Ice Fishing for Lake Mille Lacs Crappies
Mille Lacs being such a vast lake, Ice Fishing Mille Lacs shares our best tips and tricks for finding and catching crappies in Mille Lacs. We also share the locations known to hold schools of Mille Lacs crappies and the best times and best ways to target them.
Fishing for crappies and panfish in general on Mille Lacs can either be easy or challenging. The challenging part is being able to find them in such a large lake. Once a crappie angler narrows down the best areas to target on Lake Mille Lacs, the challenge then becomes zeroing in on their desired habitat and determining their food source.
The easiest way to get any angler on wintertime Mille Lacs crappies is to hire a local Mille Lacs fishing guide. The two guides that have a track record of locating crappies in Mille Lacs are Tony Roach of Roach’s Guide Service and Brad Hawthorne of Hawthorne Guide Service.
Tony Roach of Roach’s Guide Service Spends a Day Target Mille Lacs Lake Panfish, Specifically Crappies.
The Ideal Conditions For Targeting Crappies on Mille Lacs
Mille Lacs crappies and panfish tend to school up tighter during late winter when the sun starts to stay in the sky for a more extended period during the day. The sun in the sky longer during late winter promotes the start of vegetation growth on the lake’s bottom. In Mille Lacs, due to the composition of the lake’s bottom and lack of thermocline, vegetation growth occurs much shallower than in typical lakes.
Vegetation growth generates oxygen in the water, encouraging the crappie’s food sources to become more active, making them more accessible. Higher oxygen levels in the water promote zooplankton activity. The tiny minnows and crawfish who feed on zooplankton naturally start to congregate more around the newly growing vegetation.
Mille Lacs ice anglers will find crappies and panfish in much shallower areas during late winter than they would during the open water months. When targeting late winter crappies in Mille Lacs, the ideal depths are between 3′ and 7′ feet of water with a softer and weedy bottom.
Section Key Points Recap
- During the winter months, there are certain times that are better for targeting crappies on Mille Lacs and the best time is very early winter and the weeks just before ice-out in late winter, early spring.
- Ice thickness, oxygen levels, vegetation growth are factors crappies and panfish follow because their food sources are impacted by them.
- The thinner the ice, the more sunlight is able to get through promoting the growth of underwater vegetation leading to higher levels of oxygen being introduced into the water in these areas.
- If an ice angler is able to find green aquatic vegetation under the ice on Mille Lacs, chances are crappies and panfish will be in the vicinity.
Locations on Mille Lacs Proven to Hold Crappies
Although any location on the lake has the possibility of holding crappies, the best locations to find them are going to be in the southern half of the lake. Statistically, the best crappie habitats are found in the southern bays of the lake, with a few reports of them being caught with the westside bays of the lake. Our experiences have found the best chance of finding crappies on Mille Lacs is within the southern and southeastern bays.
Locations on Mille Lacs that are known for holding crappies and panfish include.
- Cove Bay
- Izatys Channel
- Wahkon Bay
- Isle Bay
- Twin Bays
Targeting The Best Locations Within a Location – Crappies on Lake Mille Lacs
After narrowing down the limited regional locations on Mille Lacs ideal for crappies, the next step is to find the ideal locations within . Since the lake is vast, Mille Lacs anglers targeting crappies first should rule out the less likely locations around the lake.
Targeting areas that crappies do not have a history of being caught in is something we encourage. However, specific locations around the lake, unfortunately, will not hold crappies or panfish no matter the effort put forth.
Mille Lacs is unique with its schools of crappies and panfish, and they are not as easy as some may think to fish. Discouragement and frustration is the significant reason why many anglers give up on Mille Lac’s crappies. In most cases, these anglers targeted them the same as they would when on other lakes.
Anglers who put in time and effort to study Mille Lacs crappies before they specifically target them stand the best chance when it comes to finding them. Once an angler can wrap their head around how the Mille Lacs crappie thinks, they will have a much easier time finding them.
Finding Crappies on Mille Lacs – Overlooked Structure
If you are an angler who knows and understands how Mille Lacs differs from most of your typical Minnesota lakes, consider yourself one step ahead of many when it comes to finding panfish in Mille Lacs. When most anglers think of Mille Lacs Lake and its bottom composition and mid-lake structures, they think of three core basics. This being gravel, mud, and sand. Arguably the fourth type of bottom structure would come into play, rocks and small to mid-sized boulders. These are not the typical lake structures to seek out panfish and even crappies when starting to locate them on anybody’s water, and this certainly applies to Mille Lacs.
The key to finding panfish in general during the winter months on Mille Lacs is locating areas around the lake offering fresh oxygen-rich water sources. If you find an area rich with fresh oxygen, you will discover panfish because the food sources that panfish mainly feed on like the freshness of new and oxygen-rich water. Knowing this will narrow down most of the lake and makes finding panfish, especially crappies, much easier.
