ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — February can be a difficult time for this outdoorsman and I’m suspecting other outdoors lovers too.
The good early-ice bite has passed, hunting seasons are closed, and the open water of spring is still a ways off. Luckily, a dependable deep-water, basin crappie fishing pattern sets up on many Midwestern lakes now. Here is a look at some keys to capitalizing on this bite.
Relatively featureless basins within the main lake body or within larger bays will often hold roaming crappies during mid- to late-winter.
In several of the shallower lakes that I fish, these basins may be in 20 to 30 feet of water. In deep-water lakes, these basins may be deeper.
Staying on the move is important to consistent success as these fish will often roam about looking for food. The most successful anglers stay mobile, drilling holes to stay with moving fish.
Good electronics and a lightweight, dependable ice auger are important to a mobile approach. The K-Drill I use is lightweight, cuts quickly, and is powered by a 9-volt battery, so if the battery is charged, it will start.
Water clarity seems to be a factor in when these fish feed most actively.
If a lake has “off-colored” water, the bite may be good during the day. In clear water lakes, a late afternoon into the evening bite often prevails.
My best successes when fishing this pattern come when fishing from a portable shelter that allows me to stay as mobile as possible. Because this bite can be good in the evening, some anglers prefer to put a “permanent” fish house on a productive spot and wait for roaming schools to pass through during the peak late afternoon/early evening time frame.
On some waters, this bite will last for several hours into later evening as well.
My most productive winter panfish lures are usually small jigging spoons or tungsten jigs.
The spoons are often tipped with small minnow heads, while tungsten jigs pair well with waxworms. Though during this time frame, plastics seem to produce more fish most days.
A 1/16-ounce Pinhead Jigging Mino in a glow color pattern and small minnow head combination is often a good starting lure. This bait will pick off the active fish from a school and often appeals to some of the bigger “slabs.”
Some days on certain waters, a quivering plastic bait on small tungsten offering will trigger the most bites. A 1/16-ounce Drop Jig XL tipped with a small Maki plastic offers undulating action that attracts and triggers crappies into biting. A variety of colors will work, though I prefer jigs in glow red, pink, and white tipped with a white glow plastic.
I often use a fairly aggressive jigging presentation in an attempt to “call in” fish near the bait. Once there, slowing up and just quivering the bait is often too tempting for even the most finicky crappie to refuse!
A final bit of advice is to use a quality flasher with good target separation. The new FLX-30 I use allows me to easily see my bait, any fish that comes near it, and separates the bait from individual fish when several crappies suspend in the water column near my bait. This allows me to target individual fish and maximize my catch.
As always, good luck on the ice and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!
Mike Frisch hosts the "Fishing the Midwest" TV series. Visit www.fishingthemidwest.com to see all things Fishing the Midwest.