Sub-Basin Crappies

Water Body

Basin crappies have been covered in detail the past few weeks here on In-Depth Outdoors. James and Bryan filmed a great show in Wisconsin, showing you how to eliminate unproductive water and find fish fast. However, after watching the show I had a few friends that asked me about the lakes they fish, and where to look. Apparently they didn’t pay too close attention to the details from that bite, and it’s easy to get the idea that all you need to do is find the deepest water in the lake and drill enough until you find yourself some crappies. Bigger lakes like Leech have multiple bays and open basins to consider, and I’ve found that it’s not always the most obvious ones that seem to hold the best and most active fish.

This wasn’t a serious fish-finding mission, rather, it was an excursion for anything that would bite. I had my two boys with, and more than anything in this past weekend’s frigid weather, the game was about finding some stationary fish that would cooperate. ANY fish. We tried walleyes, perch, and everything in between. Bait perch was all we could muster, until we decided to just drill around some sub-basin areas. 18-28 feet at their maximum, these areas were just little holes throughout the lake that seemed forgotten. With the recent snow, four wheeler travel was possible, but snowmobiles would be recommended which made things a bit difficult for the kids in that cold. I did have my brother and a few friends with to help out, and we were able to take the boys out in a truck which helped dramatically.

What started off as a wild goose chase, turned into a slow bite for quality fish. While it wasn’t what we were looking for in terms of the kids, the -34 low on Friday morning made it tough for them anyway. The good part is that the fish cooperated when they were out there, and gave Isaac his biggest crappie to date, a beauty just shy of 14". Most of the crappies we caught that day were around that size too, so it was great to see your flasher light up knowing how good the average size was. The fish were in somewhat of a funk however, playing Jekyll/Hyde depending on which one you ran into. Some came in hot and bit reliably, others were like a different species altogether with seemingly no ryhme or reason to the lock-jaw.

Free swimming crappie minnows on plain hooks took a few fish, but almost all of the active ones were caught on jigging spoons of various shapes/sizes tipped with minnow heads. Dating back to the Upper Red Lake era, I’ve always been a fan of walleye sized offerings for quality crappies. More often than not, when you run into those bigger fish they’ll prefer an up-sized jigging spoon compared to what would be considered "standard." We moved throughout the sub-basin about as much as the cold would allow us to do, and even checked in the more traditional basins which were only a few hundred yards away. No dice! We even stumbled into some bonus bluegill which were very, very nice, up against a cabbage weedline. Very similar to the crappies, they came and left and came back again, with not much of a pattern to their bite. Either way, we were thrilled to do so well in terms of quality, though we made the decision to keep less fish for our fry due to their size. Some over-eager pike throughout the day helped us with that problem however, so it was a great trip from about all aspects.

Profile Photo

Joel Nelson

From the big water of Chequamegon Bay in Northern Wisconsin, to the prairie ponds of the Ice Belt, to the streams of Yellowstone, Nelson has filled an enviable creel with experience, reeling in bluegills to lakers, walleyes to stream trout. Full Bio ›


  1. Good read Joel!

    Sounds like you made the best of it considering the weather and limited mobility with little ones. I always like to read reports that involve the little shavers as they are the future of this great sport. I will have to try updgrading my spoon size the next time I get out chasing slabs- you make a good point as the last time I was out on Buffalo lake a buddy was using a “buckshot” spoon that I thought was way to BIG!! The joke was on me, he iced 3 slabs real fast. We were both catching fish however, he caught bigger ones. Bigger bait= Bigger Fish theory…


  2. Way to go Joel and especially Isaac! Very very cool when you make adjustments on the fly and it results in some dandy fish on the ice

  3. Quote:

    Hey Joel,

    What App are you running on your smartphone for the charts?

    Hi Abe – That’s the Navionics App for Android. For Leech and other hi-res lakes…’s not too darn bad. Hard to beat having it on your phone as you’ll be carrying that with you anyway. Admittedly, it’s not quite as good as the Lakemaster information for the same bodies of water.

    That said, it sure helped in tracking down those locations last weekend.


  4. I’ve always been a fan of walleye sized offerings for quality crappies. More often than not, when you run into those bigger fish they’ll prefer an up-sized jigging spoon compared to what would be considered “standard.”
    Great info Joel! I get this question a lot on “what size?” Very well stated!

  5. That looks like fun! Pretty cool taking the kids, I can’t wait to take my daughter ice fishing once she is a little older.

Leave a Comment