The two most common areas on Mille Lacs, which will provide a superior level of fresh oxygen year-round, can be broken down into two specific sources. First on the list would be any freshwater entering the lake via spring, stream, or river inlet, and the second would be actively living weed beds.
These areas are considered the “forgotten and overlooked structures” of Mille Lacs as the sand, gravel, and mud flats are the primary focus of almost all anglers who target Mille Lacs year-round. More so during the late winter months, but if you locate any of these sources rich in the fresh oxygen, you will find the right panfish concentration.
Once you have discovered these sources, you can seek out the areas that hold larger panfish, and then the trophy and eater sized panfish. The areas of Mille Lacs that host fresh oxygen-rich water are far and few between, and finding them becomes a process of elimination. Once you have narrowed down your options, start checking out each area one by one. Once you have seen schools of concentrated panfish such as bluegills and sunfish, the crappies will not be far behind.
Best Time of Day to Target Crappies on Mille Lacs Lake
Crappies in Mille Lacs seem to possess a specific window of time they actively feed and are thus easier to catch. In the more common and productive areas for crappies on Mille Lacs, the window of time of choice is roughly 1:00 pm to just past sundown. Smaller lakes in the area will often offer an excellent crappie bite well into the late evening and for hours past sunset. When it comes to after sundown on Mille Lacs, anglers have a hard time finding actively feeding crappies.
The idea which many believe causes this phenomenon is the increased level of providing predator fish after sundown and spooking the Mille Lacs crappie into shutting down and seeking safety/shelter for the night hours. One of the most potent approaches to catching Mille Lac’s crappies is to find their feeding areas first and fish for them later. This is where many anglers will fail with their successes in catching crappies on Mille Lacs because they start their quest at prime feeding times and wonder why they never see or catch any crappies on Mille Lacs.
Crappies, especially Mille Lacs Lake crappies, will spook very easy, and it takes a good amount of time before they will find themselves back in these areas. Even if a good-sized school of crappies has concentrated in a specific area, the noise will cause the entire school to flee an area, but rest be assured those crappies will move back and regain feeding once the noise has stopped.
Since Mille lacs crappies are extremely skittish, successful anglers will locate prime locations to target during the morning hours and drill their ice holes then instead of later in the day. During the later afternoon, when the crappie bite is at its peak, anglers will go back to those holes drilled earlier in the day to find actively feeding crappies.
This tip is a great tactic that many successful crappie anglers use because even electric augers still will spook the fish in the area away and it may take up to a couple of hours before those fish find their way back to those ice holes.
Stepping Outside the Box – Locating Mille Lacs Crappies
During the winter months, panfish, specifical crappies, have been found to feed and actively schooling in the most unlikely areas on Mille Lacs. When fishing their local lakes, anglers’ mentality is to find deeper water, and you will find the bigger fish. With Mille Lacs, this is certainly not the case. Although anglers have reported catching crappies on deep rock and gravel transition areas, these reports are far, and few between them are not the areas that should be targeted when fishing for crappies on Mille Lacs.
The areas to target are the areas that will hold the food sources the crappies love to eat and thus school up around. During the winter months, these deeper areas surprisingly will hold some food sources the crappies may focus on, but in most cases, the small minnows found in deep water are generally perch fry. For various reasons, Mille Lacs crappies do not primarily feed on perch minnows.
Due to their defense mechanisms found on them during their young age, perch fry poses issues for larger game fish when digesting them. Also, perch fry generally school in areas that push crappie in Mille lacs out of their typical habitat and potentially move them into harm’s way with other predatory fish in the lake. Areas best targeted for crappies will not be directly connected to where other aquatic predators found in the lake are known to frequent. A list of natural predators for crappies in Lake Mille Lacs include walleyes, eelpout, dogfish, northern, muskies, and smallmouth bass.
Finding suitable locations for crappies on Lake Mille Lacs may require anglers to “think outside the box.” Most anglers who fish Mille Lacs only know to head offshore and off to the popular mid-lake structures. Driving or walking right past areas that hold crappies on Mille Lacs is much easier than actually finding them. As we mentioned above, locations tight against the shoreline is favorable for active schooled crappies.
Some of the largest crappies caught in Mille Lacs were caught when site fishing (Site Fishing: Viewing the fish under the ice while targeting them in shallow water) and in areas that have less than five feet of water. Five feet of water include the two to three feet of ice and as shallow as only a foot to two feet of swim-able water under the ice.
Finding crappies up tight against the shore or shallow break requires anglers to drill holes until they have located green weed beds on the bottom with active food seen, such as small pin minnows swimming in and out. If luck is on your side, you may even see crappie or two swimming around after you drill your hole.
Remember, though, and crappies can be hard to make out when swimming above the bottom of actively growing weeds. Be wise that drilling ice holes tend to scare them out of the area. Do not be discouraged if no crappies are seen after you have drilled your holes, and preferably you will have drilled your holes earlier in the day.