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Remaining weeks of ice fishing primetime for catching crappies

Crappie expert Greg Clusiau actively seeks crappies all winter he offers some tips for the remainder of the season. (Photos by Gary Korsgaden/For the Enterprise)

Greg Clusiau, a Keewatin, Minn. native and guide, feels the Park Rapids area lakes are Minnesota's gems for winter crappie fishing.

Clusiau is one of, if not the best, winter crappie anglers that I have ever fished with. I caught up with Greg recently, and as always, was eager to pick up a few tips.

Clusiau knows what he is talking about. He has 50 years of experience successfully catching winter crappies. Today, fishing is an occupation for him, and it has always been a passion.

To locate crappies, Clusiau searches lake basins in depth ranges of 25 to 35 feet of water. Finding the schools of crappie begins by cutting a number of holes. If this set of holes doesn't produce a crappie, Clusiau keeps moving, cutting a few more until the fish are found. A depth sounder (fish finder) eases the search. Crappies will show up on the depth sounder screen as flashes at the depth they are at indicated on the locator screen.

For catching crappies, Clusiau's first choice is spoons.

"I can fish them quickly and cover a lot more surface area. One of my favorites is a one-sixteenth ounce forage minnow spoon or jig from Northland Tackle. The forage minnow spoon has the perfect size treble hook and allows me to spice it up with wax worms or a piece of a minnow. A forage minnow jig has one single hook for impaling a live minnow hung below a bobber," he said.

For finicky biters, nothing works better than a live minnow on a small jig below a bobber, Clusiau added.

Prime fishing time varies by lake.

"A handful of my favorite lakes only bite during the prime times of day break and just at dark."

On lakes with dark or coffee-colored stained water, crappie action "happens all day," Clusiau claims.

Late winter is perfect for the best, after-dark crappie fishing, he says, having spent a lot of hours fishing winter crappie after the dark with lantern light.

Crouched on a five-gallon bucket, eyes glued to a bobber swimming around the hole and propelled by a minnow on a hook below it, bites, at times, were as fast as my bait reached a depth where the crappies were waiting.

It's alright to keep winter crappie. Clusiau is okay with the state's limit of 10 crappie, but would hope that the Minnesota DNR would start managing a few panfish lakes by enacting a five-fish limit on them. He recommends releasing crappies, difficult when caught out of deep water. Few fish of any size survive. The best advice is to keep enough crappie for a meal or two, then quit.

In Clusiau's opinion, Park Rapids is fortunate to have some of the best panfish lakes in the state. Steps need to be taken now to protect these lakes for the future. He says lakes that produce slab crappies ranging in 12 to 14 inch in length need to be protected by reducing limits on them. Also the critical shoreline spawning habitat needs to be preserved and left untouched by lake shore development.