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Crappies and water clarity influence at night.

  • icefanatic11
    Birnamwood, WI
    Posts: 566

    Hey everyone,

    I have just had some ideas rolling around in my brain lately about the last few trips I took chasing after midwinter slabs. Been fishing more stained bodies of water mostly during the morning and daytime hours, but it seems this year in particular that the later in the afternoon it gets, the fewer fish we begin to mark in the basin areas.

    So where do they go? Are they pushing onto shallow structure (weeds, points, humps) for prime feeding windows much like a walleye would? That theory refutes conventional wisdom about crappies being less predatorially dominant than other species and avoiding such areas for fear of becoming a meal themselves. Has anyone ever had a really strong late night bite for crappies in stained water under the ice? All of my night fishing luck for crappies on the ice has always been in clear-ish water. Thanks for your thoughts in advance.

    tim hurley
    Posts: 4713

    Water clarity does not seem to effect if their is a night-bite-sometimes the nite bite does not start ’till after the sun has been down for a while.

    Jimmy Jones
    Posts: 698

    Here is a mess of thoughts for you Cody.

    Crappies, like walleyes, have amazing eyesight and stained water or darkness have little impact on what they can see. Daily weather conditions during daylight hours and moon phase can play a big part in light in the water but has nothing to do with whether crappies can see food, rather it has more to do with the foods they’re eating. During daylight crappies will eat as large of foods as they can find and often are found well off the bottom cruising and grabbing minnows or bigger bugs that happen along away from the competition from the smaller fish life that prefers to stay deep during the day. In very low light periods, Crappies most likely depend on emergent insect life that is driven by available light, closer to the bottom of the lake and this insect life isn’t always widespread so they may need to transition to areas where the insects are. Bottom content plays a huge part in which insects will use or be found in particular areas and sometimes these prime bug areas are small in relation to the entire basin, maybe being only a tiny corner or hump or dip in the mud.

    It may well be that the Crappies are making a shift off the basin proper to a weed line or off points or steep drops as the sun settles, these areas however are more related to daylight periods, so I think you’re dealing with an available light scenario and that the fish are simply moving from areas where you’re marking daytime fish to areas when bug life as dark settles down on the lake comes to life to feed. As mentioned, moon phase, snowpack and daily weather can play a part here as well as the barometer. Even slight changes in barometric pressure during the winter can mess with what Crappies are doing.

    I think you should try an early morning adventure and when you get a Crappie, slit it enough to get the stomach out and check the contents. If it’s just mush without any defined shapes such as a minnow carcass, chances are the fish has been gorging on bugs. And probably from not too far away. Crappies will shift locations throughout the day, but they are not going to travel a long, long way and probably not much more than a few hundred yards and back over the course of the day.

    Farmington, Outing
    Posts: 8536

    Thanks JJ
    I thoroughly enjoy your your perspective. I will try the stomach content issue. I’m on a deep, clear lake and at dusk has a hatch that’s very wide spread making it difficult to see anything on the locator other than the hatch. I am still able to catch a few but it really slows down.
    I’ll be interested to see if the ones I catch have the bugs in their tummies.

    Posts: 410

    Thank you Jimmy Jones for taking the time to post that information.

    I found a spot by chance where crappies move through for about 20 minutes just after sunset for nearly the entire ice season. I’ve fished in every direction from that spot from 2′ of water to the deepest spot in the lake (very small lake with one basin area), and I can’t figure out where they spend all the rest of their time, or even if they are moving shallow to deep or deep to shallow. I know where they will be for about 20 minutes of the day, but the other 23:40 of the day, I have no idea. Everything around that spot looks nearly identical on the Helix – I’ve mapped it extensively in open water. There must be something that makes them take that path, because everything around it “looks” identical, but if you are 30′ away from that spot, you will miss the fish.
    The ice conditions are going to prevent me from figuring out the mystery this season, but eventually I will solve the puzzle.

    Birnamwood, WI
    Posts: 566

    I appreciate all of the thoughts J.J. And please don’t mistake my tone in this post this as me arguing with your points in the beginning here. I appreciate the wisdom you are willing to impart, and I think there is a ton of solid ideas in there, many of which I will definitely try to apply. But, my experience over 6-7 years of almost exclusively basin fishing for slabs in northern WI, most of the last 4-5 years with panoptix and/or livescope just doesn’t support the “they don’t travel long distances part.”

