I hope all boaters took advantage of the beautiful weekend weather we just experienced.
One of the more popular areas on Saratoga Lake was Franklin Beach, right out from Fitch Road and Route 9P. This is traditionally one of the first spots to produce good panfishing in the spring, and right now, the main bite there are crappies.
At the state launch Sunday, I spoke with several bass anglers and learned that although they caught a few, the largemouth and smallmouth activity was very slow. The largest I heard about was one that may have weighed three pounds.
Most believed the water was just a bit too cold to activate any spawning movement, but they all admitted to enjoying their day on the water. By the second week of May, the bass bite should be considerably better, and will continue to improve as the waters warm.
The bluegill bite has been very slow, but in another week or so, they’ll be active. Then the fun really begins, so get those kids out there, and let them enjoy watching those bobbers get pulled down.
Most of the other area waters, like Lake Lonely, Ballston Lake, Round Lake and Cossayuna Lake, also reported that the major bite was crappies. So let’s look at several proven methods that are being used to land these tasty little fillets. Just remember, the regulations require that crappies be nine inches to keep, and the daily limit is 25. And should you be a fish eater, I have added a tasty way to prepare your catch.
Most of the activity, especially in Saratoga Lake, was in depths from six to eight feet, and according to anglers I spoke with, there’s no need to be on the water at sunup. Most of them were not launching until after 10 a.m. This allows for the water to warm.
The location of these early-season crappies will vary. Right now, prior to spawn, females are usually found in deeper water, while males are scouting the shallows where they’ll prepare nests.
Areas that always attract crappies are structures around bridge abutments, docks and boat houses, weedy points, sunken trees and bushes, rock piles, and ledges and mixtures of sand and weeds.
On Saratoga Lake, crappie spawning areas are found at Franklin Beach, Manning’s Cove and many of the points on both sides of Fish Creek. At nearby Lake Lonely, fish the creek at the north end of the lake and the deep water docks; at Ballston Lake, concentrate on the weedy shallow water around the bridge on Outlet Road; and on Round Lake, fish the areas around the creeks and the shallow weed edges on the north shoreline. When crappies are really spawning there, the connecting canal between Little Round Lake and Round Lake can also be a hotspot.
If you find a school of deeper-water crappies, vertical jigging with small jigs seems to work the best, especially if the fish are suspended, which they usually are. Plenty of these crappie jigs are available in local tackle shops. Those that seem to work best are 1/16-ounce hair, feather and tiny tubes. Three good colors are red/white, chartreuse/white and yellow; but any brightly colored one will catch fish. And don’t be afraid to tip your jig with a fathead minnow.
Early in the season, and depending upon water temperature, use a slow up-and-down motion, lifting the jig about 12 to 15 inches, then letting it drift down. One thought on tackle: Any rod and reel will work, but for the most fun, use an ultra-light-action graphite rod with matching reel and no heavier than six-pound-test line.
For shallow-water crappie fishing, the bobber and bait/lure method works well. Set a bobber about three feet above the bait. Most of the crappies have been favoring jigs tipped with fathead minnows. Use two rods, and try both.
Another live-bait method that works very well in the shallows is using the bobber and a small minnow, hooked carefully through the lips with a No. 6 long shank. This setup requires a gentle cast, but when the crappies are congregated and appear to have lockjaw, it can be a deadly rig.
Here’s a tasty way to enjoy your catch:
Fillet the crappies, and cut into small strips. Place in a bowl, and completely cover with buttermilk. Refrigerate and soak for about two hours. Remove the fish strips from the buttermilk, and drain. Allow as much of the buttermilk as possible to adhere to the fish. Roll the fish in an equal mix of cornmeal and flour. Fry in deep vegetable oil at 375 degrees for two to three minutes. Drain on paper towels, and serve hot or cold.
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