Frozen rivers offer hottest spots for catching crappies

By Bob and Ginny Riege

Crappies caught in the winter are one of the sweetest-tasting fish one can eat. While they may not be trophy-size catches, these 1- to 2-pound swimmers are fun to fish and relatively easy to find throughout the country. This time of year, gather the 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 backwaters are more like reservoirs than rivers. They usually have slow-moving currents and are controlled by dams. 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.

The most successful method of catching crappies I’ve found is a jig and crappie minnow combination. Granted, buying minnows can often yield a real hodgepodge of minnow types. But correct minnow type and size are important factors when on the ice. 1- to 2-inch shiners, fatheads, chubs and shad produce the best results. My advice: Know your bait and bait stores, and only buy quality stock. How to hook your minnow is 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 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 one 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 2- to 4-pound line to ensure proper action from my lure. Be sure to check the position of the knot on the jig so 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 nicks from the fish itself or rough edging on the ice hole, so check the line with your lips rather than fingers. Why? Lips are more sensitive than 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 East Side Lake. Registration cost is $15 per person and 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 a Jiffy propane auger/ fishing package, Clam Big Foot XL 2000 Hub Ice Shelter, 18-inch Husqvarna Chain Saw, pizza for a year, Twins tickets (club level) and more.

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