January 7, 2012

Mark Latti: Time for ice fishing, and going after black crappie

Cold temperatures this week means that the ice has finally set on many lakes and ponds in the area, and it's time to fish. You will still want to check the thickness of the ice before heading out, as the balmy December means ice thickness is not quite what you would expect this time of year.

click image to enlarge

Black crappie like this one are found in more than 50 lakes and ponds throughout the state of Maine.

Mark Latti Photo

Today's ice fishing equipment has evolved to make anglers highly mobile. Portable shelters, handheld depthfinders, packable flashers and power augers all make searching for the right spot even easier.

Over the past few years, ice fishing for crappie has grown in popularity. Prized for their tasty fillets, crappies move throughout a waterbody and the watercolumn this time of year. With today's gear, you can move around a lake until you find them.

Black crappie are not native to Maine but were introduced into the Presumpscot River drainage in the early 1900s. Originally limited to just the Presumpscot drainage, they can be found now in the Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin river drainages. The Maine Fishing Guide lists them in more than 50 waters throughout the state.

Ice fishing for crappie can be a lot of fun because, like other warm-water species such as perch and pickerel, they will readily take a bait or a jig, and once you find them they can be quite plentiful.

During the winter, crappie tend to school together in deeper water. You will want to ice fish in water that is in the 6- to 20-foot range. If you are not familiar with the lake where you plan to fish, take a look at a lake depth map or better yet, talk to the local bait shop.

A portable depth finder or flasher can also help you locate good spots without drilling a hole. Most units will measure depths right through the ice. Bring a small water bottle and pour a little water on the ice, put the sonar on the wet ice, and you'll get your reading.

While a handheld depthfinder will give you the depth, today's portable flashers will not only give you the depth but will mark the bottom, the fish, and even your lure. Watching the flasher as you jig enables you to read what type of retrieve the fish are reacting to. If the fish are not coming to your jig, alter it in different ways in order to entice them, or try another color or a different jig altogether.

Crappie, like other fish, are more likely to attack baits from below, coming up to feed. Start jigging at higher depths, then slowly lower your jig deeper until you find out where in the water column they are feeding.

If after a while you aren't getting any bites, or you are not marking fish, move to another spot. Unless there is some type of enticing structure, crappie follow the food. So if the small baitfish or zoo plankton are on the move, the crappie are, too.

For crappie baits and jigs, think small. Use small perch-size minnows and diminutive jigs. With jigs, tip them with bait. Some anglers use minnows, but I prefer to use a small Gulp! Alive maggot or waxie. These soft plastics are easy to carry, are impregnated with scent and are biodegradable.

If you are using live bait, don't be afraid to doctor it up with some scent. I use a BioEdge Smelt wand that gives the bait even more of a scent. Clipping a pectoral fin or part of the tail also will get your bait to behave erratically, enticing even more strikes.

Crappie seem to be a little light sensitive, so plan accordingly. The best time seems to be an hour before dusk until about two hours after. Snow-covered ice seems to be more productive than early-season uncovered ice.

As to where to go? Check out the Maine Fishing Guide at maine.gov/ifw. This Google Earth-based program will show what waters have crappie, and you can overlay a depth map layer over the pond so you can find out where to go and get started.

Mark Latti is a Registered Maine Guide, and the Landowner Relations/ Recreational Access Coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

 

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