Winter crappie are among the sweetest-tasting fish you can eat. While they may not be trophy-size catches, these one- to two-pound swimmers are fun to fish and relatively easy to find throughout the country.
The ideal river for catching black and/or white crappie varieties is slow flowing and shallow with wide, flooded flats that can create huge, complex backwater areas with abundant crappie habitat – submerged brush, stumps and timber. Many of these backwater areas are more like reservoirs than rivers; they typically have slow-moving currents and are controlled by a dam system. They’re a crappie’s paradise – a perfect blend of moderately high fertility, reduced current, abundant prey and ideal habitat areas. Nearby oxbow lakes and other connecting lakes can also be excellent locations to drop a line.
Ideal crappie minnows
The most successful method of catching crappie that I’ve found is a jig and crappie minnow combination. Correct minnow type and size are important factors when you’re out on the ice. One- to two-inch shiners, fatheads, chubs and shad produce the best results. Know your bait and bait stores, and only buy quality stock.
How to hook your minnow is simply a matter of common sense based on the presentation. For example, when stationary over the hole, hook the minnow lightly in the back just behind the dorsal fin, taking care not to break the spine. If jigging, hook the minnow upward through the lower jaw and out the skull, or hook it through the eyes. Hooking your minnow properly will ensure natural-appearing bait and better results.
Jigging with color
I prefer a 1/64- or 1/32-ounce jig with a feathered body, which slows down the rate of fall. This is important, because many times crappie suspend off a log or over a drop-off in the winter months. The added propeller on the jig head gives it a flash and vibration that crappies in stained water seem to love. Crappie jigs come in endless colors, but I prefer white, yellow, pink and chartreuse. However, that doesn’t mean you should rule out other colors. Experiment with different shades and combinations until you get the color that bites.
Line choice and proper care
When fishing light jigs, you should also fish with light line. I use two- to four-pound line to ensure proper action from my lure. Be sure to check the position of the knot on your jig so that it hangs properly. After catching a fish, re-check to see if the knot is still in the correct position. Also, check the line for abrasion. Light line is more prone to getting nicks from the fish itself or rough edging on the ice hole, so check your line with your lips rather than your fingers. With the diameter of the line so small, nick detection is crucial to ensuring good tensile strength.
Sam Anderson is a professional walleye angler and president of Bay & Bay Transportation, a regional trucking company based in Minneapolis.