September 30, 2010
Catching spring crappies can be easy if you concentrate on Wisconsin's best hotspots for papermouths. Here's where to catch your limit pronto! (March 2009)
"Hey Mom, look at this one!" said my son as he hauled in another spring crappie. We were out fishing one of southern Wisconsin lakes on the first warm day of the spring and I couldn't have been happier. It was our first day on the water and there is nothing like getting the boat out to chase away those winter blues. Although it was a Saturday, we seemed to have the lake to ourselves. No one had their piers in the water yet and there weren't any pesky water skiers to rile the water. And it was a good thing, too, because although the crappies were biting, they were still easily spooked.
Scenes like this play out all over the state once the lakes start to melt. Warmer temperatures bring crappies and other panfish into the shallow bays making them rather predictable. They like dark shorelines on the north end of the lake where the ice melts first. Here they gather, waiting for the water to heat up to nearly 50 degrees on the surface. The warmer the water gets, the more aggressive the crappies become. Yet, as every fisherman knows, success is never guaranteed. So, here are a few good lakes to get you started. (Continued)
Justin Gaiche of Hooksetters Guide Service spends many, many days on the water.
"I think Lake DuBay is the best crappie lake in the state right now," he said. "It has a huge population of fish, and fishing pressure can't wipe them out."
Lake DuBay spans 6,700 acres and it has many features that crappies like.
"Once the ice is off, you'll want to go up into the feeder creeks and into shallow bays and shorelines," Gaiche said. "Look for 1 to 3 feet of water adjacent to timber. There is a lot of wooden structure on the bottom of this lake, so much so that you can't run out of places to try. You can also troll slowly around the shoreline looking for good spawning habitat. This lake lends itself to spot hopping. Often, you'll be able to mark the fish themselves, or see the spawning beds."
Gaiche said the crappies average 11 inches and he has caught two bigger than 17 inches in recent years, but how do you catch them? "I use a slip-bobber and a crappie minnow. Try pink-and-white-colored jigs with small heads in 1/16- to 1/32-ounce weights. Instead of minnows, I also use 2 1/2 in Gulp! in minnow imitations like white and silver."
Access to this lake is rather easy with at least eight public launches in navigable water. The problem arises once you've launched. This lake is loaded with submerged timber that can make navigation treacherous. Make sure you know where you are going or hire a guide who does.
HOLCOMBE FLOWAGE BY EAU CLAIRE
Holcombe Flowage is a lot like Lake DuBay in structure, yet it is smaller.
"This flowage has a lot of muddy bays with timber," Gaiche said. "The timber is different in that the trees are huge 150-year-old white pines. On this lake, you'll find crappies holding tight to these large stumps. In fact, you will often find several fish on one stump as opposed to DuBay where you are jumping from spot to spot. You'll want to look for fish in 2 to 4 feet of water, maybe even a hair deeper depending on conditions. If the whole bay is shallow, don't go any deeper than 5 to 6 feet."
Crappies on Holcombe are a little bit smaller than on DuBay and average 9 to 11 inches.
In the early season, the north end of the flowage tends to be better, but Gaiche warns there is more to it.
"I've found that you have to pay attention to the bottom," he explained. "A large, shallow bay will produce more crappies than a deeper bay with the same structure. Depth and bottom composition is often more important than the north end or south end of the flowage."
On this flowage, it is very easy to ruin a trolling motor. Make sure you maneuver slowly, preferably with someone on the lookout, or with the kill switch in your hand.
The Wisconsin River from Tomahawk to the Stevens Point area is another great crappie spot.
"The river offers some fantastic fishing opportunities. You can use the same baits and techniques that you would on the lakes," Gaiche said. "You'll find the crappies in creek mouths and in big holes below the dams. On the river, crappies sometimes act like walleyes. They will be piled up in 8- to 20-foot holes chasing minnows. When they get closer to spawning, they will move into the shallower water. I like to use my electronics. I'll fish a slip-bobber so that I can move the bait through the whole water column. Then I'll watch my electronics to see where the fish are."
