JACK WOLLITZ Smaller is better for panfish
Crappie fishing has been improving in recent weeks as water temperatures continue to inch upward throughout the area.
Anglers are plucking slabs from the flooded cover at Mosquito and Pymatuning, two traditional spring hotspots, as well as Pine Lake near North Lima and Girard Lake in Trumbull County. Good numbers of fish, but smaller in size, are being caught at Berlin, West Branch, Lake Milton and Shenango Reservoir.
The fish are schooled up and hanging in vertical cover such as willows, sunken brush piles and the weed beds that are sprouting in the warming water. Crappies also like to hang around boat docks and bridge pilings as they feed in preparation for their spawning period.
Those anglers who are having the best success are dabbling minnows under small floats.
"Small", in fact, is a key word in crappie gear.
Many people err in their choice of bobbers and lines when they are after crappies. They can be extremely shy about taking baits and a visible line can spook them from your hook.
What's more, a bobber that provides too much resistance when crappies try to swim off with minnows will discourage them from getting the bait in their mouths.
It's a good idea to go delicate. Try lightweight pencil-style floats on 4-pound test and rig your minnow on fine wire hooks for best results.
Larry Nixon, one of the winningest pros in the history of big-time bass tournament fishing, says anglers who overlook Carolina rigs this time of year are missing the boat.
"One of my favorite ways to fish in the springtime, when the bass are on a subtle bite and quit chasing aggressive lures, is to throw a Carolina-rig," said Nixon, a long-time member of the Chevy Truck pro staff.
Anglers can rig Carolina-style by threading a one-half to three-quarter ounce sinker on the main line, adding a bead and tying on a swivel. On the opposite end of the swivel, tie a two- to four-foot leader and a hook suitable for a soft plastic bait.
"There's nothing better than a six-inch plastic lizard in either junebug or green pumpkin," Nixon said.
"I just fish it real slow while hunting for subtle things on the bottom out away from the banks that people can't see. It might be a stump or a little cluster of gravel in the midst of some rocks. Just something where the fish will spawn, and they'll have cover close by.".
In water less than two feet deep, Nixon will sometimes resort to a six or 10-inch leader; in deeper water he'll go as long as five feet.
He also had some advice for anglers trailering their boats in the spring.
"Most people don't really inspect their equipment well enough when they're getting ready to tow their boats," he said.
"You really need to inspect your truck. Be sure that the cotter pin is in your keeper bar and your ball and receiver are intact.".
He also recommends making sure the electrical connections are good.
"See that your wiring has not been worn in any way because a lot of accidents are caused by boat trailers without lights.