Report from the Dock
Crappies are undoubtedly one of the most sought-after ice fishing species. They’re fun to catch and great eating.
If you want to catch more crappies, the two most important keys are location and presentation. You could have the most appealing bait in the world, but if there aren’t any fish around, it’s going to be a long day. And, not catching a thing while everyone else around you is catching fish can be really frustrating. What you present to the fish is just as important as finding them.
Crappies can be ice-fished at any hour of the day or night, but changing light conditions in the morning and evening usually trigger more activity and feeding. Many crappie fishermen prefer to fish for crappies from an hour before sundown until a couple of hours after dark.
In early winter, crappies can be found in the same places they were just prior to ice-up. Look for them in shallow weeds and just off the weed line, especially when the weeds are combined with shoreline breaks and points. By mid-winter, the crappies will have moved off the structure, usually to the nearest deep basin. Start by looking for them suspended in the basin near the structure and at the same depth of the structure.
Crappies follow food, so as the zooplankton and minnows move, so do the crappies.
Crystal Lake: This is a private lake during the summer, but during the winter fishermen can access the lake from the beach areas. The bluegill bite is quite good in 7- to 9-feet of water, with keepers that can be found sorting through the smaller ones. The action for pike and bass can be very good in the shallow water near the shorelines. Crappies really start biting at sundown and can be taken on minnows or small plastics that are fished shallow.
Chain: A brief warm-up could create an open-water winter. The bluegills and crappies are biting and seem to turn on toward the afternoon. Areas near the weeds and lily pads are producing. Make sure that you don’t stay stationary as the bluegills are moving from area to area during the early hours. Once you find them, you can stay on a good area for some keepers. Again, jigs are producing. There are also some pike being taken on minnows. Make sure to pay attention to any site-specific regulations and watch where you are walking if there is ice.
Lake Michigan (Chicago Area): Cohos are mixed in with the king salmon. Spotty reports up and down the lake. Fish are taking crankbaits during the day and glow spoons at night. Chinook are mixed with coho. The trout action in the harbors has slowed. Fish are being caught on spawn sacks under a float as well as the standard tinsel or white tube jig tipped with wax worms. Casting darter jigs or bladebaits has been a good option. The warm water discharges are holding fish, and if you can launch the boat, you have a good chance at getting into some good fishing opportunities.
Navy Pier and the downtown harbors are slow and cold but producing some good catches of perch. The fish are ranging considerably in size and a lot of sorting is required, but crappie rigs with fathead minnows seem to be producing the best. Also artificial plastics, such as small minnow-style plastics rigged on double rigs and pulled along the weedbeds, can produce some of the larger fish. Also fishing in Indiana waters near the hole-in-the-wall has been showing some promise with the perch fishing. Fishing bottom rigs with minnows and feather tied hooks has been the top producer.
Crab Orchard Lake: Bass action has slowed. Bluegills being caught on worms.
Baldwin Lake: Warm-water areas are good for catfish, though those being caught are small. Anglers are tossing crankbaits around rip-rap and catching a few bass. Bluegills are slow but will occasionally hit on meal worms or wax worms.
Carlyle Lake: Bluegills and crappies are good on worms and jigs. Bass are slow but a few are being caught on spinners.
Those who did fish found channel cats doing well on the lake for anglers drifting or jug fishing with cut bait or leeches. Fishing is good below the dam.
Kinkaid Lake: Muskie action is steady. Anglers expect the winter to be good for muskies if temperatures stay above 30 degrees. Spinnerbaits and shallow-running baits are the most effective. Catfish and bluegill action has been slow. However, bass anglers are reporting good success.
Lake of Egypt: Bass are still rated fair on soft plastics. Catfish action is fair, fishing shrimp in shallow water.
Rend Lake: Largemouth bass excellent using worms, black/blue jigs, minnows and spinnerbaits. Fish in shallow bays near brush cover and bushes as well as around bridges and along rocks. Reports of fish being caught around Jackie Branch, Sandusky Cove, and below the dam. Crappies are excellent using pink/white tube jigs, meal worms, small and medium minnows.
Fish the main lake dropoff areas or try the Gun Creek area. From shore, fish near structures. Hot spots are Jackie Branch, Sandusky, Sailboat Harbor, Marcum coves, and Ina Boat Ramp. Bluegills are good using crickets, worms, wax worms, meal worms and small jigs.
Fish in the back of necks and on flat shallow banks and on the rocks. Try fishing shallow with crickets, worms or small jigs.
Silver Lake (Highland): Bass are good using jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Crappies are excellent using minnows. Channel catfish are excellent using Sonny’s Super Sticky Dip Bait. Bluegills are good using crickets, while saugers are fair using jigs.
Sangchris Lake: Channel catfish are fair to good using most baits. Shore anglers are doing OK near the spillway. Some largemouth bass hitting plastics and live baits.
Lake Springfield: Bass are fair using plastics (worms and flukes), crankbaits and a few on swim jigs. Channel catfish are fair to good using dip baits, liver and cut baits in the evening.
Lake Decatur: Channel catfish are fair. Some fish are being caught on trot lines baited with cut carp and skip jack. White bass are fair. Anglers are getting some bites using Mepps in the dredging area.
Evergreen Lake: Bass are fair to slow on plastics, jigs, and spinnerbaits around submerged timber or on points. Bluegills are fair on jigs and/or wax worms. Channel catfish are fair on cut baits, dip bait, or liver in evenings. Crappies ares fair with many small fish caught on minnows and some on jigs around or over brush.
Lake Mattoon: Crappies are hit and miss; some biting a bit better; look for them in 6- to 7-feet of water.
Lake Bloomington: A few bass are being caught on spinners. Panfish are being caught on worms. Channel cats are hitting on liver and doughbait.
Newton Lake: Bass are biting hard but mostly smaller in size. Bigger fish are being caught on spinners danced slowly across bottom in shallows.
Rock–Byron-Dixon: Crappies are spotty, with some taken from area lakes and ponds, but just a few from the river with minnows. Bluegills and walleyes are good, and breaking loose. Best action is downstream near Oregon and should be better near Dixon; anglers are casting from the shoreline with minnows. Channel catfish are providing good action.
Mississippi – Pool 14-15: Crappies are fair. Cooler water temperatures have fish a little more interested in biting on minnows. Walleyes are fair.
Illinois River: The walleye and sauger bite has dropped off and fish are harder to find. Anglers who are catching fish are finding them here and there and nothing is showing up as a good pattern. Try trolling lead core with stickbaits or three-way rigs with the bottom weight being a jig and minnow and a F-9 Rapala on the long line.