Crappies tend to school by size, yet on the river, sizes can be inconsistent. The average crappie measures between 10 and 12 1/2 inches with random big fish mixed in. Like Holcombe, the Wisconsin River has many navigational hazards, so take your time and be alert.
Justin Gaiche can be reached at (715) 551-7600, or you can watch him every week on "Hook'd Up" on the Sportsman's Channel or at Hook'd Uptv.com.
In Sawyer County, Windigo Lake is getting a reputation for being a good crappie lake. Cody Connor of Cody's Guide Service fishes the lake often.
"There are tons of brushpiles and downed trees on this lake that attract the crappies," he said. "I've found that the deeper the brushpiles the better, especially if they are close to a quick dropoff. I focus on brushpiles in 1 to 3 feet of water up to as deep as 6 or 7 feet. Early in the season, before they spawn, they hang on that deeper edge."
Windigo boasts nine miles of winding shoreline, and the largest fish may be 18 or 19 inches, with most fish averaging 13 to 14 inches.
"I cast to brushpiles with 4-pound-test on a 9-foot rod," Connor said. "You want that longer rod so that you can get a longer cast. I'll use a minnow and a small hook -- that's it. I've found that slip-bobbers spook the fish. By throwing a small hook like a size 8 with a flathead minnow, you don't spook the fish and you can often see them boil at the surface when they take the bait. I've have seen some guys use untipped pink and white Mini Mites with some success, but I feel whichever way you go you need to use the least amount possible or you'll spook the fish."
BIG SISSABAGAMA LAKE
Big Sis, as it is more commonly known, has a bunch of sandy points, shallow bays, and weed edges where crappies like to hang out. The north shoreline and northern bays are the first
to open in the spring and the first places to look for fish.
"Start in 2 to 4 feet of water," Connor advised. "I look for those weed edges or for the sandy areas where they will eventually spawn. There is a creek mouth at the north end that is a good early-season spot. For the most part, I use the same techniques that I use on Windigo; however, it is easier to use a slip-bobber in this lake because the water isn't as clear."
Crappies average 10 to 12 inches, but every year you can expect a few in the 14- to 16-inch range. There are a couple of launches on this lake, but the one on the south end near Hathaway Bay is the best.
Bean Lake in Washburn County is another good crappie lake.
"You'll want to spot fish on this lake by trolling around until you find the beds. If you can't see the beds yet, then you'll likely see the fish swimming around in schools waiting to spawn," Connor said.
The north side of Bean in shallow water is a great place to start.
"You want to see surface temperatures between 54 and 56 degrees," he advised. "Bean is a weedy, muddy lake, so the fish move even closer to shore looking for sand to spawn in. Crappies won't spawn in muck, so they need to find sand or gravel."
Bean Lake has one launch that is somewhat decent; however, it is not good enough for larger Ranger boats with 250-horsepower engines. For the latest information, contact Cody Connor at (715) 462-3001 or Pastika's Sport Shop at (800) 844-2159.
While nearly every lake in the state has crappies, not all lakes have big crappies. For some real slabs, try Geneva Lake. Guide Jim Laganowski specifically targets crappies in the spring.
"You need to remember to bring a net on Geneva because the fish are so big you can break the line trying to lift them into the boat," he said. "Fish on Geneva average 10 to 12 inches, but there are plenty more in the 14- to 16-inch range."
While this sounds really attractive, one look at the lake map and you may be intimidated by its size. In mid-April, good places to start are Williams Bay, Geneva Bay and the flats off Trinkies.
"I look for new weed growth," Laganowski said. "The minnows are attracted to the micro organisms living in the new weeds, and the crappies come in to feed on the minnows. When fishing, I've always found minnows to be more successful than wax worms or night crawlers."
Weeds will start first in the shallow water that is also at a warmer temperature. This can be as shallow as 2 feet or as deep as 10 feet.
As for technique, Laganowski recommends a slip-bobber, small No. 4 hook and a crappie minnow.
"You can also use small jigs like Flu Flus from Northland Tackle," he said. "I like white, yellow, chartreuse and pink."
