Ever fished for crappies in Manitoba? More and more people are realizing that this species should be added to their list of fish to target in this province. Why? They are aggressive predators so when you find them, they will usually bite. They are also delicious table fare, with delicate white flesh that rivals walleye in both taste and texture.
Many lakes in the Whiteshell region of this province are now home to strong populations of this popular gamefish. Ken Kansas, who is the fisheries biologist in this region, says the crappie fishery is under the radar when it came to management. Kansas says when he first started doing his surveys in the Whiteshell in 2009 he could tell from creel studies that their range had expanded considerably. He found a number of fish along the Winnipeg River, especially in the Lac du Bonnet section. Not surprising since research has indicated decent populations of crappies exist in many tributaries along the east side of Lake Winnipeg, including the Red River. Professor Ken Stewart had electro shocked crappies in many of the backwaters in this region, including the Wanipigow River, some 25 years ago. I can remember catching my first master angler crappie from in this body of water 20 years ago. What I found interesting is that when we continued our search out to the mouth and into Lake Winnipeg, we marked and caught fish over a fairly large area. The first most famous crappie fisheries in Manitoba were probably Star Lake along with Lake Minnewasta in Morden. While Star collapsed from over fishing, Lake Minnewasta is still pretty good, even though constant angling pressure has made those fish tough to catch on a regular basis.
HUGE WHITESHELL CRAPPIES
I can remember vividly to this day the great day we had on Caddy Lake years ago when I took my daughter out for a day on the water. She caught an impressive 15 inch crappie that is still the highlight of her fishing career.
When I got an offer from Robert Howe last spring to fish a couple of new crappie fisheries, I jumped at the chance. Launching at the campground at Caddy Lake, we had a chance to fish Caddy, as well as North and South Cross Lake, all of which have good populations of these tasty fish. While it took us about three hours to find our first crappie, it was well worth the wait. As we were to discover, the fish were staging along weed lines, getting ready to spawn. By throwing small jigs tipped with a small Berkley Gulp or Power Bait, we caught large numbers of fish, some extremely large. We also landed some bonus pike and walleye, just a really enjoyable day on the water. Spring and fall are usually the easiest time to contact these fish but they can be caught all year long. Which brings me to a trip I took this winter with guide Matt Cornell in Whiteshell Provincial Park.
The Whiteshell River starts out at Caddy Lake, and ends up in the Winnipeg River at Nutimik Lake. It has been a major canoe route for thousands of years, allowing people access from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg. In recent years it’s become a popular destination for anglers who want a back country experience. This is especially the case in the winter time, with snowmobile trails crisscrossing the park. It’s also increased angling pressure on black crappies. Cornell, who loves to fish for this tasty panfish, is concerned that the increased angling pressure will cause a collapse in the population, especially in the trophy fish that swim in the many lakes in the system. He would like to see a reduced limit to four, with all fish over 11 inches or 28 centimetres released. To register a Master Angler fish with Travel Manitoba, it must be 30.5 centimetres or 12 inches.
On this particular day, while we decided to fish for black crappies, we were also committed to one hundred per cent release of fish. It’s usually not a problem on this system because the depth we were fishing was relatively shallow, about 4.5 metres or 15 feet. We consistently caught fish during the day, though the fish were most active in the morning, with more of a finesse bite in the afternoon. I started off using a Ultra Light Rippin Rap from Rapala. Crappies tend to like pink as well as glow and this lure fit the bill perfectly, until I lost it, that is, to a big fish. Later in the day both Kevin Stobbe and Matt Cornell caught bigger fish on small jigs. Matt was using a 1/32- 1/16oz Clam Drop Jig (tungsten) tipped with either a Clam Maki Plastic , Maki Worm or White Berkley Euro Larvae. Rods were light action with two kilogram braid (five pound) to a 1.5 kilogram fluorocarbon tippet.
Ken Kansas says more research has to be done to really determine populations of black crappie and the impact angling pressure is having on individual lakes in the region. A recent application for funds to conduct this research had been turned down, but he hopes with a fairly dramatic increase in angling pressure, some good management decisions on limits and size restrictions can be made. Cornell says that he recently talked to a couple of Conservation Officers in the region, who said angling pressure had increased tenfold. On this particular day Matt caught two huge crappies, the largest 15 ¼ inches. He says most people don’t realize how long it takes to grow a fish of this size north of the border. Cornell says these are extremely rare fish and it’s vitally important to release them. He would really like to see this fishery survive and thrive for future generations. Hopefully funding can be found to help determine what needs to be done to protect this valuable fishery.
Special thanks to Rond’s Marine for the use of the Polaris snowmobiles.