Early-ice crappies fun to catch

Now that winter has set in here in Sunset Country, ice anglers surely have to be thinking about hitting the hardwater in search of a hot bite.
When I think about early ice, the first thought that comes to my mind is stocked trout. When I was younger, it always was a tradition with my Dad to hit some of these small, stocked lakes as soon as the ice was safe—and we caught plenty of them.
The other hot bite early in the season comes from the area’s plentiful crappies. Whether you like to fish crappies on big waters like “Woods” or Rainy, or in one of the region’s smaller bodies of water, first ice is prime time to find biting crappies.
The first experience I had with crappies was in the Sabaskong Bay area of Lake of the Woods, around Nestor Falls, as I’m sure it did for many other anglers. The Nestor Falls area is one of the most popular ice destinations for anglers and for good reason—crappies are very plentiful.
Although it may not be my first choice for the biggest crappies, you would be hard-pressed to find an area that kicks out as many fish.
The reason Sabaskong is so good is the numbers are huge. Where crappies in most bodies of water congregate in very specific “holes,” crappies around Nestor Falls can be found in a variety of locations and first ice is the best time to be out there.
The key to ice-fishing for crappies is finding them. Once found, they usually use the same “holes” each season and they can be caught rather easily.
I very seldom use live bait for crappies any more; instead, I give them a one-two punch with artificial baits. On one rod I rig up a small spoon, like a Northland Forage Minnow or Doodle Bug, and tip it with a small, scented nugget or piece of plastic.
On the other rod, I rig up a tube or some other type of plastic you can offer up to crappies in a finesse presentation.
My friend, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, a famous ice-angler from Minnesota, just designed a whole line of plastic baits for ice anglers to use for panfish, called “Bro’s Bug Collection” and manufactured by Northland Fishing Tackle.
They are small, subtle baits that mimic the small bloodworms and invertebrates that inhabit all our lakes and provide much of the forage crappies survive on. These baits are highly realistic and already have accounted for some great catches for me.
Get yourself armed with an auger with sharp blades so you can drill lots of holes, as well as a flasher so you can find fish before drop a line, and you are going to have some fun on the ice.
Although most crappie waters are starting to lock up pretty good, be sure to check for safe ice conditions wherever you chase them in the coming weeks.

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