"On Delevan, we catch crappies in slightly deeper water than on Geneva, but the technique is the same," Laganowski said. "Early on in the season, try by the metro launch and in the harbor in town. In the main lake, we also catch them from the harbor west to Lake Lawn Lodge."
Other good spots include the shoreline off Bluegill Road on the south side of the lake. Guys also catch crappies off the point on the northwest side. There is a deep weed edge on the north side adjacent to a small boat launch. Crappies start biting in mid-April and keep going until Memorial Day. They are the most active when the surface water temperature hits 60 degrees.
This lake near Beaver Dam has a couple of public launches, as well as access for shore-fishermen looking to catch crappies.
"I've seen lots of guys fish off the west shore off Country Trunk A and Blackhawk Drive," Laganowski said. "They use night bobbers with lights in them. For those guys with a boat, the crappies are usually near Devil's Island. The structure is very good by the island. Other spots include off Indian Point, near the outlet of the lake and on the northwest side near the Canadian Creek Marsh. In all cases, the crappies will be relating to the forage fish, so look for schools of baitfish.
"If you can find wood in a lake, chances are good that you will find crappies. They like piers, branches, old pilings, or any other wood they can find provided it is shallow. Wooden fish cribs that are too deep will be too cold in early season. Wait until later in the summer to hit the cribs."
For more information, contact Jim Laganowski at Early Bird Guide Service, (414) 791-8055.
And now for a bit of bad news. Yellowstone Lake in Lafayette County is manmade and has enjoyed extensive management. Until recently, it was one of the best crappie lakes in the state. In 1997, 400,000 pounds of carp were removed from the lake and crappie fishing got really strong. However, last year a bacteria caused a crappie die-off.
"It will take three or four years for the crappies to grow to catchable size," WDNR fisheries biologist Bradd Sims said. "The good news is that crappies are prolific, and with lower densities, nutrition will be better, thus helping improve survivability rates."
It is important to know that Yellowstone Lake is within state park boundaries, so you must have a state park sticker in order to fish. You can buy a daily pass or an annual pass. There is no fee to launch at either of the two launches. Once on the lake, Garvey recommends the southern shoreline.
"Yellowstone is a manmade lake that was created with the damming of the Yellowstone River," he said. "The original river ran along the south shoreline. There is still some current along that side, but it also holds the best structure. The crappies will hold between 10 feet deep and the surface."
For more information, you may contact the park directly at (608) 523-4427.
It wasn't too long ago that everyone was talking about the great crappie fishing on "Big Chip" or the Chippewa Flowage. But because of recent fishing pressure, Big Chip is no longer the fishery it once was.
"You used to be able to get good size and numbers of crappies, but now if you can catch crappies, they are in the 8- to 9-inch range," Connor said.
Why did this happen and how can we make sure it doesn't happen again? The key is conservation.
It is important to remember that crappies, and all panfish for that matter, are not stocked in Wisconsin. These lakes are completely dependent on natural reproduction. Panfish do not have conservation groups dedicated to their success. We don't have a Bluegills Forever or a Crappies Unlimited. So, what can you do to help? The first recommendation is to keep only a few fish from the b
eds, a few being eight or 10 fish. You should release the other big fish to keep the broodstock strong. Consider keeping only a few for the table instead of filling your daily bag limit day after day. And second, stay legal. A few fishermen who decide to double dip and catch 25 fish, go home and eliminate the evidence, and then come back for a second bag limit can really decimate a lake and ruin the fishing for all of us.
Like the rest of you, I can't wait to make those first casts from the boat. As the sunsets get later and later, I know it won't be long before the crappie fishing heats up. That, plus I've got a 9-year-old asking me every day if we can go crappie fishing this weekend. If you see a mom and her son in a black Crestliner, be sure to stop by and say hello. I'm sure my son will have a fish he'd like to show you, that or he'll have a story to tell.
(Editor's Note: You can watch Judy Nugent every week on the PBS show, "Outdoor Wisconsin." Check local listings for times and stations.)