“I’m a bad fisherman,” I thought to myself. The big guy next to me with the faceful of tangerine freckles, and hair and goatee to match, was catching slab crappies one after another, and he wasn’t even trying. I was using every trick in my arsenal, every brain cellworth of concentration, and I was catching one runt crappie to his 10.
Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any worse about myself, he reeled in his jig, bit off all but a 1/8-inch slice of his tube bait and dropped it back into the water. It looked ridiculous, but about five seconds later he was lipping a dinner plate with scales.
The sting from that day has worn off enough that I can see it wasn’t that I’m that bad; it’s that he’s that good. He’s one of those rare crappie savants who can consistently find and catch the biggest slabs in any water. He’s Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, and when he’s not guiding around his Cass Lake, Minnesota, home, he’s keeping outdoor writers like me as humble as they should be—very humble.
Every time I fish with him, I find myself frantically, hopelessly trying to find a way to bottle what he knows and spill it out on paper as the ultimate resource for NAFC members. Time and time again, however, I’ve learned that’s a bit like asking Roger Clemens to tell you how he throws a fastball.
I’ve done the next best thing, though. I gave Bro a map of a complex crappie water he’s never fished and dared him to give up the best spots, presentations and strategies he’d use to put slabs in the box if his butt was on the line. It’s as close as most of us will ever get to climbing into the head of a crappie-finding machine.
All you have to do is swallow your pride like I did and take notes. Fish the same types of spots the same ways on your home waters, and you’ll catch supersize slabs, too.
In the spring, temperature rules, so Bro would target these big, shallow bays—those on the north side warm fastest. The creek arms are especially good, as they offer wind protection. Look for anything that warms quickly.
Cast feather jigs tipped with waxworms, maggots or crappie minnows. In stained water, use hot colors like orange and glow; go with greens, black and white in clear water. Retrieve in sharp twitches mixed with long pauses. If bites come tough, suspend a tail-hooked minnow under a float in the same areas.
As spring shifts into summer, Bro would troll these deeper areas off spawning bays, using small crankbaits, in-line spinners or small hairpin spinners tipped with nightcrawler chunks, waxworms or minnows. One of his favorite ways to attack these areas is with a “Minnesota rig,” basically a Carolina rig tipped with a hairpin spinner rather than a soft plastic. Pull the rig along at about 1 mph, and use a large enough egg sinker to keep your line nearly vertical at that speed—usually 1/8- to 1/4-ounce. This will put the bait in the zone whether fish are holding 15 or 40 feet down. This presentation is especially valuable during mayfly hatches, when fish gorge on emerging nymphs.
During summer, anchor and fish these spots with slip float rigs baited with small minnows. When fish are active, pinch a split shot two to three feet up the line to allow the minnow to swim freely. When fish are finicky, pin the minnow in place by rigging the shot only inches above it. If fish are particularly hot, cast tubes in these same spots.
Mark pockets within these weedbeds and cast a small minnow, Texas rigged behind a light bullet sinker. Go with 4-pound Berkley FireLine and a 4-foot, 4-pound fluorocarbon leader. The superline cuts the wind better when you’re chunking flyweight baits, and the fluoro adds enough stretch to prevent ripping the hooks out of the crappies’ dainty mouths.
During windy conditions in summer, Bro would target crappies stacked up on these windblown weed edges and rock points.
When the open-water bite is on, Bro says the best way to catch more and bigger fish on this and most crappie waters is to troll small crankbaits in these areas. To get them in the strike zone, he plays walleye hunter and pulls leadcore. Depending on how deep you’re marking fish, go with three to five colors and a 6-pound mono leader. Snap Weights also get the call for this situation. Bro uses a 1-ounce weight 20 to 30 feet back.
These tactics will pick off fish virtually anywhere, but Bro reserves it for times he’s fishing large tightly packed schools of slabs chasing minnows.
As the weeds die in the fall, Bro finds crappies relating to rocky ledges or humps on their way out to deeper water in the main lake. He cautions that although fish strongly relate to these structures, they usually don’t spend much time on them. Instead, begin your search at the base of the break and circle out off the structure until you mark concentrations of fish.
The longer the weeds stay healthy, however, the longer this fall transition will take. If you’re not finding crappies on these deeper structures, backtrack toward the weeds.
This was one of Bro’s favorites, as it contains all the elements of a good year-round spot for a variety of conditions and presentations. The sheltered shallows of the inner bay will hold fish in spring, especially near the creek mouth. In summer, troll crankbaits and hairpin spinners off the deep weedline; go deeper in fall.
Ideally, Bro would check out every inch of a target lake, but since that’s not practical for most of us, he’s picked the tops spots on this particular water. Of course, there are other areas of the lake that he believes hold promise. He checks out these areas using his sonar and underwater camera.