June 5, 2023

Ice Angling for Crappie on Mississippi River Backwaters

Discover public entrance elements near to hardly much deeper bayou locations as well as likewise you might uncover the biggest pieces you’ve ever caught by means of the ice. (Picture courtesy of Adam Griffith)

By Scott Mackenthun

The spot seems promising. It is 2- to 5-feet deep, present swinging in, a small stump area littering the sides of a despair. You narrow holes by means of the ice in a grid throughout the basin, then circle again with a flasher and rod. The primary gap reveals a flitter of motion amongst the slush within the gap; a couple of tiny, gray-bodied shrimp writhe between ice chunks within the water. You drop your live-imaging sonar transducer into the opening and the display screen reveals a cloud of fish a couple of yards off. It is excellent.

You drop down a heavy tungsten jig and steadily bounce it up and down. A couple of minutes move, however nothing reveals up. Simply as you are lifting to go away the opening and transfer on, you are feeling it—useless weight on the road and the spring bobber sagging. You pull up excitedly and the battle is on. The fish makes a couple of runs earlier than you get its big head and snout up the opening. It is the largest pie-plate crappie you have ever iced. After dragging gear a mile down a deer path to a backwater slough, your exertion has been rewarded.

The above situation is usually a frequent prevalence on many Mississippi River backwaters. These branches and sloughs off the primary present typically maintain big crappies now, and savvy ice anglers transfer in for a number of the yr’s finest crappie motion.


Adam Griffith is a Minnesota fishing information and crewmember on “The Crappie Chronicles,” a YouTube sequence that highlights his group’s efforts to seek out big crappies every ice season in and across the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He has grown to like the Mississippi River backwaters, and he is grow to be one thing of a backwater crappie grasp, recognized particularly for catching huge fish. Every season, he ices a couple of slabs that different anglers dream of catching simply as soon as of their lifetime.

Within the winter, Griffith says, crappies do not need to be in the primary present anymore. Greater fish comply with baitfish into the backwaters as they make their migration in late fall. Crappies hang around right here in winter as a result of they do not should exert themselves an excessive amount of. They have actually every part they want in a single place. Meals is the massive purpose crappies transfer right here, and infrequently the water is a little bit hotter in backwater cuts, too.

For Griffith and his purchasers, the hunt for large crappies in backwaters begins with maps. He makes use of Google Earth and aerial photographs to pinpoint engaging areas. He passes up very shallow spots—these showing to be two toes deep or much less—to deal with these with a little bit bit extra depth.

“The fish aren’t at all times within the deepest spots, however they need deep water close by,” Griffith says. “‘Deep’ in a backwater means, like, six toes. Usually, we’re catching them in two toes of water. If there are stumps within the water, the crappies will use them as present breaks, or they will sit behind them or round them.”

Griffith’s scouting course of includes not solely taking a look at maps and aerial photographs but additionally discovering public entry or easements. Whereas there’s numerous public land alongside the Mississippi River, non-public parcels require landowner permission for fishing entry. A fan boat could also be needed to succeed in some components of the Mississippi River alongside the Ice Belt’s southern edge. That is each for getting down the primary river channel and for motoring up backwaters and cuts and operating sloughs with skinny ice. Griffith and firm fish backwaters between Hastings and Purple Wing, Minn. Nonetheless, La Crosse and Prairie du Chien, Wis. provide nice backwater fishing, as do Lansing and Guttenberg, Iowa.

Rigged with a spring bobber, a noodle rod with ample flex is good for fishing small tungsten jigs and plastics within the backwaters. (Photo thanks to Clam Outside)

When Griffith approaches a backwater, he additionally takes notice of some variables. No two river techniques are alike, nor are the backwaters the identical from yr to yr. Griffith seems at how present flows into the mouth of a backwater and determines each the place it is strongest and the place it settles out. He says understanding precisely how the backwater lays out—the place the present is available in, the place it hits the shoreline and the place it turns again out—is essential.

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Though crappies do not need to be in the primary channel’s heavy present, he suggests present nonetheless closely influences the place you discover fish in backwaters. “We get in and test seams and eddies and begin drilling it out till we discover the area,” Griffith says. “We’ll see the place the fish are, and by the top of it we’ll discover them in a juicy spot—typically not a lot bigger than 30 toes vast.”


