Often dubbed papermouths because of the thin tissue around their mouths, crappies are also a very tasty fish to eat. Since crappies have such thin tissue around their mouths, it makes them a little tougher to catch than bluegills or other varieties of sunfish.
Luckily for Hoosierland anglers, crappies are available throughout the state, and in this article we’re going to take a look at three crappie hotspots that are located in the northern-tier counties of Indiana. Two of these choices are geared more for ice-anglers or those with boats, and the third choice is geared more toward shore-fishing after ice out.
Situated in the northwest part of the state in Starke County, this 1,345-acre lake is one of the premier crappie hotspots in the northern level of the state. As a point of interest, Bass Lake is also Indiana’s third-largest natural lake.
Statistical information from a fish harvest survey conducted for Bass Lake in 2000 discovered that this lake’s crappie population is doing well. An enormous 80.4 percent of the 6,702 fish collected during the survey were crappies, and these ranged in size from 6 to 14 inches.
Bass Lake has an expansive area on its south end that is very shallow, and very good for crappie fishing in the early spring. Papermouths assemble in this area to spawn in the abundant aquatic vegetation that is located here, and to feed on forage fish that like the aquatic vegetation as well.
The best type of bait to use on Bass Lake for crappies is a small minnow. Moreover, anglers should be equipped to handle the problems that arise with the crappie’s paper-thin mouth. “When you bring them to the boat, net them,” said Ed Lewandowski, who has fished for crappies for 50 years.
“An average-size net will work just fine. You’ll need the net to keep the hook from tearing out of the fish’s mouth,” Lewandowski said. Remember that while fish are still in the water, their buoyancy reduces their weight; once they are lifted out of the water, their full weight will be on your line, and the resulting downward force can tear the hook out.
Bob Robertson is the fisheries biologist for District 1. He said the crappie fishing on Bass Lake is good. Robertson said that crappie numbers in his district have been rather cyclic, and that Bass Lake is on the upward part of the cycle as per the 2000 survey.
The water in Bass Lake is generally very murky. This is due to the motorboat activity on the lake and wind action. To improve their chances for success, anglers should use bright- colored jigs with bright-colored tails tipped with minnows or bee moths. Jigs with blades in the 1/32-ounce size work the best. Silver-colored bladed jigs work better in murky water because of their greater visibility. Bladed jigs also emit sound as they slice through the water, which attracts predatory fish.
Another good place to try for crappies on Bass Lake is Muck Shores, which is located on the northeast end of the lake. This area is a crappie-spawning area with a depth of about 5 feet. Look specifically for woody structure or brush because these are the spots that crappies like the most. Also, look for stemmed aquatic vegetation.
Bass Lake has a boat ramp that is easy to get to. This ramp is situated just south and east of the intersection of U.S. Route 35 and state Route (SR) 10.
Cedar Lake is a sizeable Lake County water at 781 acres. Running in a north-to-south direction, Cedar Lake is about a mile long by one-half mile wide at its broadest point. It is a shallow lake with a maximum depth of 16 feet.
There is a boat launch on the north end of the lake just off Lake Shore Drive. To fish Cedar Lake, you’ll need a boat because 100 percent of the shoreline is developed; therefore, the only public access is by boat.
Crappies at Cedar Lake range in the 10- to 12-inch size. There are several hotspots for crappies on Cedar Lake. One of these is located in the cove on the northeast section of the lake where the water is 6 feet deep. Another good spot to try is along the western shore in the lake’s northern half. The water here is also around 6 feet deep. It contains structure that crappies like.
The colder months are the best times to fish Cedar Lake due to problems with algal blooms in the spring and summer. In the warm months, the lake also has problems with turbidity because of high levels of recreational-boat traffic.
When fishing Cedar Lake, or any lake in late winter, you need to be careful of ice thickness when ice-fishing. As a rule, to be considered safe, ice must be at least 4 inches thick and have no air pockets or cracks. If you’re fishing in late winter or early spring on open water out of a boat or from shore, remember that water temperatures are not much above freezing. There is great danger of hypothermia should you fall in. Please be careful!
KANKAKEE RIVER FWA
Located in Starke County, the Kankakee River Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) is famous for its outstanding waterfowl hunting, and it may seem like a very unlikely place to seek out crappies. However, there are some channels and backwater areas located between the Kankakee and the Yellow rivers.
To enter into this area, you should travel onto the property on 10-mile Road. This road is located about one- tenth of a mile west of the intersections of SRs 8 and 39. The entrance is located on the south side of SR 8, on the west end of the bridge. As you travel along 10-mile Road, the Kankakee River will be to your right, and within spitting distance.
To find the channels and backwater areas, continue on 10-mile Road (heading south) until you come to a road that “tees” into 10-mile Road from the east. All along this road there is a stream-like channel (on the south side) that often provides good crappie and bluegill fishing. This “channel” road is about a half-mile long; all along its length anglers can bank-fish for crappies in the bayou-like water.
Fishing for crappies in the early spring at the Kankakee FWA is a nature-filled experience because there are a lot of wildlife-viewing opportunities. This is especially true when Canada geese, blue herons and other shore birds are nesting in the vicinity.
The best bait to use for crappies at Kankakee FWA is a minn
ow. The channels and backwater areas are not very deep and anglers can use a simple setup with a bobber, small long-shank hooks and a sinker.
Lewandowski recommends the long-shank hooks because it makes it easier to recover them from snags. “Crappies are generally in brush or woody structure, and if you get snagged, a long-shank hook (i.e., an Aberdeen hook) can be pulled straight, which allows you to pull free.”
As a sidebar note, crappie anglers may also want to bring their northern pike fishing equipment because there are two gravel pits located immediately off 10-mile Road that often hold good numbers of northern pike. You can get a small boat or canoe into the backwater areas and gravel pits, but you’ll have to carry it to the water.
For more information on Kankakee River FWA, call (574) 896-3522.