Targeting Truly Massive Crappies

Ryan Repke asks:

I'm just wondering if you knew of any lakes that produce big crappies. I'm all about selective harvest. I release fish 99% of the time and have tight lips when it comes to spots as I'm sure you do too. Not looking for your spots but any info would be greatly appreciated. I mainly fish pool 2 for walleye and crappie. My biggest is 15 and I really want to beat that PB. I've researched a lot on stocking reports and creel surveys but just can't seem to find a lake that produces 16+ inch crappies. Thanks

Thanks Ryan.  I think it a noble quest to get out there and break previous personal-bests, especially by putting in the work to track down a specific species.  I can start out by telling you something you probably already know by now, in that a 16”+ crappie is a rare find.  While there may be certain water bodies that kick them out with more regularity, I think the key to understanding here is that few kick them out with consistency, and even more rarely to the same individual.     

I can speak from experience in saying that most of the truly big crappies I’ve taken have been on accident, while fishing for walleyes or bass, and my personal best at 16.25”es didn’t come from Rainy, Upper Red, or Lake of the Woods.  It came from a small farm pond while bass fishing a cold front with a ¼ oz. jig and 4” white curly tail grub.  Others in that 16” category were taken with jig/minnow presentations early season when fishing shallow for walleyes, and in northern WI muskie waters, both being lakes that get zero press for their crappies.  The pattern here being that there was no pattern or good tip-off and indication that giant crappies would be there.     

Many others in the 15” to 16” category come from famed northern waters previously mentioned, but are increasingly in short supply.  Instead, it’s the nearby contributing waters, nearly always difficult to get to, barely connected to these historical big-fish-factories, and not well-known for crappies that most of my best fish come from.  These northern fish are old, so they rely on time and little pressure to grow this size.  There are quite a few obscure northern MN waters that hold fish over 15”es, but for every 1 fish over 16”es, you’d have to catch at least a hundred 15’s.      

There exist several record-keeping groups that track master-angler, trophy caliber fish of all species, and this is a good place to start if you’re hunting for monsters.  Keep in mind, not all people are entirely honest in their accountings of fish sizes (real shocker there), but patterns still will emerge.  Creel and stocking reports are moderately helpful, but the gillnets should tell a story, particularly if larger individuals are present in any number whatsoever.  Keep in mind you’re talking about a very small percentage of the lake’s total crappie population. 

The two biggest factors that contribute to large crappies I’ve taken are both timing (seasonal) and presentation.  My biggest crappies have come in the mid-spring time-period around docks and shorelines sometime around the spawn, and during the first few weeks of the ice fishing season.  Both are opportunities to catch big crappies poised to out-compete pesky smaller fish.  To attract big fish and deter smaller ones, fish big.  In the spring, that means larger jigs and plastics.  Fish slowly, but accept that fact that you’re trying to keep 12” and smaller fish away.  In the winter, that means spoons, 3” jig/plastic combinations, and rattle lures like the Slab Rap or Rippin’ Rap.  Most of my biggest winter crappies have come by walleye fishing with walleye-sized baits. 

I wish you luck, and let me know when you crack that pig!