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These are the Good Old Days

Crappie populations are blossoming across Northern Ontario, and in many cases, anglers don’t know they exist. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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These are the Good Old Days

Tricks and techniques for catching plentiful black crappies

You often hear anglers talk longingly about the "good old days." Well, let me tell you when the subject is black crappie fishing in Northern Ontario, the good old days are right here and now.

The fact of the matter is, there have never been more opportunities to fish for black crappies and they've never been bigger or more plentiful.

Indeed, when I first moved to Northwestern Ontario, back in the late 1970s, you could only find crappies in a handful of lakes. Most notably, the Sabaskong Bay area of Lake of the Woods, around Nestor Falls and the Northwest arm of Rainy Lake, north of Fort Frances. Today, however, it is hard to find a moderately deep walleye/pike/perch (mesotrophic) fishery or shallow, weedy largemouth bass/pike (eutrophic) lake that doesn't host a burgeoning population of crappies.

It is the same thing right across the huge, sprawling, southern half of the Northwestern region, especially around the towns and cities of Dryden, Fort Frances, and Atikokan. Ditto for the stretch between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury in Northeastern Ontario, as well as throughout all of the central and southern parts of the province.

And the nice thing about many of the fisheries is that they're so new they haven't been discovered – as I found out last week when I hitched my 16-foot Alumacraft jonboat to the back of the truck and took off to follow a rumour that a certain lake to the west of Kenora had black crappies in it.

After backing the boat over a rough dirt access point  it's the nice thing about trailering the unstoppable, "go anywhere" jonboat with the 20-horse tiller Mercury on the back  I rigged up three light-action crappies sticks with a trio of jigs  Woolies, Boolies and D-Bugs  that are made by buddy John McKean and his son Sean, who live in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania.

Image 02Small minnow imitating jigs, like this one hand-tied by John McKean, is what Gord Pyzer uses when he’s fishing for crappies in the fall in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

John has been driving me crazy this summer, posting images of fish – including rainbow trout, catfish, jumbo perch and smallmouth bass – that he's been catching on his super cool lures. But it's the crappies that have really caught my eye.

John and Sean do some very tricky things when they tie on their tiny jigs that make a huge difference at the end of the day. One is adding a minuscule tuft of raw, unprocessed wool which they tug to form the body. The wool expands when it gets wet, adds buoyancy, and makes the jig swim in an amazingly life-like manner. And it soaks up fish scent like a thirsty horse, making the crappies bite when they get fussy.

John and Sean also use satin fibres, rather than tinsel, to give the lures astonishing flash, accent, and colour. I didn't think it would make that much difference until I finally held one of the boys' jigs in my hand and saw the change.

Image 03Notice the satin fibres that give this crappie jig its brilliant colour, and the small tuft of raw wool that forms the body. The wool soaks up the fish scent and drives crappies crazy. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

I'll tell you a little story about that, too.

I was so impressed with the satin touch that I went into a fabric store in Dublin, Ireland earlier this year and started scrutinizing the amazing minnowy shades of gold and silver that they offered. When the young saleslady approached and asked me what I wanted the fabric for, I laughed and told her she wouldn't believe me, but it was for tying fishing jigs back home. She recognized the difference in my accent, guessed that I was from Canada and  I kid you not  we spent the next half-hour talking about fishing in Northern Ontario, where her boyfriend wanted to visit one day.

Image 04Okay, so Gord Pyzer likes to go a little bit overboard when he goes crappie fishing in Northern Ontario and brings along his jigs. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

So, that is the long and the short of how I found myself using John's and Sean's jigs the other day – as well as some of my own copies using Irish satin – to unlock the secrets to another fantastic Northern Ontario crappie fishery.

I wish I could say it was difficult and that it took all of my cunning, stealth, and years of experience to catch the fish, but I'd be lying. The truth of the matter is, I turned on the Humminbird sonar unit, trolled around the lake until I marked what appeared to be a school of nice fish, and then dropped the 1/32- and 1/24-ounce jigs over the side of the boat.

Image 05Whose heart wouldn’t flutter when the sonar screen lights up like this. Time to throw out the marker buoy to pinpoint the hot spot and catch some Northern Ontario crappies. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Little secret, too: As John suggested, I squeezed some Trigger X fish scent onto the wool body and let it soak in.

And the results?

In 10 successive drops of the jig over the side of the boat, I landed 10 beautiful crappies, topped off by a humongous 15 1/2-inch fish. I let several of the smaller crappies go because I realized that if I kept them, I would have had a limit and my day would be over before it had barely begun.

Image 06 There is no finer fish to eat than fresh crappies caught in a sparkling Northern Ontario lake or river. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

So, I caught and released crappies for the rest of the afternoon – under the sky that was as blue as a robin's egg and a sun that was so warm it pushed the temperature up into the mid-80s Fahrenheit.

And I never saw another boat all day.

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