If you were to believe the number of searches we get on our Hooked website for crappie fishing in Manitoba, you might figure it to be the most popular game species we have.
A long history in this province
Over the years I have had some decent luck catching crappies in Manitoba. Back in the day when I had The Complete Angler television show one of my most popular shows was in Lake Minnewasta. Friend Dino Branfield and I had a great day in late fall, catching both numbers and size of fish. That fishery is still in good shape and nearby, Mary Jane Reservoir has seen a resurgence in the population of crappies the last couple of years.
This past week, with excellent ice conditions I headed out to the Whiteshell for a day on the ice. In the past I have fished many of the lakes that hold these great sport fish, including one of the original stocked lakes, Star.
Star Lake was originally stocked with Black Crappie in 1942 or 1943, (as well as Minnewasta Lake and possibly Barren Lake), largely by mistake along with a load of largemouth bass. According to fisheries biologist Ken Kansas these Star Lake Black Crappie slowly bled into West Hawk Lake and subsequently into Caddy Lake, through to South Cross and on and on.
Black Crappie are native to certain watersheds in Manitoba, namely the Red River/Lake Winnipeg connection, plus the Winnipeg River which drains from Lake of the Woods, a well know Black Crappie powerhouse. Further distribution across southern Manitoba is mainly from legal Provincial stocking programs, natural downstream migrations and/or illegal ‘bait bucket biologist’ introductions like Brereton Lake is purported to be.
A day on Brereton
Speaking of Brereton, this is where I met up with regional fisheries manager Derek Kroeker, who is trying to get a handle on crappie populations in his region.
He and his son Justin were already on the ice when I arrived. Holes were drilled and fish marked. Justin hooked up the first fish, a nice 12 inch specimen, just about perfect eating size. As it turns out, Brereton is not a deep lake with a maximum depth of about 19 feet. This means it provides good habitat for crappies and winterkill is not an issue. It also means you don’t have to worry about causing these fish any stress upon release. We fished 16 feet for most of the day, with quite few small fish marking on our electronics. The day was cold and windy, which might have slowed the bite. We managed to land about ten fish, the largest closest to 14 inches, Justin landing the majority on a 1/16 ounce chartreuse tungsten with a pink beavertail plastic.
Mobility was good
We tried a number of different spots during the day, catching a fish here and there. We didn’t mark a lot of big fish, so I am not sure what that means. Is there not many adult crappies, where the fish scattered? Research will help get those answers.
Data on the way!
Kroeker says there should be a lot more data on Manitoba crappie populations coming out in the next two years. His department received a grant from the Fisheries and Wildlife Enhancement fund to do some creel studies which will include some aging work and as well as DNR testing. The first creel studies were done this past summer and the information from that should be available in the next few months.
Preliminary age and growth information from samples in the Whiteshell River chain indicated that growth was similar to more southern populations like Minnesota and ages ranged from age 2 to age 7 and age 7 fish were over 14 inches.
With more research being done, Kroeker says it will help decide what management tools are needed to look after the ever increasing popularity of Manitoba crappies.
Thanks to Ken Kansas and Derek Kroeker for supplying the biology information.