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All eyes on crappies

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This is an anxious and exciting time for walleye anglers.

Anxious in that the Minnesota fishing opener is just two weeks away.

Exciting in that the crappies are running.

“It’s so much fun,” Jim Kalkofen, former executive director of the Professional Walleye Trail and a former professional walleye angler, said of fishing crappies this time of year. “It’s the same tactics for walleyes — you’re just downsizing the gear.

“Some of the top walleye guys fishing the Minnesota Fishing Challenge say that’s the reason they like fishing this tournament — because here you get to fish for all different species and you’re not just targeting walleyes,” added Kalkofen, who directs the Challenge, which is scheduled June 2.

“It’s not unusual,” he said with a laugh of when walleye anglers’ fancy turns to crappies.

Even Mr. Walleye has the fever this time of year.

On Monday, Gary Roach was on one of his favorite Brainerd area lakes, fishing crappies as he does every chance he gets before the walleye season kicks into gear. The longtime guide and professional walleye fisherman from Merrifield will fish the opener on Lake Winnibigoshish, as he has for as long as he can remember. But Monday — and most every day these days — crappies were the prize for Roach.

He said they have been running off and on the last couple of weeks, but with water temperatures finally holding steady in the low 50s — and rising — the best is yet to come.

On Monday, Roach’s boat limited out — 10 crappies apiece — in just over two hours. They were casting brown Northland plastic bloodworm baits in seven feet of water, with bobbers suspending the bait about three feet off the bottom. The water temperature was 51.5 degrees at about 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Those in the know suggest fishing those plastics, “But if you’re using minnows, make sure they’re small,” Roach said Monday. “They’re just getting into spawn mode. It’s the earliest I’ve seen them (spawn).”

Said Kalkofen: “I like to use artificials and I use the Northland bloodworm. That’s my secret crappie weapon. You can fish it like a jig or put on a bobber and retrieve it by reeling it in a little bit, then stopping and let it drop.

“Tiny jigs with small crappie minnows are my standby. ... And a longer rod — 10 feet. I move the rod tip real slow and work in two to three to four feet of water. They’re not much more than two feet below the surface. The warmest water is on top and bug activity is on the top. Most people are fishing shallow.”

But, as is always crucial with crappies, regardless of the time of year, tread lightly, Kalkofen said.

“The fish are finicky right now,” he said. “Be careful and don’t broadcast your presence. That’s why fishing away from the boat (casting) is so important.

“From now through the next two weeks will be tremendous,” he added of the crappie bite. “Through the opener it will be a tremendous period for panfish.”

Guides Jim Ernster and Tim Hanske of Leisure Outdoor Adventures, based out of Walker, are seeing a lot of the same on Brainerd area lakes.

“My buddy and I in my boat caught about 30 (crappies) and Tim Hanske and his partner caught about 50,” Ernster said of a recent outing on upper Gull Lake. “The fishing time was from about 3-7 p.m. There were six or seven other boats up there and most were catching fish. We found most of the fish in seven to nine feet of water — halfway down in the water column produced the most action and this has been consistent all spring. Better to have your bait slightly above the school of crappies.”

Ernster and Hanske also fished artificials.

“Tubes and Puddle Jumpers on a 1/32-ounce jig, green Cubby jig 1/32 ounces and 1/16-ounce VMC pink hot skirt jig — all of these took fish, but puddle jumpers ruled the day, White specifically.

“If we get some stable warm weather in the next week, I think two or three straight days of 60-plus degree temps will really get the crappies moving and starting to stage in their spring haunts. The bite has been hit-and-miss this spring with the sudden changes in weather. You will find that the crappies are not hitting the baits hard right now so they are still in that sluggish state. But with some warmer temps that will change.”

Nikki Shoutz, a DNR conservation officer out of Pine River, agreed.

“The weather has been up and down and the catch rate has been quite spotty,” Shoutz said. “There have been some limits, but it’s taking a while.”

That’s OK with Kalkofen.

“It will be a continuous thing for the next several weeks,” he said of the improving bite. “It’s fun. I love it. I can’t get enough of it.”

BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to For his blogs, go to