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Crazy Crappie Fishing in Northern Ontario

Jeff & Jason Matity traveled from Regina, SK to catch crappies in Northwestern Ontario. Judging from the smiles on their faces, it looks like they weren’t disappointed! • Credit: Gord Pyzer

What is the most popular sportfish in North America? If you said bass, walleye, trout or salmon you'd be close, but you'd also be wrong. Those fish certainly have large, devoted followings but they don't hold a candle to panfish, in general, and crappies, in particular.

And for good reason.

Black crappies are found just about everywhere, grow big quickly, offer tremendous sport and make for the most amazingly nutritious and delicious table fare. So what is not to like?

Oh, and did I mention, Ontario offers some of the best black crappie fishing on earth, especially, right now, in the winter?

"It was crazy," buddy Pete Garnier gushed the other day, "I literally caught a good fish on the first drop, and then it was crappie central for the next two hours. I never left that hole until 6:30 in the evening and I didn’t go three or four minutes without pulling up another fish. It was nut-so."

ice fishing black crappies Pete Garnier spends nearly all of his time ice fishing for beautiful crappies like this one, by drilling holes along shallow shoreline weed edges. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Now, if Pete's name sounds familiar, it is because he is one of Ontario's premier tournament bass anglers, winning the 2012 Competitive Sport Fishing League (CSFL) Classic on Rice Lake. Still, if you pressure him hard enough, you'll get him to confess that he loves ice fishing for crappies more than just about anything else.

And Pete's developed a most unique way to do it, too, shunning the deeper basin waters where most Ontario anglers like to fish in the winter, suggesting the crappies spread out too much, making them difficult to pinpoint, pattern and predict.

ontario crappiesPete Garnier introduced his nephew, Justin, to the ways of weed crappies last winter and in short order, it seemed as though Justin had been doing it all his life. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

So, where does he fish? Along the shallow shoreline weeds. And he looks for the crappies using a portable underwater camera.

"You can drill a hole, drop down a camera before you even clean out the slush," Garnier says, "and be staring at six or eight crappers in close proximity to one other. You'd think they’d spook in six or eight feet of water, but they don’t seem to give the auger a second thought. The weeds must make them feel comfortable."

ontario black crappie A small jig, flavoured with a fish-attracting scent, was the ticket for this beautiful crappie that Jeff Matity caught in a small lake in Northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Garnier is partial to ice fishing the hundreds of black crappie lakes scattered across the Kawartha and Muskoka Lakes regions of Southern Ontario, but he also smiles sheepishly and changes the subject quickly when you ask him about the phenomenal, overlooked crappie opportunities along the north shore of Lake Huron, between Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay, Ontario.

By the way, when Garnier is ice fishing for crappies along a shallow weed, you won't find him drilling just one or two holes and then waiting for the fish to move in. Nor, will you find him in an ice hut or shack. Instead, it is a fun, run-and-gun deal.

"Crappies, in the winter, don’t take long to show up if you’re in an area with any number of fish," he says. "I like to look for a break in eight to ten feet of water, where the weeds end and a slight depression begins on a shallow flat. Then, I drill a few holes inside the weed-line, along the break itself and outside it as well. My thinking is that depression is the key holding feature. The fish will then tell you if they are focused on the heavier weeded sections, along the outside sparse edge or in the barren depression. The strategy usually works like a charm."

Indeed, Garnier says he can routinely catch a dozen or so consecutive crappies from one hole before the action slows down. Then, instead of moving a long distance, he fishes a new hole only 15 feet or so away, icing another dozen or so fat slabs.

ice fishing black crappie February and March are prime times for catching crappies, like this splendid fish that Tom Gruenwald caught in medium size lake near Dryden, Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"I am convinced it is why I typically smoke the guys I take out, who choose to sit in my portable hut," Garnier says. "I think it is difficult to “pull” crappies from very far away, no matter what you drop down to them. After all, it’s not much of a meal we’re presenting to them. It's like putting a bowl of peanuts at the far end of the table after a steak dinner. Most people won’t make the effort to get up but they will be all over it if you put the bowl beside them."

By the way, the "peanuts" Garnier offers winter crappies are typically small pounder-type jigs like the famous HT Marmooska, tipped with various soft plastic worms, grubs, fry and maggots.& And while heavy tungsten jigs are favoured by most winter crappie anglers, Garnier sticks with the standard, lighter, lead heads that he says produce much better results.

Equally important to Garnier's lure selection -- and often more imperative -- is the way it smells and tastes.

"Putting scent on your bait is critical," says Garnier, who swears by the bloodworm elixir made by BioEdge. "I’ve proved it too many times for it to be incidental. I’ve put the rod aside with scent on it and watched the fish on the graph come up, nose the bait and not bite. Then, I've gone back to the scented bait and whaled on ‘em again."

"The other night I popped a fresh hole and caught 37 crappies on 37 consecutive drops of my lure down the hole," says Garnier with a chuckle. "You couldn’t get the bait down fast enough. Removing the hook from the fish seemed like "down-time".

And you wondered why crappies are the favourite fish of so many ice anglers who flock to ice fish in Northern Ontario?

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