The enormous crappies Griffith seeks—black, white and hybrids alike—key in on particular meals gadgets, particularly bugs and smaller gizzard shad. The scale of shad is commonly paramount, with crappies preferring these two to a few inches lengthy. Something bigger is normally too huge for them. Just like the crappies, shad pour into backwaters. Nonetheless, crappiesdon’t place themselves proper in the course of an enormous shad faculty. As an alternative, they will be off to the facet, hanging across the fringe of the baitfish cluster.

Griffith says anglers should have the ability to inform crappies and shad aside. In the event you see huge marks swim as much as your bait however not chew, they’re doubtless shad. Backwater crappies usually chase bugs and smaller shad. Bug hatches that do not happen within the Mississippi River channel’s swift water are occurring in off-channel backwater habitat. Griffith says he typically sees numerous bugs and invertebrate life swimming round in his ice holes.

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Electronics assist affirm that crappies are round, however they’ve limitations in shallow water. Griffith makes use of LiveScope to side-scan backwaters for shad balls and construction components and to identify huge crappies. In such shallow water, sonar cone angles are so minute that marking fish is restricted in down-scan. Often, you are marking the fish simply because it’s taking your bait, which does not existing a lot preparation or interplay time.

The tight quarters of shallow Mississippi River backwaters require particular ice gear and ways. For Griffith, rod alternative is sort of necessary. He would not like utilizing a rod with too stiff of an motion until he’s fishing with a Clam Pinhead Jigging Mino and might use it to impart the right fluttering motion. In any other case, he’ll use a noodle rod, just like the Thorne Brothers Customized Crappie Chronicles “Bart” rod, which has a spring bobber for chew detection. “Many occasions, you do not even know the fish has your bait,” Griffith says. “These fish simply are available and eat.”

A loud spoon that rattles or vibrates, resembling a Jointed Pinhead Professional, attracts fish within the shallow, turbid Mississippi River backwaters. (Picture courtesy of Clam Outside)

To counteract these fast bites that come from out of nowhere, a spring bobber—like that discovered on the Bart rod—is vital for detecting bites. Griffith says the spring bobber will bend down, however the fish will not really feel you transferring the rod in any respect. You possibly can after that fish aggressively, see the chew and never lose fish that will in any other case really feel one thing mistaken and let go of the bait.

As a result of it is such close-combat fishing, if you happen to set the hook on a crappie in three toes of water with too stiff of a rod, you danger banging it towards the ice and knocking it off the hook. Griffith says the Bart rod has a pleasant parabolic bend, and he additionally units the drag once more a little bit so it slips when he units the hook. He provides that the rod’s further give is sort of like a second drag.

Griffith developed his desire for utilizing noodle-tip rods in backwaters after some repeated failures on the ice.

“We had been simply lacking too many fish,” he says. “We would hook them and also so they’d pop off, or we would hook them and get two or three cranks in, and so they’d be proper underneath the ice and get knocked off. We began utilizing that [noodle] pole and also our catch share went manner up. We simply seen that the rod with rather a lot much less spine, with an outstanding bend, labored rather a lot higher than the others.”

Due to the thin water and also poor visibility, anglers will need to use aggressive jigging strokes and lures that draw consideration. Griffith typically has one rod rigged with a spoon, like a Pinhead Mino or Leech Flutter Spoon. He additionally likes having two bug imitations, one darkish and one mild. For these, he pairs a Clam Drop-Kick jig with a Maki plastic. He provides that the larger plastics with a little bit extra bulk appear to do higher.

“I power-fish these crappies,” he says. “The water is soiled, so you actually should pound the jig, and it’s good to get their consideration and draw them in aggressively.” Whereas typical gradual jigging produces some fish, he says that transferring the jig backwards and forwards within the water column aggressively actually attracts backwater crappies.



Whereas the Midwest has many nice hardwater crappie lakes, there’s one thing particular about chasing slabs on the Mississippi’s off-channel branches and also sloughs. It is a distinctive setting with distinct challenges and also kit necessities. However for individuals who grasp its eccentricities, such as Griffith, it is an amazing spot for icing some extremely large crappies.