Fourteen years ago today I fondly remember my fishin' partner, Bill Pryor and I, whistling down Brownlee Reservoir on a brisk winter morning. We needed a fishing fix - no matter it was mid-January and it just snowed a few days before. Bill's bass boat didn't have a passenger's side console and as we traveled down the reservoir the blasting wind could find even the smallest opening. So I was hunkered down with my head buried in my lap desperately trying to keep warm when all of a sudden I heard an eerie sound skimming underneath the boat. It was the sort of sound that once you've heard it, you'll never forget it, and you don't ever want to hear it again! I immediately sat up hollering "woe"! I think Bill was also caught off guard and quickly throttled back his big Black Max realizing something was terribly wrong with our cold but otherwise serene trek down the lake.
What looked like a seemingly placid surface on the quiet reservoir turned out to be a sheet of ice! An ice jam! It was enough to put a deep chill running through my already shivering bones. Luckily, as it turned out, the layer of ice was fairly thin and only partially covering a small area of the reservoir. We were cautiously able to continue crunching our way through about a hundred yards of ice before proceeding down the reservoir. With an old favorite fishing spot in mind we quickly arrived and settled in for some much needed fishin'. I was still shaking from the ride but I can't honestly say whether it was from the cold or the ice skating lesson.
After collecting our thoughts we spent a little time searching the depths for telltale signs of life with our fish locator. To our surprise we found a large mass of signals scattered across the locator. It turned out to be a large school of crappie and a day of glorious fishin' was underway. It was only a matter of a few casts before we hooked our first fish. Before mid-afternoon had passed we caught 65 respectable crappie. A few anglers watching from the bank were not impressed, mostly because they were unable to cast out to where the crappie were holding in deep water. The school was hanging over an old creek channel in about 40 feet of water and suspended anywhere from 15 to 40 feet in depth and spanned some 20 to 30 yards wide. These tasty little morsels were surprisingly quite hungry and were definitely on the feed despite hovering in near freezing water.
The key to catching cold weather crappie turned out to be location, location, location! Crappie school up in mass for the winter, and if you can find them and stick with their movements, you can usually get them to bite. One trick is to tie a bobber to a long leader that's attached to the first crappie you catch. Release the fish over the school and just keep following the bobber. The little fella will show you everywhere the school goes! It's amazing how far crappie schools move in the winter. In the few hours we fished the school moved back and forth several times over a hundred yard stretch of the reservoir. To lure the fish we tied 16th ounce jigs to 4 pound test line tipped with small brown pepper or white pepper curly tailed grubs. We did not use a bobber, and we usually had at least twenty feet of line out before we got a strike. It's slow going with such light tackle, but our rewards came in plenty of time to clean and prepare the fish for supper. What a great cold weather treat!