Mille Lacs Crappies 101 Part One
How to Properly Fish the Mille Lacs Crappie
Fishing for crappies and panfish in general on Mille Lacs can be either very easy or extremely difficult. Knowing how these fish group and school to feed on Mille Lacs is key when your goal is finding success with catching them.
IceFishingMilleLacs.com have put together a three part series of articles which 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 very big lake and narrowing down the few panfish locations should be an angler’s first approach when spending time on “The Pond” targeting crappies. Simply put, if you do not grasp of the proper areas of Mille Lacs to find crappies no matter how much effort you put into finding them you will never catch one. For many would be crappies anglers discouragement seems to set in easier 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 prior to 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 lakes most easiest fish to target if you know what you are looking for.
Forgotten and Overlooked Structure of Mille Lacs
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 a forth type of bottom structure would come into play and this being 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 any of body water and this certainly applies to Mille Lacs.
The key to finding panfish in general during the winter months on Mille Lacs is to locate areas around the lake offering sources of fresh oxygen rich water . If you find an area rich with fresh oxygen you will find panfish because the food sources which panfish mainly feed on like the freshness of new and oxygen rich water. Knowing this will narrow down most of the lake and actually makes finding panfish, especially crappies, much easier. The two most common areas on Mille Lacs which will provide a nice level of fresh oxygen year round can be broken down into two specific sources. First on the list would be any fresh water 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 fresh oxygen you will find a good concentration of panfish. Once you have located these sources then you can seek out the areas which hold larger panfish and then the trophy and eater sized panfish. The areas of Mille Lacs which host fresh oxygen rich water are far and few between and finding them simply become a process of elimination. Once you have narrowed down your options just start checking out each of these areas one by one. Once you have found schools of concentrated panfish such as bluegills and sunfish the crappies will not be far behind.
Starting Early Leads to Catching More and Bigger Crappies Later
Crappies in Mille Lacs seem to possess a specific window of time which they actively feed and thus are easier to catch. In the more common and productive areas for crappies on Mille Lacs the window of time of choice is roughly 1:00pm to just past sundown. Smaller lakes in the area will often offer a great crappie bite well into the late evening and for hours past sundown. 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 activity of feeding predator fish after sundown and it 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 Lacs 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 certain area, 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 start out finding new locations and drilling their holes during the morning hours and 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 great tip and key secrete 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 Even Further Outside the Box
During the winter months panfish, specifically crappies, have been found to feed and actively schooling in the most unlikely areas on Mille Lacs. When fishing their local lakes the mentality of anglers 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 and these areas are not the areas which should be targeted when fishing for crappies on Mille Lacs. The areas to target are those areas which 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 with 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. Also small, minnow sized perch fry generally hold and school in areas which will put the Mille Lacs crappie in harm’s way of predators. The list of predators for the Mille Lacs crappie include the walleye, eelpout, dogfish, northern, musky and small mouth 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 off shore to mid lake structures. It takes an open minded angler to just 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 Lacs crappies. Strangely, but not entirely strange when you think about what we discussed above, tight against the shore line is the most favorable area to scout out active schools of Mille Lacs crappies. Some 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 deeper 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 key areas next to shore is to keep drilling until you have found green weed beds and preferably green weed beds with 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 a crappie or two swimming around after you drill your hole. Remember though, crappies can be hard to make out when swimming above a bottom of actively growing weeds and drilling your ice holes tends 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.