    While I agree in principle, this makes the most sense logically and especially so when large energy sources are scarce in the cold water period, I just have not seen that play out in reality time and time again fishing basins in many lakes, dark and clear water. And perhaps this is lake dependent but having the livescope if fish in a basin area are only moving a couple hundred yards, there is no way in I am not finding them, I almost never stop drilling holes.
    Like mojo mentioned in his perplexing scenario I know areas where these fish frequent in the basin and we have drilled multiple hundreds of yards in all directions and depths only to find nothing.

    Perhaps with the bug/invertebrate hatch it just glues the fish to the bottom and fish I have been passing off from time to time on live imaging as walleyes or perch are actually bottom hugging crappies. It seems to me based on the majority of lakes I fish that they are skittish and prone to disturbance in the basin much much more so than in shallow weeds. But there are far fewer fish in the weeds especially during the daytime.

    I grew up inspecting perch stomachs to extract softshell crawfish to later impale on my hook, to catch even more of them. Don’t think I ever considered doing the same for Crappies, that makes a lot of sense. I wonder how long the digestion period is for a crappie, from time of consumption to time of excretion? That may provide a lot of insight especially if it takes a day or two to move through their systems.

    So then a natural extension to this conversation is perhaps do the crappies tend to school more or less during the low light period? Maybe in my experience the schools break apart from the daytime and vanish into hunting solo fish glued to invertebrates on the bottom at night. Agree 100% on the daily barometer, snow, and moon phase messing with the entire lake ecosystem. As an avid reader of In-Fisherman, I remember reading articles from a few years ago on how barometric pressure impacts crappies more than many other species.

    Jimmy Jones
    Posts: 698

    All water bodies are different from one another Cody, so things don’t always mesh when it comes to figuring Crappies out. I tried to stay fairly broad in my comments to help cover things.

    My mention of their not moving far is relative to the time of year. Crappies moving from fall’s relatively shallow water haunts to winter’s deeper water realm doesn’t happen all at once and not every Crappie will respond to such movements in unison. On a daily basis Crappies might migrate a couple hundred yards to find deep food when the lights go out, they might move a half mile but the distances are still relative to the daily habits. I fish a couple marinas on Lake Pepin that have zero current in them and until the water is cold enough to freeze tight, hard, the Crappies basically move up and down along the pilings, not horizontally. They will move from piling to piling, however if food is present on a certain piling, they’ll stay there, moving vertically, until the food source is exhausted.

    When all the peripheral stuff gets worked thru and a mess of holes drilled, I still believe that what you’re dealing with is a light issue…. available light that is. If the fish are going neutral to negative and weeds are nearby, they may be creeping into the weeds and rest. If the water is basically structureless, they may be simply going deep and resting in amongst the millions of other smaller fish.

    I didn’t mention before that Crappies are real fussy about who they keep company with, especially the really large Crappies. The big ones don’t feed near smaller one because they don’t tolerate the competition and about the only time one can find a mix of all Crappie sizes is when they’re on the bottom and down right negative. Another thing the very large Crappies will do is feed immediately under the ice. They’ll rest there too. I’ve watched Crappies with their lips right in the dirt under the ice with their tails straight down, just slide along and pick bugs out of the dirt or debris that has floated up and collects on the ice’s bottom surface. A lot of people miss these fish because they and their electronics are focused far below or way away from where the fish are while feeding this way.

    You’re a good angler Cody, you’ll figure them out.

    Posts: 346

    Very interesting read so far. Figured I’d add some more info on what I’ve found this year on two different lakes and ask another question.

    First lake is somewhat stained water with multiple mud basins surrounded by sand and weed lines. I have scanned all basins with Livescope and have only found crappies in the main basin, which is also the deepest by a few feet. There tend to be a few different schools of roughly 100 crappies each roaming around at a good pace. Even with the number of fish, it can be very difficult to get one to bite. I have caught 8” fish up to 14” out of these schools. As the sun sets, the bugs come out of the mud and fill the screen where you can no longer mark anything else. The bite dies off completely. Similar to what EPG mentioned above. Anyone have an idea of where these fish might migrate to? You would think they would be feeding like crazy on the bugs but it seems like they disappear.

    Second lake (well 2nd and 3rd but they are on the same chain and act the same) has two deep basins with most of the lake being 15’ with small weeds on the bottom. Also clear water. I tend to find schools of smaller fish and schools of larger fish (separately) during the day in the deep basins. The most consistent bite for the larger fish is after the sun sets in the 15’ flats with deadstick minnows or glow jigs and waxies. Now however the wheelhouses have caught on and either spooked the fish or fished it out. Either way I’m on the hunt again.

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