How many times have you been told, “You don’t know the first thing about” something? Welcome to the club. We’ve all been there—on both ends of it. Nobody’s ever told me I don’t know the first thing about crappies under the ice. Maybe it’s because I know what I think that first thing is.
The first thing I try to determine, on new water at least, is the forage factor. In fact, that’s pretty much the first thing to determine for any species on new water anywhere. But you can go into new water and catch bass, pike, and a lot of species without really needing to research the forage base too extensively. With crappies, I try to gather as much information as possible when heading to a new lake.
If the minnow population is strong, and stays strong all winter, I’m going to focus on presentations involving spoons and crappie minnows all day. But in lakes where minnow populations rise and fall like a roller coaster every year, I’m going to focus first on presentations involving small jigs tipped with plastics, waxworms, or maggots.
I know a lot of anglers. Tell some of them, “We’re going crappie fishing,” and they’ll bring minnows and fish them all day long. It’s certainly more prevalent than the opposite scenario.
Could be fishing pressure or the disappearance of minnows in some lakes by mid winter, but it seems obvious to me that you have to scale down to catch crappies in some lakes.
The other day we had a rather disastrous outing for bluegills, but the crappies were biting and they were hitting both jigs and spoons. We could see minnows on screen, so we knew the baitfish population was strong, prompting me to break out a spoon since we had no crappie minnows with us.
I had a prototype of a spoon that’s not on the market yet, so I’m not at liberty to discuss it in any detail, but if a crappie was in the vicinity, it would swim over, appear about a foot under the spoon, slowly rise, and the tip of the rod would dip. Every time. Others were catching them on relatively large jigs tipped with maggots. When they bite both, they’re just highly active. Not a very good indicator of how they’ll behave most days.
Finding minnows with the underwater camera or by keeping the gain on your sonar unit up there on the highest setting you can stand is, of course, job one no matter what you’re fishing for. When you can’t find minnows but keep seeing crappies or suspended fish on the sonar screen, they just might not have any minnows to relate to. That usually indicates a switch to lighter line and smaller jigs tipped with a few maggots, because those suspended fish are hoving on veils of plankton. When you keep finding crappies right on bottom, that’s another indicator that the minnow population is low.
Even on lakes where minnow populations are healthy, fishing pressure can practically force crappies to respond better to tiny jigs with hooks so small you can’t really set them—you just end up grappling them in. That’s when some of the longer, lighter rods we’re seeing for panfish this year come into play. We take a look at some of those jigs and a couple of those rods in an upcoming post.
Next: A world-record eel pout? (Burbot. Ling. Whatever—it’s big.)