By Samuel Moore
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It is no secret. In Bemidji, Minnesota people are blessed with not only a beautiful place to live, but a phenomenal area to fish. From big water walleye lakes to small hidden gems with big panfish, Bemidji has a lot to offer a hard water freak. Personally, I am unique in the fact that big panfish (Crappies, Bluegills, and Perch) get to me. Yes, I am one of the weird guys that would rather catch a 14 inch crappie over a 26 inch walleye any day of the week. Call me weird, but there is something about finding and figuring out these fish that gets to me
If we first take a look at conventional types of tactics for locating schooling crappies, you will find that drilling a lot of holes in the basins of lakes will expose numerous suspended lines on your Marcum or any other ice fishing flasher. Most anglers would stop drilling, set up camp, and fish the school below until they either catch a limit, or the school of crappies moves on. It is important to keep one thing in mind when searching for big panfish. When a crappie gets to be above average size, I have found that it starts to behave a little differently. For example, when you do find a school of crappies, the biggest, most aggressive fish will be towards the top of the school and highest in the water column. These fish will be more active and be more likely to bite. In most cases you would just keep on fishing and weed through the smaller fish until you have found what you where looking for, but here is where my advice comes in. I have found that big crappies, fish ranging from 13-15+ inches behave almost like predators. These fish do not necessarily travel in large numbers or sometimes even a school at all.
Once you find a school of good fish, let’s say 10-12 inch crappies, instead of setting up camp, go out and drill twenty or so more holes around your area ranging in 8-12 feet apart. Drilling a grid around where you think the school of fish are, can be useful to finding the independent crappies that are hanging around the school, but not always in the same area. Now this is where some of the hard work comes in. Grabbing your Marcum, run around with your favorite crappie spoon, go to each hole in your grid and look for a big thick red line hovering over the already suspended school of crappies. Staying mobile and going from hole to hole takes some work but when you finally put your transducers down and see a think line a good 15 feet on top of the normal school of crappies, you will thank yourself, and it will become worth it. Nine times out of ten when you do locate one of these marks, they are very aggressive. Getting your bait in front of them as soon as possible is important. Because these fish are constantly on the move and are looking for the next big meal which hopefully for you, is tied on to the end of your line!
First, to sum things up, stay mobile. These bigger crappies are always on the move and if your not moving with them, you will find that they are not exactly easy to call in. Second, always be looking for that mark way on the way top of the school. It is not uncommon for the biggest of crappies to be only a few feet under the ice surface – depending on how deep your body of water is. Third and maybe the most important, is catch and release. These fish are old. Sometimes they can be more than eight years old and unless you are keeping that once in a lifetime fish for the wall, release it. These bigger fish only produce so many offspring every year and are incredibly important to sustaining the population for years to come. Keeping crappies from 10-11 inches are perfect for the frying pan and will always taste better than a 14 inch crappie.