Cold-Weather Crappie in the Twin Cities
by John E. Phillips
Crappie pro Davis Lenzen, from Hudson, Wisconsin, on the border of Minneapolis-St Paul, often known as the Twin Cities, is living the dream of many crappie fishermen. He fishes small lakes in western Wisconsin and the St. Croix and the Mississippi rivers year-round.
“With crappie fishing, I may catch and release 100, 12 – 15 inch fish in one day, even in cold weather,” Lenzen explains. “I only keep enough crappie to eat for supper.”
Lenzen says he looks for crappie in lakes with potholes in their bottoms. “I search for those potholes in the deepest part of the lake. I’ll start by drilling several holes in the deepest area of the lake in a large circle. I keep drilling holes, until I can see crappie on the transducer of my depth finder. Once I locate a school of crappie, I try to follow them as they move around and feed – sometimes 40 to 50 yards.”
Lenzen says that in northern lakes, he’s learned that crappie will suspend over deep water with a murky bottom, and they’ll feed on the insects that come up and out of the murkiness. “I’ve also found that crappie will stay in that same area where you’ve found them almost all winter long,” Lenzen reports. “Although the water is super-cold, crappie have to move out to deeper water to find more oxygen than is available in shallower water. The oxygen level in the shallow water generally doesn’t begin to improve, until the water starts to warm-up in the spring and summer.”
Lenzen uses both his Garmin Panoptix and his Humminbird Helix 5, when fishing through the ice. “Since I’ve bought my Garmin Panoptix, I’ve used it for ice fishing and river fishing. I like the Panoptix best for ice fishing, because I don’t have to drill nearly as many holes as I did with the Humminbird. The Panoptix allows me to see 40 or 50 feet from the hole in all different directions. If I don’t spot a school of crappie close to the hole that I’ve drilled, then I know exactly what direction and how far to walk before I drill the next hole.”
Sometimes Lenzen fishes with an ACC Crappie Stix dock-shooting rod for fun. He also uses a 30-inch ultralight ice-fishing rod with 4-pound-test monofilament line and super-small tungsten jigs – 1/32-ounce to 1/100-ounce. He often hooks a live minnow on a jig or uses super-small plastic grubs – 1/4- or 1/2-inch long.
“If the crappie are super-aggressive, they’ll hit a 2-inch jig, but most often, the crappie under the ice will be lethargic and will want a very small jig,” Lenzen says.
“In the prespawn, after ice out, I suggest you troll crankbaits or spinner baits like a Beetle Spin,” Lenzen recommends. “During the prespawn, the crappie will be in open water and often scattered. Look for hard bottom on the north sides of bays, since those places generally warm-up faster.”
Lenzen said he is often asked what makes river fishing for crappie different from lake fishing. “I’ve found that crappie in rivers move much more than the lake crappie do and are super-aggressive. I can fish bigger crankbaits for them, instead of fishing jigs and minnows like I do for lake crappie. I catch river crappie much like bass fishermen catch bass. I use search baits to determine where the crappie, are and whether they’re biting actively or not. My search baits include a Beetle Spin and small spinner baits and crankbaits.
“I’ll start off casting to the crappie. If that’s not working, I’ll troll small crankbaits. The main thing to remember is to stay on the move, because the crappie will keep on moving. When casting, I prefer the 8’ ACC Crappie Stix rod – a hybrid between a vertical jigging rod and a casting rod.”
If Lenzen’s casting and sees crappie holding behind, off to the side of or just above structure, he can quickly cut-off his casting lures and put a 1/16 – or a 1/8-ounce crappie jig or a minnow on and vertical fish for those crappie. He likes black, chartreuse, white or pink grubs and sometimes red and blue.
According to Lenzen, “I primarily fish with 6-pound-test monofilament line. In super-clear water, if I’m vertical jigging, I’ll drop down in line size to 4-pound test. My rule of thumb is: the clearer the water, the lighter pound test line I fish.
“I use different types of retrieves, when fishing jigs. Sometimes, the crappie want a dead-stick jig (the jig sitting still in the water). At other times, the crappie seem to prefer the jig swinging like a pendulum on the line from shallow to deep. I’ll pitch my jig out to about 20 feet, engage my reel, let the jig fall and swing back toward the boat.”
Lenzen creates YouTube videos every week for his YouTube channel, that you can watch.
The Amazing Twin Cities
The St. Croix and Mississippi rivers of Minnesota are sites of outstanding crappie fishing. According to Minnesota’s website, “Outdoor recreation is in Minnesota’s DNA,” and the state’s 11,000 lakes, the Mississippi River – one of the world’s longest rivers – and 4,000 miles of paved bike trails support that statement. Although the walleye is the state fish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, muskie, trout, crappie and salmon abound.
Thirty-two water trails covering more than 4,500 miles for kayakers, canoeists and paddle boarders include wild and scenic stretches of the Mississippi River and whitewater in northeast Minnesota. The St. Croix River Lenzen fishes features a 200-foot gorge, Ice Age potholes and scenic rock formations.
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul offer kayaking on Lake Harriet. When their Chain of Lakes freeze, anglers grab their augers and walk across lakes with spikes on their boots.
Some of the Twin Cities’ outdoor offerings include:
- the Webber Natural Swimming Pool, the nation’s first naturally-filtered public pool that uses plants and other organic filters to keep the water fresh;
- Minnehaha Park, a waterfall-centered park with gorgeous scenery, dirt hiking trails and densely wooded forests;
- the Mississippi River’s numerous running trails;
- the Stone Arch Bridge that’s pedestrian and bicycle only and passes by the Guthrie Theater, the historic Mill City Museum and the roaring St. Anthony Falls;
- the Como Park Conservatory and Zoo with an orchid house, a dome filled with palm trees and a zoo;
- the Theodore Wirth and Lebanon Hills regional parks with numerous lakes and trails for year-round outdoor sports; and
- the Elm Creek Park, Carver Park and Lake Elmo Park reserves – all home to outdoor sports and a wide variety of wildlife, such as eagles, sandhill cranes, deer, blue birds, beavers, loon, trumpeter swans and hawks.
Go to the Explore Minnesota website to learn more, and call 1-888-visitMN (847-4866) to receive a free custom itinerary for free.
(John Phillips holds an array of awards including the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award from the American Sportfishing Association and the 2007 Legendary Communicator inducted into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame. He has written more than 6,000 magazine articles and served as Outdoor Editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald for 24 years. Phillips is a founding member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and an active member of the Southeastern Outdoors Press Association. The author of more than 100 books, you can learn more from his book, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall and Winter.)