HAMBURG — For the second week in a row, my annual St, Patrick’s Day (or thereabouts) steelhead excursion with Jim Romine on the St. Joseph River was canceled because of environmental conditions.
Get about 100 feet of snow over the winter — as we did this year — and it’s a long-time melting. The river was higher than Timothy Leary.
So over the course of our calendar comparisons — we’re still planning that steelhead trip — Romine mentioned how, in years past, he liked going out at last ice at night looking for trophy crappie. I bit.
We met up on a small Livingston County lake that had, in the past, produced some giant sac au laits for Romine. We got on the ice in early evening, hoping to catch just enough fish to figure out where we ought to be at dark, to no avail. So with darkness fast-approaching, Romine drilled holes in an area that had produced for him many years ago, in 20 feet of water over a mud bottom. We put up the shanty, lit the lantern, and settled in.
Fishing for crappie at night is a time-honored tradition in that part of the country — and I’m talking the South — where crappies are more highly lauded than they are here. Even Romine, who will fish for anything, scoffs mildly at crappies.
“I don’t mind eating crappies, but bluegills are by far my favorites of the sunfish,” he said. “When I go crappie fishing, I’m trying to trophy-hunt them; we’ve caught a couple of 17 inchers out here over the years. They’re beautiful fish — smoking beautiful — and a heck of a challenge. But I prefer bluegills for the table.”
Bluegills we had, but not the kind we wanted. Romine’s depth finder lit up with fish in the bottom three or four feet of the water column immediately, but when we dropped our offerings, they were snatched up by bluegills in the four- to five-inch range. We started fishing higher in the water column, about a foot or two above the marks on the sonar (crappie are bad about suspending) and we started catching crappies.