Outdoors column: The inside scoop on big winter slabs

by Ron Anlauf
Contributing Columnist

Crappie fishing has been good from the word go on a lot of lakes and right now is as good a time as any to check it out. Crappies usually play nice and if you can find them you can catch them and is why so many anglers target them during the hard water period.

Ron Anlauf explored deep water to find this nice mid winter crappie. Photo courtesy of Ron Anlauf

So if they’re going to bite then finding them has to be the key and location isn’t all that tough. For the most part deeper water is where a good deal of the action takes place. A deeper flat or basin area next to a shallow shelf is a starting spot, so is a deeper hole in the middle of a shallower flat. A break line or drop off next to deep water is another potential hot spot but the action might be restricted to lowlight periods and even well after dark.

The deeper basin running fish are more apt to bite during the day and may be your best option if you’re not willing to burn the midnight oil. A flat bottom or basin in the 20 to 30 foot range is what we’re talking about and may not be the deepest water available but deeper isn’t always better. If you’re willing to stick it out till after dark; the edges of a weed line or drop off can really heat up and may be your best option. On lakes like Mille Lacs where there aren’t that many fish you’ll have a hard time trying to find them during the day. But come dark those schools of basin running fish will move in and up where they can be readily caught.

The thing is if you’re “on the fish” you can easily see them on a depth finder like my Humminbird Ice55. If there’s enough they’ll show up as several thicker red lines or more and can run from close to the bottom to five or ten feet or more off. A single mark can be a crappie but it’s the clusters or numbers that will hold the most biters. When there are more there is competition and the most aggressive will try to inhale a bait before another fish sucks it in. Competition is definitely a good thing.

Teeny tiny jigs are top crappie getters like the new Mooska Jig from Northland Tackile. The Mooska is made from tungsten which is heavier than lead and allows you to use smaller baits that sink faster and give you better feel. Tip the jig with a plastic body and maybe a maggot like a eurolarvae and you’re in business. The key is keeping the amount of action you give the bait to a bare minimum. Too much commotion and you’re going to spook fish and spooked fish simply won’t bite. See you on the ice.

Ron Anlauf is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.