February 22, 2022
By Justin Brouillard
When Paul Mueller isn't travelling the country fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series, you can usually find him on the water—in his boat, or literally, on the water ice fishing. As a guide in his home state of Connecticut, Mueller spends more time on the water than most, and even during the dead of winter, he is fishing. Known as one of the best multi species anglers in New England, he has learned how to catch big fish even during extremely cold conditions. Whether he is drilling holes through ice to drop a bait to panfish, or guiding from his boat, wintertime fishing has taught him how to adapt and adjust to catch the biggest fish in the lake.
During a guide trip years ago, his clients were enjoying a successful day catching a plentiful amount of quality-size crappie. The bite was good, but he noticed in the midst of constant success and happy clients, several larger fish on his Garmin electronics were mixed in but were not biting. Even through the action was exciting, Mueller still wanted to catch the biggest fish. A quick switch to an extreme micro finesse bait quickly paid dividends as the non-stop 10- to 13-inch bites turned into 15- to 16-inch crappies.
Mueller’s Top 6 Micro Crappie Plastics
Euro Tackle Gamma Scud 1-Inch</b
Euro Tackle Crazy Critter 1.1-inch
Do-It Molds Bubba Scud 1.25-inch
Euro Tackle Euro Grub 0.8-inch and 1.4-inch
Euro Tackle Shrimp-X 1.5-inch
Do-It Molds Crappie Fluke 2.5-inch
Smaller is Better
To catch wintertime crappies, Mueller keeps it simple when selecting his micro jigs. He uses a Euro Tackle Finesse Soft-Lock Tungsten Jig Head and a Do-It Mold Round Head Steelhead Jig. The Euro Tackle jig is available in a size 4 or 6 hook, while he has more choices with the home made Do-It molds. The flexibility to choose the hook size with different size weights is key as he can perfectly match his micro plastics to any jig head. For the 1 1/2-inch and larger micro plastics he uses a size 10 hook. Anything 1- to 1 1/2-inch is size 8, and only one bait requires an ultra-micro size 10 hook.
Mueller has learned through several winters in New England that downsizing his presentation when targeting pressured crappies in cold water will offer a stealthier approach that yields more bites. In addition to downsizing the size of his micro jigs and panfish plastics, using a lighter line has added to his success. It's not just a matter of downsizing, but how much.
“As rule of thumb, the tougher the bite the lighter the micro jig. I start heavier to begin with, dropping down in size as it gets harder to get bite, and I downsize the line too. For my rods, I stick with a rod that offers the action I needs for each bait and I never use a spring bobber. With as big a role as electronics plays in seeing fish, you can tell when you're about to get bite – it's on you to figure out when and set the hook.”
Line Matters Too
Mueller sticks with two sizes of line for wintertime fishing – 3-pound and 5-pound Gamma Touch Fluorocarbon. He employs the 5-pound as his “standard” line while and drops to 3-pound for the smallest micro jigs and plastics he uses.
“The biggest misconception for downsizing line is that people think it's just so the fish can't see it. That does help, but more importantly, the smaller line gives me better control and a better action on the bait. The other misconception is that braid offers the best feel. That is true, but only on a tension bite. Because crappie feed upward in the water column, the fluorocarbon actually gives the best feel for a slack line bite.”
Just Try It
Just like that guide trip years ago, the clients were catching plenty of fish and Mueller had no reason to downsize his equipment to try and catch larger fish. He wanted to downsize and learn how to catch the largest fish. Travelling the country and fishing several lakes with trophy crappies, he always takes a little time to try and catch crappies. They are not always easy but using the smallest micro plastics available to match the forage will help you catch bigger fish.