With Nate Berg of Jason Mitchell Outdoors
We finally have good ice across Minnesota and beyond and this early ice is a wonderful time to find some serious crappie action. Crappie can become quite predictable in natural lakes if you know where to look. Here are a few of the spots to check early on.
Deepest Basin Areas
In most “less eutrophic” lakes, meaning the shallowest type of lake that can support a fish population year in and year out, the number one area to look is in the deepest basin areas that have a mud bottom. The depths will run anywhere from 15 to 40 feet, and yes, eutrophic lakes can have a small basin area that deep with the remaining sections of the lake being much shallower.
It is important to find a mud bottom in the basin areas, which will host the most invertebrates. You got to remember, you need to follow the food to find predator fish and crappies are a predator. When you find the fish in these types of areas, they will be suspended off the bottom picking off the easy prey, which makes them easy to find on the Vexilar.
Some basin areas of certain euphoric lakes will be sand or clay. These types of areas will generally not host fish during day light hours. If you find these sorts of basin holes, you may have to move shallower to inside turns or feeding flats.
Our number one lure of choice is a jigging spoon in basin areas. Clam makes several different spoons but two top choices are the 1/16 oz. blade spoon and the 1/16 oz. bomb spoon. You don’t always have to use live bait in this situation. Tipping the spoon with a soft plastic Maki Plastic tail adds to the durability where you can hole hope and catch several fish on one tail.
Sometimes with euphoric lakes, the deeper you get you will run out of a muddy bottom and it will turn to sand or clay. The mud seems to be the key to early ice crappie success. If this is the case, look for an area that has a weed-line. Try to find an inside turn because most of the time the inside turn has a less sloping drop-off which works as a feeding flat. Many times you can find the fish just off the edge feasting on the invertebrates that call the weeds home.
This same situation runs true in the deeper mesotrophic and oligotrophic lakes, which will run more sandy and/or rocky and that have less nutrients and invertebrates as the shallower and more fertile eutrophic lakes. You have to find weeds and good light penetration/ clear water often has deeper weed growth. Expect to find crappies in water from 5-20 feet depending on the weed-line they are living on.
In all three types of lakes when the fish are on the weed line, as the daylight turns to starlight, you can move off the edge and find the crappies feeding in the basin area at the same depth as they feed during the day. So basically, if the fish are being found in 15 feet of water off the weed edge during the day, at night they will be suspended at the 15-foot mark even if they are over really deep water.
The reverse can be said as well. If you are only finding crappies at night in a given location, say suspended in the basin at 25 feet, simply move towards the weed-line during the day and after some searching you can sometimes find where the crappies hang during the day.
A favorite lure for weed-lines during the day with a high sun is the Clam Dingle Drop tipped with a Maki Jamei or a Polli. The Dingle Drop is made of tungsten and these small horizontal jigs fish extra heavy. Finicky daytime crappie love extra flash and vibration you get off the “dropper” that hangs and rocks below the Dingle Drop and the extra weight imparts a better kicking action on any soft plastic tail.
Dips on a Large Flat
Dips, bowls and depressions can hold a lot of crappie, especially in mesotrophic and oligotrophic lakes. If a large flat has a dip in it, chances are it will hold crappies. Most times, the dip will have a basin that is mud. Sometimes it will be clay or sand. All the dip has to be is a softer spot amongst a large expanse of a harder bottom. The harder bottom flat may range from 4-10 feet of water, which in most cases has enough depth to allow water flow so the dip will not freeze out and lose oxygen. The dip itself could range from a couple of feet deeper than the flat all the way to 30+ feet deeper. The edges of the dip will be prime areas for feeding crappies during the day light hours. Some of these locations also have some vegetation present.
For fishing precise weed clumps and edges, the Clam Dingle Drop is a great lure to use during the day but also try adding in some spoons if crappie are suspended or roaming through the basin area of the dip.
Feeding flats are just that, areas that do not change much in depth but hold a large abundance of forage.
There are two types of feeding flats to search for when looking for crappies. One is a weeded flat that have weeds that are still alive. Most of these areas will be 8-15 feet deep. You want to find areas that have a more sparse level of vegetation rather than a thick bed.
Remember that when crappies roam flats, they are typically on the prowl hunting for food. These fish can often be aggressive and move frequently. Crappie will often roll through flats suspended up about half way in the water column. When these high fish hit, they hit to kill… often viscous strikes.
Sometimes even during early ice, shallow feeding flat crappies be found right under the ice. When we say right under the ice, we mean within 6 inches of the bottom of the ice. We have actually seen crappies come in sideways to strike the lure!
The second type of feeding flat is a mud flat that holds a huge amount of invertebrates like mayfly larvae, bloodworms or dragonfly larvae. These sort of areas could be anywhere from 10 to 40 feet deep. Many times the crappies in these areas will not be schooled or suspended up off the bottom but rather roaming close to the bottom especially if the water is stained. In this type of situation, your best friend is a power auger. Drill through the area, drilling up to 50 holes across a flat so you can move and find aggressive crappies.
Large mud flats can be intimidating and fish location can be random. Fish to find fish but also use lures where the fish can also find you. A favorite lure of choice for quickly breaking down flats is the Clam Speed Spoon tipped with a wax worm, minnow head, or soft plastic like the Maki Minnow and Spiiki. When targeting big fish, don’t hesitate to search for fish with small rattle baits like the Salmo Zipper whenever the spots get big.
Editors Note: The author, Nate Berg is the head videographer for Jason Mitchell Outdoors Media and avid ice angler that spends a lot of time on the ice in search of crappie when not filming upcoming episodes for JMO Television.