Go Now For Downstate Crappies

Go Now For Downstate Crappies

Don't head north for big crappies till you've tried these southern Minnesota hotspots. You may be surprised at what you find there!

In Minnesota, a 2-pound crappie is considered a huge fish. Over the past 10 years, anglers were conditioned to head north to Red Lake because local hype made them believe it was the best option for big crappies.

Anglers that made the trek to this huge North Country lake weren't disappointed, but many downstate anglers could have stayed closer to home. Lakes in Minnesota's prairie pothole region produce some big crappies, and the mid-south spattering of lakes around Mankato and Faribault boast some outstanding numbers of crappies and support an active year-round bite.

Maybe these downstate lakes don't generate the ink that other lakes do because anglers tend to take their fishing trips up north while keeping their southern lakes a secret!

Well, it's time to get the word out about Minnesota's big downstate crappies. Some anglers like to set the hook on big crappies -- anything over 1 pound. There are lakes in the downstate region that will satisfy these "lunker hunters."

Some anglers want to catch a lot of fish. Size is a consideration, but three fish to a pound is considered a good catch. Numbers lakes are abundant in the downstate area, with plenty of respectable fish for those that don't want to wait long between bites.

Let's start out profiling a lake that gives you the best of both worlds: big fish and plenty of them.

LAKE SHETEK
Murray County
Lake Shetek is the epitome of prairie pothole lakes. At slightly over 3,800 acres, you would be hard-pressed to find water over 10 feet deep. The bottom is a mixture of rubble, sand and mud, and the water clarity doesn't allow for the growth of deep vegetation. Structure is non-existent, so how does one find crappies on Lake Shetek? Cover some water and search for them! (Continued)

A viable search program on a large lake with little vegetation or structure consists of a drift while casting 1/8-ounce jig tipped with a 2- or 3-inch plastic grub.

Although using a marker buoy tends to pull in other boats, marking the spot where you hook that first crappie is imperative. The fish are often so tightly schooled that a marker can put you on the exact spot. Some of the newer GPS units will plot a tight line, and with a marked point can keep you on a spot, but you will have to keep one eye glued to the sonar screen or you're off the spot.

An anchor comes in real handy on Shetek when you find those crappies, but an anchor down is another big draw to other anglers.

If you're catching fish, expect company on Shetek. It's a popular lake because of the quality of its crappie and walleye fishery.

For more information, check out www.murray-countymn.com.

INDIAN LAKE
Nobles County
Barely over 200 acres, Indian Lake is one that requires some research before fishing. This southern border lake has a maximum depth that is barely over 6 feet, and a hard winter will result in a partial winterkill, knocking down the numbers of crappies significantly.

What this also does is produce some big crappies, real bruisers over 14 inches that anglers will appreciate, even though there can also be some time between bites.

Typically, the fishing pressure on small, shallow lakes like Indian occurs in spring and fall when the water is not loaded with algae and the fish tend to bite readily. Higher water temperatures can put crappies in a lethargic state, and the lack of visibility creates a tougher bite.

In spring and fall, a small minnow under a bobber drifted along until a fish bites is a good way to locate a school of fish. This tactic will also result in some big perch and a few bullheads, but be persistent. When you do find that school of crappies, there will be some big fish in the mix.

Before making a trip to Indian Lake, contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' regional office at (507) 831-2900 and ask about the winterkill situation.

For more information on the area, check out the Worthington tourism Web site at www.wgtn.net.

CANNON LAKE
Rice County
Cannon Lake sits on the edge of the town of Faribault. This should result in high levels of fishing pressure, but there are so many great lakes in this region that anglers tend to follow the hottest bite. If French Lake is kicking out big bluegills, panfish anglers head there. If Shields Lake is where the action is, you know where the boats will be stacking up.

But when the big crappies are biting on 1,600-acre Cannon Lake, there will be plenty of bobbers floating near openings in shoreline cuts and on the weedy flats on the southwest corner of the lake.

Maybe these downstate lakes don't generate the ink that other lakes do because anglers tend to take their fishing trips up north while keeping their southern lakes a secret!

There seems to be a correlation on most lakes that where crappie numbers are down, the average size is up. That holds true on Cannon Lake, where the fish are big.

That's why the smart angler monitors the bite and strikes while the iron is hot. When those big crappies are schooled up and active in the shallows on Cannon Lake, word spreads fast and the boat landing loads up.

While many anglers drop anchor and focus on a particular school of crappies, don't hesitate to tie on a jig and grub and work the edges of the mid-lake structure. Crappies congregate where there is a food source, and those humps can hide tiny minnows that attract crappies. It's tough not to join the crowds, but you can find a school of 1-pounders in this lake with a minimum of effort.

For more information, call Nagel's Live Bait at (507) 334-8341.

LAKE VOLNEY
Le Sueur County
Lake Volney covers slightly less than 300 acres, yet it pushes 70 feet deep. The water clarity is good in spring and fall, but in summer, it can get a little green from the algae.

Pondweed grows good around the edges of the lake, but this weed tends to die off about midsummer and this pushes the fish into deeper water along the edge of the vegetation and out where they can suspend over open water.

It's that period, from the beginning of June until the end of July, when big crap

pies are easiest to target on this lake.

The angler who understands his sonar unit will benefit the most by this scenario. The objective is to find the suspended crappies using the sonar and sit over them with a slip-bobber and small minnow. Some anglers prefer the fathead minnow on Volney because the bigger bait results in bigger crappies.

For more information, contact Hermie's Bait and Tackle at (507) 931-6875.

CEDAR LAKE
Martin County
Cedar Lake is another prairie pothole lake that occasionally suffers low oxygen levels during the winter months. A phone call to the MDNR's regional office is always a good idea before heading to Cedar Lake.

The crappies (black and white) in Cedar run big. At over 700 acres, the lake is big enough to make it tough to cover in a short period of time. But when narrowed down to a few hundred acres, the search becomes more manageable.

Fortunately, there are two basins that are very similar, so pick one and begin your search there.

A 3-inch grub on a 1/8-ounce jig is the perfect tool for finding the 1- to 2-pound crappies in Cedar Lake. Drift and cast until you find that school of active fish. Then, the anchor should hit bottom until that spot is strained.

There is no need to switch to a different presentation. That jig-and-grub combo works well whether you are moving or stationary.

For more information regarding Cedar Lake, start by calling the regional MDNR office at (507) 831-2900, or call Master Bait and Tackle at (507) 235-5225 for an up-to-the-minute fishing report.

There are many more crappie lakes in southern Minnesota that are capable of providing big fish in spring. Make a few calls to the DNR offices in those regions and develop a relationship with local bait shops so you can stay on top of the hot bites.

Then you'll see why some of the finest crappie lakes in the state are downstate!

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