Utter the word ‘flood’ in some low lying neighborhoods and folks wince. Real flood victims might go into sandbagging mode. Flooding is a normal occurrence, however, typically benign and predictable. From the simplest flooding model we learn how water collects via tributaries, overland melt and seepage; how the occurrence influences fish location and activity levels. And crappies, more than any other species, are suckers for the flood.
Lifelong buddy Brian Brosdahl–aka the acclaimed rodsman ‘Bro’–patterns his spring fishing after the flooding phenomenon. The intrepid fishing guide studies individual bodies of water and identifies stretches where spring flowage pools to become a primo crappie haunt.
Tributaries get dibs. An inflowing creek or small river brings with it tepid temperatures, as a result kick-starting an entire food-chain overture. The warmer, energized water carries with it foodstuffs that drain in from higher ground. Everything from earthworms to expired baitfish to insect-life strum together, presenting Hungry-Man options for panfish…as well as the baitfish they eat. Swarms of baitfish gravitate to the flow and its micro tablefare, individual members succumbing to gulping crappies.
And as Bro recognizes, not only mapped tributaries bring forth warmed water. “Bog and wetland melt and spring rain seepage are major warm water influxes. As water flows over and through the vegetation it’s literally heated. Combine that with stained water, which gathers light and warms faster, and the key ingredients are in place.”
So look for weedy, saturated shorelines that taper into shallow water–soft bottoms preferably, as they’re rife with life and warm the fastest. Along those lines, Bro is particularly keen on cattail and bulrush edges that end abruptly in a root mass. The ‘tuck under garage’ feature is a preferred spot for springtime crappies, offering warmth, shelter and eats.
The crème de la crème in Bro’s watery world is a tributary that spills through lowland vegetation. He has several such places on speed dial. His favorite, unnamed for this exercise, is a creek that wanders into an upper bay on a supersized lake. (Keep it under the hood if you know the one.) The narrow flow opens gradually into the bay, gaining size and depth along its path.
Bro tames it annually. But every year is different, its superstructure modified by the seriousness of the melt or intensity of spring rains. So before dipping a bait, the techno geek picks the area apart with his electronics package. Humminbird Side Imaging drills sideways 100-plus feet, spying for actual fish–described as a “tornado of leaves”–as well as pods of nutritious baitfish. Below, Down Imaging paints a picture of the bottom, even yielding info such as bottom softness.
Exploration centers on channel bends, particularly eddies forming on the backside of inside turns. Deep carving outside bends also warrant a scan. But those backside pools are the main event. Bro says panfish, which are not physically designed to buck current, will establish on slackwater seams where they loiter and wait for the next trick or treat. Baitfish can’t brave the current, either, so they also amass in the less mercurial water and fall victim to ‘ol papermouth.
Downstream of the eddies, Bro hopes to find standing rushes or wild rice, perhaps even retired cabbage. Washed clean, the vegetation becomes structure. No longer are the dead vegetation’s oxygen consuming traits a concern, as the fresh flow brings with it breathable water. Downstream logs, docks and rocks add to the rich fish-holding environment.
Depth-wise, Bro says it’s more important for the spot to be feature-rich than deep. Five feet of water will do, even less if everything else sets up properly relative to the current seam, structure and presence of baitfish.
Conditions call for holding and casting. Anchoring mid-channel and pitching baits is an option. But in the best of all possible worlds, Bro recommends locking down and slowly slipping with a Minn Kota electric motor. Bow aimed at incoming water, he tempers speed to a stalemate. Cast-cast-cast. No enchilada? The control freak slides downstream a couple boat lengths and peppers the water again.
If crappies are sprinkled throughout, he hits the repeat button, motoring back to the top of the eddy and re-slips. In an all-points-bulletin bite, Bro hits Spot-Lock, which tells the trolling motor to stay put. “Minn Kota’s Spot-Lock is a modern day marvel. Grab the remote. Push a button. And it’s like deploying an anchor without rope or that whiny fishing partner.”
Bro’s lure selections are based on a test of crappie cooperativeness. A Northland Thumper Jig, with its garish underbelly blade, ferrets out the aggressors. He tips a 1/32-ounce Thumper with an Impulse Waterbug, a scented soft plastic, or foolproof live minnow. Contrasting colors perform best, particularly in darkish water. He might also purposely mismatch the Thumper and Impulse creature to manufacture the same effect.
Technique is guided by a philosophy of fishing slow and steady. Bro throws long and rolls the jig back leisurely, mixing in a cadence of mellow lifts.
The test ends there if bites come with frequency. But if strikes are short; hits are few; or crappies are layered in a tight spot, Bro moves to a slip-bobber and jig. Ice fishing’s broad universe of detailed, realistic baits get bit in the spring, no questions asked. Northland’s Bro Bug, Mud Bug and Slug Bug are top choices. Each is adorned with an Impulse Tapeworm or banana-bunch of live maggots, which he manages in a Frabill Crawler Can.
Bro further defines the rig and technique: “Set the bait halfway down the water column under a slip-float. Give it a whip and let the bobber and jig settle. If you knock a crappie on the noggin, you might get dunked immediately.
Next, give it two gentle pops, or short pulls if you will, and then pause a few seconds. If the water’s really cold, say still in the 40’s, I extend the pauses.”
The wand Bro wields is selected with thoughtfulness as well. “St. Croix developed the Panfish Series for ‘round fish.’ The lengths and actions marry-up with common techniques for taking crappies, bluegills and perch. For early crappies, I work a 7-foot medium-light–it casts like the dickens. In a wind, I go with the 5-foot, 4-inch light action–less chance of line ending up in a dust devil.”
Bro’s package concludes with a spooling of 2-pound Bionic Ice braid and 24-inch span of 3-pound fluorocarbon leader line, affixed to the main line with a uniknot or micro-swivel. The slick braid yields casting distance, strength and sensitivity, while the fluoro leader material softens the hookset and ‘goes missing’ regardless of water clarity.
Embrace the floods this spring. The world prays the heavens won’t rain down and cause catastrophic flooding. But a miniature lakeside flood turns Bro’s boat into an ark–crappies boated in pairs with me hopefully onboard as his ark-mate.
Image courtesy Bill Lindner