The scribbler and grandson Alexander pose with a nice crappie.
The scribbler and grandson Alexander pose with a nice crappie.
NO SWEETER words are spoken in my outdoor world than when one of the kids proclaims they are headed for the North Woods, and they want to do some fishing.

Our plans for the holidays this year didn’t allow for such an adventure because when Christmas and New Years fall on a Saturday, we sort of get ripped off on the three- or four-day weekends that provide enough days to sneak in some fishing.

And then came the good news/bad news phone call — that son Steve and family had to change their plans because somebody on the in-law side of the family came down with the ‘vid. And suddenly, they were heading for Wisconsin.

We snuck in a crappie trip right off with grandson Alexander tagging along. The 12-year-old hardly has time to fish these days with basketball tournaments every weekend, so it was a welcome change of pace.

Overcast skies and a southeast wind greeted us as we snowmobiled a long distance to reach one of those deep holes where winter crappies often frequent.

It was just two hours before dusk and we set up in a spot where there has been a late afternoon run in the past, as crappies transition from deep water to some sort of bar, shoreline or weedy shelf to feed.

We put out a combination of tip downs that were scattered and some jigging rods with slip bobbers on the best break, for it always seems more entertaining to be able to set the hook and reel up the fish instead of going hand-over-hand with a standard ice pole.

Most of the poles were rigged with a No. 12 gold treble hook and a crappie minnow, suspended anywhere from two to four feet off the bottom. One of them had a glow-in-the-dark teardrop lure and another, a tungsten jig tipped with a minnow hooked in the lips.

There were some early bites but only a couple of nine-inch perch comprised the first-hour catch as the skies slowly darkened. One small crappie, like a seven incher, came up from a brush pile to hit a minnow.

And then as if someone had flipped a switch, late in the afternoon just before dusk, some bigger crappies were on the move. Alexander set the hook on the first and reeled up a girthy 11-incher.

The scribbler got into a similar fish moments later on a tip down, and we were on our way to catching the meal of fish we had hoped to bring home.

I was off checking minnows on a tip down when Steve scooted across the ice to grab a slip bobber rig that dropped out of sight. The sound of oohs and aahs during the retrieval told me it was a decent fish, but the OMG at the end told us it was far above the average-sized fish.

And there was Steve, sporting a big smile while hoisting a 14-inch beauty. It’s the kind of crappie people refer to as a slab or a platter, as they appear to be almost as deep as they are long.

It was a skittish bite on this particular afternoon as several times the bobbers and tip downs were headed for the bottom only to rise again as fish spit the minnow. I would have thought the opposite on such an overcast day with a light drizzle and fog in the air.

We didn’t do any damage to the fishery on this particular outing but we did leave with a meal of slab crappies that will soon be egg-washed, breaded with panko and left to bubble in a sea of hot oil in a cast iron frying pan.

There’s just something about pan-fried crappie with that crunchy outer crust and thicker, white fish inside that can’t be duplicated in a deep fryer, where the meat doesn’t stay as moist.

The truth be told it’s a little early for me to be chasing crappies, for early ice is the best time to chase walleyes as they feed in shallow water on weed edges in late afternoon and throughout the evening. That shallow-water action seems to fade once the ice gets more than a foot thick and walleyes move deeper.

Deep-water crappie action actually improves as the winter progresses, for they spend more time suspended around deep holes as the ice thickens. Some of our best deep-hole fishing comes in February and March.

For those who don’t know it, the pre-Christmas thaw that eliminated much of the snow did ice anglers a huge favor, creating the perfect opportunity for freezing up the lakes without slush. The elimination of that insulation and weight is just what the fish-doctor ordered.

As for me, what a great way to start the season by sharing some ice time with my son and grandson, catching crappies and perch.

That’s what the sport of fishing is all about, bringing family and friends together in the great outdoors. That’s Wisconsin fishing tradition at its finest.

You can’t catch those fish sitting in the easy chair. It’s time to go fishing!