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Find winter crappie spots now

Boats are being put away. The unseasonably warm temperatures are welcome, but will soon come to an end. The hard water season is just around the corner. Anglers are doing their homework now to guarantee best crappie fishing at first safe ice.

More years ago than I care to admit, I did research for a book titled "Crappie Wisdom." My open water season was spent fishing different northern Minnesota lakes, staying on top of the crappie movements, and within them comparing my notes with other anglers.

Fall, it was determined, sees the most drastic shift in fish location. Crappie move from the still, green, deep weeds and weed lines of summer to open water areas, suspended many yards off the weeds and weed lines. Location change is triggered by cooler shallow water temperatures and vegetation die off. Crappie shift in the late fall to areas characterized by deep, soft bottom basins.

The first place to start is pick a lake with a fishable crappie population. Seek this information at any of the local sporting goods shops or on www.minnesotalakefinder.com. Then obtain a map and spend some time studying the topographic bottom layouts. Pay special attention to deeper water areas in the 24- to 35-foot range. Preferred deep water holes are rimmed by submerged vegetation. Crappie congregate and are suspended in late fall (now) and well into the ice fishing season over these deep holes.

A boat on the water is the most efficient method to locate and pinpoint winter crappie locations. Today's electronics allow anglers to cruise an area to see the likely congregated crappie schools, then place GPS waypoints on these locations. A few passes are necessary through the area with a small jig, a must to insure the suspended fish are crappie. My favorite is a one-eighth ounce marabou feather yellow or blue body, white lead head jig. It can be tipped with or without a minnow; either is effective on crappie. Troll this on a light action 7- to 8-foot length spinning rod, for line a preference is 4# braided line commonly used for ice fishing. Typically, crappie will be located on the bottom or just a few feet above it. Or try lowering the jig below the transducer on the boat. The jig will visually show up on the screen as it drops to the bottom. A slow lift and drop motion of the rod tip is all that is necessary to entice the crappie bites which will be soft at times, only noticeable with a dip at the rod tip.

Crappie are tuned in to scents more than ever during cold water periods, a reason to use a no-scent soap to wash hands before touching jigs. There are a number of fish attractants available but with time on the water I found that jigs with garlic and salt gives anglers an edge. Other crappie purists season their jigs with anise oil (licorice) scents.

On borrowed time, crappie anglers seeking winter crappie locations can effectively find them now before freeze up and get the jump on others looking for crappie when the lakes freeze. Revisiting the areas found before a lake freezes up, then during the ice fishing season your homework will insure the hard water fishing season will get an early start.

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