While everything is still fresh in my mind, let’s get this out there. Just got back Monday night from fishing a NAIFC ice tournament on Lake St. Helen here in Michigan. We weight in 8 crappie and eight bluegill, and for what seems like at least five years or so, we actually had two straight days of solid weather.
What does this mean for an angler trying to get a heavy bucket to the scale, it means you can fish a bigger jig than you normally would put down the hole. A little background information, the crappies tend to run much bigger than bluegill, and they tend to bite better in the morning than when the clock starts ticking towards noon. Because of these two main reasons, they normally get targeted first by anglers fishing the tourneys.
Normally, in the tourneys the size of the jigs tend to run smaller than most people use. A 2 or 2.5 mm jig, with a 18 or 16 hook, would be the norm, with the occasional 3 mm/#14 jig being used. When you have a few days in a row with stable weather fronts holding over a lake, you can fudge the numbers a bit to the bigger sizes.
Since we were fishing in 10 foot or less of water depths on Lake St. Helen. I chose to start my morning crappie hunt off with a 4 mm/#12 tungsten jig. I started off with a silver jig, rigged with plastic. Silver and plastic combinations tend to be good crappie presentations, but after getting rejected once, I grabbed another rod with a blue 4 mm jig, and hooked on three spikes (a fancy word for maggots) and dropped it down the hole. My partner and I were fishing a good weedbed, and I started off pounding the presentation two foot above the vegetation.
As they say, game on! My first two holes produced 10 inch crappie. After hole hopping a bit, I had four more in the bucket. Then around 10 am, I went back to my original hole and got my biggest one of the day, right at 11 inches in length. Not a huge one, but for the bite on St. Helen, it was a good fish.
At this point it was time to move and try to get on some gills to finish off our bucket for the weigh-in. Unfortunately for my partner and I, this is where the train came off the tracks. We never caught any of the fish that we had found during our days spent pre-fishing. For the record though, I dropped down to a smaller 2.5 mm jig and livebait presentation. The thought process was simple, the gills we found were more finicky than the crappie. Plus, by the time we wrapped up our crappie, most of the weedbeds that held fish had been driven across, and pounded by other anglers. It was time to coax them into biting by going into finesse mode.
Point of the article is this, when weather patterns hold steady for a few days, the fish will adjust. Won’t say that they get comfortable, but through years of observation, they do tend to get more aggressive for that initial morning bite. If you are a panfish ice angler, in these conditions, do not be afraid to go a bit bigger out of your comfort zone. Also, since we were fishing in somewhat shallow water, that is the reason I went with the 4 mm presentation. Under these same weather conditions, and I had been fishing in deeper water for crappie, I would drop a 5 mm/#10 jig through the holes in a heartbeat.