Ice Fishing for Lake Mille Lacs Crappies
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.
Ice Fishing Mille Lacs has put together a three-part series of articles that focus on increasing angler’s success when it comes to finding the Mille Lacs Lake crappie. In Part One, we focus primarily on location because Mille Lacs is a vast lake.
Narrowing down the few panfish locations should be an angler’s first approach when spending time on “The Pond” targeting crappies. If an angler does not know the proper areas of Mille Lacs to target crappies, no matter how much effort they put into finding them, unfortunately, the chances are almost zero they will ever catch one.
For many would-be crappies anglers, discouragement seems to set in more straightforward than it would on other lakes and is the reason failure is the number one reason why anglers will give up when it comes to the Mille Lacs crappie. Those anglers who put in the effort doing some research before their trip are the ones who stand the best chances at finding them. If you do your research prior, you will not only find that the Mille Lacs crappie is a target-able game fish but rather one of the lake’s easiest fish to target if you know what you are looking for.
Finding Mille Lacs Crappies – 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 Times to Target Mille Lacs for Crappies
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.
Successful Mille Lacs crappie anglers will find new locations and drill their holes during the morning hours. During the later afternoon, when prime crappie feeding time comes around, those anglers will seek out the holes they drilled earlier in the day and start fishing right over actively feeding crappies. This is a great tip and key secret that many successful Mille Lacs Lake crappie anglers tend to not elaborate on much because of it being such a factor in their success.
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.
Maybe due to their defense mechanisms at a young age, perch fry is believed to pose too much of a threat when digested. Small, minnow-sized perch fry generally hold and school in areas that will put the Mille Lacs crappie in harm’s way of predators. The list of predators for the Mille Lacs crappie includes the walleye, eelpout, dogfish, northern, musky, and smallmouth bass. The areas which you should focus on for crappies are the areas that have little or no association with the larger aquatic predators of Mille Lacs.
Finding these areas will involve thinking outside of the box for most Mille Lacs anglers, as the mindset of most who fish Mille Lacs is to head far offshore to mid-lake structures. It takes an open-minded angler to drive or walk past areas no one has fished all winter, but these are the anglers who profit the most when it comes to locating and catching Mille Lac’s crappies. Strangely, but not entirely strange when you think about what we discussed above, tight against the shoreline is the most favorable area to scout out Mille Lac’s crappies’ active schools.
Some of the largest crappies caught in Mille Lacs have come from site fishing (viewing fish you intend to target and catch down the ice hole in shallow water) and from areas no more profound than five feet. Keep in mind that when we say five feet deep, you will still have two to three feet of ice with only about a foot to two feet of swim-able water under them.
The secrete behind finding the critical areas next to shore is to keep drilling until you have discovered green weed beds and preferably green weed beds with active food sources being 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.