Kentuck Lake's secret: wild crappie action

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    EAGLE RIVER, Wis. Having lived in St. Germain, Wis., and now residing in Iron River, Mich., I have approached Kentuck Lake from both east and west on Hwy. 70.

    For the sake of clarity, let's just say that it is located 10 miles east of Eagle River, Wis., a growing tourist town.

    I first heard of this fertile, 957-acre lake about 1976, learning that its reputation for big walleye and huge musky was all that anglers had said it was, and more.

    Today, big walleye over 10 pounds and huge musky over 30 pounds are still being caught.

    The reason for this, I surmise, is the lake's better than average fertility and the abundance of quality forage like the cisco, a high fat and protein-filled meal.

    Plenty of cabbage and other green weeds make for good cover for other fish like crappie, perch and bluegill.

    No, you can't keep musky through the ice, but all the other species are ripe for the taking. It really isn't that hard to fish.

    All the talk back then was about walleye and musky, but the locals keep the crappie fishing pretty quiet.

    We'll discuss these fish and other species once we head north off Hwy. 70 onto Kentuck Road, and then a right on Tuttle Road. Bam!

    We're at the lake. Let's go ice fishing.

    On the east side of the lake there is a prominent point, which stretches out to a rock pile only 5 feet deep.

    This 5-foot depth then extends well out into the lake. Drill some holes in this area and out into deeper water.

    The 10 to 15-foot level works well for walleye. Don't overlook the 40-foot hole as you move in a northerly direction up the lake.

    This is the deepest part of the lake, located just off the federal campground. Drill a few holes in this area and move right on up the steep shoreline.

    Kentuck Creek is nearby; this is always a good place for walleye.

    Remember that you can use three lines in Wisconsin. Many fishermen put out two tip-ups and jig in a shack or just outside on a pail for walleye and panfish.

    A Jigging Rapala in a perch color and tipped with a minnow head or a No. 16 treble hook tipped with a shiner works well for the jig pole.

    Of course, a chartreuse jig and minnow always works.

    Check your fishing regulations on walleye in the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fishing Regulations 2004 to 2005. Vilas County has special regulations on some of the lakes.

    Local secrets

    The locals can only keep things secret so long.

    All a guy like myself had to do was check the Kentuck boat landings in the spring and talk to a few anglers.

    They will tell you that they are catching crappie by the bucketful.

    Yes, it is crowded on opening day and on weekends during the summer, but this in winter the fishing pressure is not as bad.

    Oh, there will be shacks out on Kentuck, but there is also plenty of places to catch crappie.

    Drill holes on the drop in 10 to 15 feet of water off the northeast shoreline.

    Use your fishfinder, and if you are fortunate to have a fellow angler along who has an Aqua Vu, then you are a lucky guy, indeed.

    The cabbage weeds and rice will not be as high, but the cabbage should be green enough and healthy enough to support schools of crappie.

    Look down those holes for the crappie and set up shop. Look for places where the weeds end and the drop begins; yes, weed edges out into deep water.

    Why? Because we know that crappie suspend over and out from cover.

    In February and March they will be setting up to spawn and eat. Look for small minnows too.

    Toward late ice in late February and March, you will catch them in the weeds, especially where there are open spaces in between the weeds.

    The south shore is another good place to drill out in 7 to 10 feet of water to find crappie.

    As I said before, Kentuck Lake is easy to fish; work the drop offs and weeded edges using your fishfinder or Aqua Vu to pinpoint small humps and ledges moving out toward the middle of the lake.

    Just remember that much of the lake runs 15 to 20 feet deep. Much of the weeds still run out to the middle-southerly two-thirds of the lake.

    Once you locate the schools of crappie, you'll be grinning from ear to ear.


    Although this lake gets pounded, it is so fertile that it keeps producing year after year.

    Although most of the crappie do not reach 14 and 15 inches 9, 10, and 11-inch crappie will fillet up quite nicely for a hearty and healthy meal.

    Finally, a gentleman by the name of John Keister, retired guide, excellent fisherman and friend, drove out on this lake toward the end of February and, using his GPS, parked on a finger, a neat little place where 20 feet of water was surrounded by 15 feet of water.

    Call it a finger/hole, if you will.

    We had two shacks and three guys so I took one shack by myself. Yep, we were right out in the middle of the lake.

    A freezing rain drove us nuts until we set up the shacks. Then I used small crappie minnows for bait.

    I had a small pink jig weighted down with two additional sinkers.

    We set the slip-bobber at 15 feet over 20 feet of water. We left our lanterns on, as John suggested that the crappie were attracted to the light in the hole.

    Well, they were attracted to something.

    Why, I thought I had a real job, what with reeling up and unhooking crappie after crappie and tossing them in a bucket, then hooking up another minnow and...I started with two jig poles, but I couldn't keep up.

    Using one pole, I got my limit of 25 in no time. I happily cleaned them and ate some as we were back home by 7 p.m.

    As you can tell, we set up around dusk in my opinion, the best time for crappie.

    By the way, John and Walt used minnows and wax worms, which didn't seem to make a difference.

    The perch are less numerous but, depending on whether it is toward the end of February or not (best bet), you will find them off the rocks on either side of that prominent point we discussed earlier, on the east side of the lake.

    The ice will probably last into March and possibly April this year, so there is still plenty of perch and bluegill fishing left.

    The crappie bite will only get better in March and hopefully, April late-ice period. Just watch yourself with the truck rides.

    I make it a rule to stop the truck rides out on the ice after March 15, or sooner. Check it first.

    How about 12 inches of solid ice before you drive out.

    There aren't many places to buy bait on Hwy. 70, so either get some in Iron River at Luckey's Sport on U.S. 2 just east of Iron River (906-265-0151) or at Gloria Luckey's in Stambaugh (906-265-5339).

    In Eagle River, go to Eagle River Sports (715-4798804). You'll get good information on the walleye limits on the lakes and good bait.

    If you are unfamiliar with the lake, there are usually friendly guides available.

    Also, you can call the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center (800-359-6315) or the Iron River Chamber of Commerce (906-265-3822).

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