Prime forage, found in our area lakes, has produced a flourishing crappie population.
Crappie topping 14 to 15 inches in length are not uncommon.
Ice fishing experts, like Tim Schmid, fish for a number of species all winter, but like so many anglers focuses a majority of their time chasing crappies.
"There was a delayed start to this year's ice fishing season. Ice conditions were inconsistent and unsafe. It's always important to put safety first. Ice should never be considered safe. Taking extra time each trip to check current ice conditions helps ensure a safe return to shore," Schmid stresses.
Mobility on the ice is vital for mid-winter crappie anglers success. Keep moving or changing locations until crappie are found. To assist in the search, two pieces of equipment Schmid will never be without are a lightweight ice auger and a depth sounder. Coupled with a lake chip, app or map on his phone, specific to the lake he is fishing, assists locating the structure of the lake while on the snowmobile, similar to the boat on open water.
Schmid starts his search in the deeper lake areas or basins, typically 25 to 31 feet deep, adjacent to weed edges and flats. First, cut holes in the ice. Second, place the depth sounder's transducer into the hole, then watch for flashes on the screen — indicators of some type of fish activity in the area. Crappies are always on move and will be visible on the screen, suspended over the deep-water basins, feeding on insects and small minnows.
Water color is a good indicator as to which time of day you should fish. Savvy, winter crappie anglers know lakes with dark water means crappie tend to bite all day. On clear water lakes, action happens just before day break and again at dark, or all day during cloudy weather conditions.
Anglers, like Schmid, favor specific equipment. His rod of choice is a light or ultra-light fishing rod, 13 to 15 inches in length, with "search baits" tied on the end of the line. Artificial lures that don't require being tipped with additional enticement as live bait can be productive and sink quickly into the fish zone. For Schmid, a couple of his favorite search baits are a selection of spoons, Northland's buckshot flutter spoon or clams leech flutter spoon. Spoons mimic the flash and a erratic flutter actions that most attract crappies. Crappies that are reluctant to bite may need the additional enticement of a piece of live minnow. Other choices include fast sinking tungsten jigs tipped with a plastic insect larvae imitation or a piece of live minnow.
Crappies suspended in the deep-water basins, seemingly sitting ducks, are easy targets and vulnerable to overharvest. Schmid urges anglers to concentrate on keeping crappie 10 to 12 inches in length and releasing most of the larger ones. He also cautions that not all crappie will survive coming up from deep water and could experience delayed mortality. The best practice is to keep the crappie you want for a couple of meals and when that number is reached stop fishing.
Area lakes have experienced a perfect storm of sorts for crappie. Several seasons of ideal spring spawning conditions, an ample forage base to support the population and early spring development of shallow water weed areas are all optimum conditions for a healthy crappie population — certain to make crappie anglers grin for years to come.