There were mornings at several northeast Kansas locales that were colder than Brainerd, Minn., one of the ice-fishing capitals of the world.
Conditions were so harsh hereabouts that many of the most intrepid ice fishermen were unprepared to cope with the cold and thick ice.
Moreover, such superb anglers as Denny Tryon of Ozawkie and Terry Hinson of Silver Lake found the crappie fishing at Perry Lake dreadful during most of December.
Tryon fished three days and failed to pull a half dozen crappie through the many holes he drilled in the ice. Besides the lackluster fishing, Tryon complained that his middle-aged body and old-fashioned auger had a difficult time drilling holes through the extraordinarily thick and hard ice.
But on Jan. 6, he finally caught a respectable number of crappie in 16 feet of water.
December's sorry fishing at Perry sent Hinson to Clinton, where he found the fishing at Deer Creek more fruitful but still subpar. To catch the crappie at Clinton, Hinson discovered that anglers had to be on the ice before dawn. Fishing petered out around 10 a.m.
So after experiencing a trying midday outing at Clinton on Dec. 30, Hinson returned to Perry and ventured to a deepwater covert that sits a couple miles above the dam.
To get to that spot, Hinson walked more than two miles through the woods, up and down hills and across fields laden with knee-deep snow.
By the time he arrived at this crappie hideaway and drilled several holes through the ice, twilight hung near the western horizon. But by employing a small jigging spoon around a brush pile in 18 feet and near 30 feet of water along the submerged Delaware River channel, Hinson enticed 35 big crappie to engulf that spoon before dusk.
No matter how difficult the fishing is, a few astute anglers eventually discover where, how and when to catch an impressive array of fish. During the first three weeks of ice fishing at Clinton, Brian and Tony Schmidtlein, both of Topeka, fared better than most anglers, catching 45 to 55 crappie an outing.
The Schmidtleins are some of the most capable and best equipped ice fishermen in these parts. They fished early, long and hard.
To escape the difficult fishing in northeast Kansas, Kevin Davis of Lawrence traveled west to Kirwin Lake in late December. At Kirwin, Davis and his father caught scads of crappie, replicating the heydays of crappie fishing around Lawrence when it was an easier task to catch 100 crappie a day.
To alleviate the tedium of our wretched crappie fishing in northeast Kansas, Steve Hoffman of Brainerd, Minn., says the ice fishermen should change species and start pursuing channel cats through the ice.
In late December, Hoffman traveled to southeast Iowa and fished waters similar to Pomona Lake. In these Iowa waters, Hoffman caught channel cats on the bottom in 25 feet of water and suspended as shallow as three feet deep.
Since the channel cat populations are so bountiful and the crappie populations have flagged so dramatically during the past five years in northeast Kansas reservoirs, Hoffman's suggestion might be on the mark.