Riege: Frozen River Crappies

Published 5:55 pm Wednesday, January 15, 2014

By Bob & Ginny Riege

Crappies in the winter months are probably the sweetest tasting fish that swims. When I am bored with the offering on television or the weather starts to warm I love to get out my Frabill ice shack and head out to the river.

Not all rivers have an area that you can fish crappies in, but I live very close to an older river the Mississippi. The “river” as I will refer to it is great because it is slow flowing, shallow, with flooded flats. These wide flooded flats can create huge, complex backwater areas with abundant crappie habitat. Flooded backwaters, oxbow lakes, and connecting lakes can be excellent crappie areas. Flooded brush, stumps and timber are common crappie attractors in river backwaters.

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In fact, many of these backwater areas in the river are more like a reservoir than a river. These areas usually have slow-moving current and are controlled by a dam system. The backwaters have the combination of moderately high fertility; reduced current, abundant prey, and ideal habitat areas create a crappie paradise.

When looking for winter crappie the key to finding fish is structure. Crappie will begin to group up in the coves and deeper water following shad as the water temperature drops in the fall. When the water cools below 50 degrees crappie begin to move to some sort of cover. Whether boat docks, standing timber or brush piles, they will begin to relate to cover and structure.

The most successful method of catching crappies that I have found is with a jig and minnow combination. Minnow type and size are important factors in crappie fishing. Day in and day out, minnows in the 1 to 2 inch lengths seem to produce best with jig fishing presentations.

What are crappie minnows? Well, depending on where and when you buy them, crappie minnows are usually a real hodge-podge of different minnow types. Shiners, fatheads, chubs and shad are all typical varieties. Although many times you will find other types of minnows in your bucket and they are not as good as the above mentioned bait. Know your bait and only buy bait from the store that has good quality bait. It will make a big difference when you are on the ice whether or not you have to right type of bait.

Hooking the 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 of break the spine. If jigging, hook the minnow upward through the lower jaw and out the skull, or hook it through the eyes. Hooking the minnow properly will ensure both natural-appearing bait, and will make hooking crappies easier.

When fishing winter crappies I prefer to use a 1/64 like the Clam Half Ant Drop jig. The reason that I prefer the Half Ant Drop jig to others is that I can attach a plastic body to this jig and slow down the rate of fall. This is important, because many time crappies suspend off a log or over a drop off in the winter months. The added plastic 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 a zillion colors, but the basic colors will usually suffice. The colors that work the best for me are white, yellow, pink and chartreuse colors. However, that doesn’t mean that you should rule out other colors. Experiment with different colors and combinations of colors until you get the color that the crappies want.

Of course when fishing light jigs you should also fish with light line. I use 2 to 4 lb. Berkley Ice Line to ensure proper action from my lure. Checking the position of the knot on your jig will also allow the jig to hang 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 get nicks from the fish or from the ice hole, so check it with you lips rather than your fingers. The reason I check it with my lips is that my lips are more sensitive than my cold fingers and with the diameter of the line so small detection is crucial to providing good tensile strength.

Frozen river crappies are waiting for me and I have to collect my things get out the auger and head for the Mississippi, because my wife Ginny told me that she wanted fish for supper tonight.