Riege: Frozen rivers offer hottest spots for catching crappies

Published 2:47 pm Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By Bob and Ginny Riege

Crappies caught in the winter months are truly one of 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. This time of year, gather your gear and head to a frozen river.

The ideal river for catching Black and/or White Crappie varieties is slow flowing and shallow with flooded flats. These wide, flooded flats can create huge, complex backwater areas with abundant crappie habitat — submerged brush, stumps and timber. In fact, many of these backwater areas in the river are more like a reservoir than a river. They usually have slow-moving currents and are controlled by a dam system. I consider these backwaters 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.

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The most successful method of catching crappies that I’ve found is a jig and crappie minnow combination. Granted, buying minnows can often yield a real hodge-podge of minnow types. But 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. My advice: Know your bait and bait stores, and only buy good 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 likewise, better results

When fishing winter crappies, 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 crappies 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. As far as color is concerned, crappie jigs come in endless colors. The basics will usually suffice, 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 the crappies want.

Of course, 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, recheck 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 you lips rather than your fingers. Why? Well, I don’t know about you, but my lips are more sensitive than my usually cold fingers. With the diameter of the line so small, nick detection is crucial to ensuring good tensile strength.

Good luck fishing those frozen river crappies. Why not give them a try this Saturday at Eastside Lake in Austin, Feb. 2, from noon until 2 p.m. An auction, food and prizes for the contest will be held after the tournament at the Eagles Club.

Registration for this event will begin at 11 a.m. the day of the event right on Eastside Lake. Registration cost is $15 per person and it includes minnows, pre drilled holes, and a tackle pack. Food and door prizes will follow the contest at the Austin Eagles Club. A raffle and a live auction will also be conducted at the Eagles Club. Some of the items include; Jiffy propane auger/ fishing package, Clam Big Foot XL 2000 Hub Ice Shelter, 18” Husqvarna Chain Saw, Pizza for a Year. Twin’s tickets (club level) and many more.