays looking for signs of life on the locator. When I didn’t see any signs of fish up shallow while unloading the boat, I was certain they would be staged somewhere just outside those spawning areas.
By using the locator on my boat I was able to locate a large pod of fish holding in about 16ft of water. After carefully anchoring on the deep side of where the fish were marked, the jigging rods came out and some B-Y Baits WaterBugs and SuperMinnows were threaded on the business end. If you are deep enough (usually more than 10ft) that the fish aren’t scared of the boat, it is usually more effective to vertical jig than use a float. By adjusting the sensitivity of the locator I was able to pick up my tiny 4mm tungsten jig on my graph so I could see how the fish reacted. Fish aggressively charged at the offering and marks soon filled the bottom 12ft of the water column. They were bluegills, a bit on the small side, but it was fun plucking one after another while we watched the other boats positioned shallower in the same bay not catch anything.
After we caught our fill of bluegills, we went looking for crappies and found them a bit shallower in emerging weeds. With the boat positioned in 10-11ft of water, they were too skittish to be coaxed with a vertical presentation. The floats went back on the lines and were positioned 16-18 inches above the jig. I had seen a few fish scatter so I knew they were there, but couldn’t get any to bite. After a few color changes didn’t change our luck, we finally determined the flat-calm, clear water had the fish spooked because the float was too close to the jig. So, we downsized the float and moved it to about 3ft above the jig. Just like that, it was non-stop until we had caught enough fish to spook the rest out of the area.
Keep in mind fish movements aren’t determined by our calendar. While our calendar was reading the week before Memorial Day weekend, a time when on many years fish can be found up shallow on beds, the fish were working off nature’s calendar. The other folks fishing the same lake had motored right past the main concentrations of fish seeking that shallow water bite they expected to find for this time of year. It might only take a half day of sunshine and warmer weather to move those fish back shallow, that’s why fishing is usually a “here today, gone tomorrow” deal. The fact is, don’t go to a location because it’s the time of year the fish “should” be there. Choose your starting location based on the water temperature and weather conditions that day. Then once the fish are located, adjust your presentation to suit the water depth, mood of the fish, and structure the fish are holding in.
Looks like warmer weather in the forecast for us here in central Wisconsin and the crappies we found were still holding eggs. I’m thinking next week when I hit the lake I’m going to be one of those guys racing towards a good spawning area, but of course I’ll let the conditions determine that!