Jim Kopjo delivers an impromptu ice-fishing class

On a beautiful day for ice fishing, Jim “The Crappie Professor” Kopjo did an impromptu class on ice fishing for crappie.

SHARE Jim Kopjo delivers an impromptu ice-fishing class
It took a village to land one of the biggest crappie of the day, caught and released by Joe Quinn Monday ice fishing at Shabbona Lake.

It took a village to land one of the biggest crappie of the day, caught and released by Joe Quinn Monday ice fishing at Shabbona Lake.

Dale Bowman

SHABBONA, Ill.While Jim Kopjo wrangled a fish through a hole in the ice — ‘‘I thought it was a catfish or bass’’ — we all turned to stare or helped.

It was a broad 13-inch crappie, the best of the day.

Kopjo put on an impromptu clinic Monday at Shabbona Lake on a finicky-bite day of ice fishing. Kopjo deserves his ‘‘The Crappie Professor’’ nickname as much as Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks does his ‘‘The Professor’’ moniker.

Jim “The Crappie Professor” Kopjo caught the biggest crappie of the day, 13 inches, while ice fishing Monday at Shabbona Lake.

Jim “The Crappie Professor” Kopjo caught the biggest crappie of the day, 13 inches, while ice fishing Monday at Shabbona Lake.

Dale Bowman

Steve Palmisano invited me out to ice-fish with him and Joe Quinn with Kopjo. Also with our group was Ron Antinori, ‘‘Muskie Ed’’ Potocki and Art Catrambone. I figured I had better go before this short ice-fishing season ends.

I arrived near midday, shortly after the first bites started.

‘‘Pull one or two out there, then move on,’’ Kopjo said.

He and Quinn did, forging onward to new spots.

‘‘With forward-looking sonar, you go fish fish,’’ he said.

Instead of locating and fishing cover or structure, they found schools with their forward-looking sonar, quickly drilled holes and caught a couple before moving on. Kopjo uses Garmin Livescope; Quinn uses the Humminbird MEGA Live ice bundle.

‘‘If it isn’t a 100-fish school, he isn’t stopping,’’ Quinn said.

Kopjo noted that forward-looking sonar for panfish is a conservation concern and ‘‘subject to overharvest.’’ What we did Monday was release all the big ones and kept 15 medium-sized ones for the three of us who wanted table fare.

When I asked what he did on a finicky-bite day, Kopjo said: ‘‘Go a little smaller. I don’t stay in spots very long. That came from [the late] Chuck Thompson. Better if you pull out the one or two aggressive ones. You are not going to sit over 20 to 30 fish and get them all.’’

Kopjo favors and works with the northwest Indiana company Wack’em and Stack’em Custom Baits. On Monday, he started with No. 4-sized baits. He leans toward plastics with appendages, multiple legs for the action.

When action hit a lull, the group thinned. We totaled several dozen crappie and maybe a dozen bluegills (many in the 9-inch range).

“Muskie Ed” Potocki caught one of the lively crappies Monday ice fishing at Shabbona Lake.

“Muskie Ed” Potocki caught one of the lively crappies Monday ice fishing at Shabbona Lake.

Dale Bowman

‘‘We covered a lot of ice,’’ Kopjo said. ‘‘We usually run out of time before we run out of spots.’’

It was time.

Kopjo headed in, stopping to hit one last spot. I stayed to chat with Quinn and Palmisano. Quinn gave a brief clinic in how he used MEGA Live in this setting. Both stressed how important it was to make sure the jigs were hanging horizontally for a natural presentation.

We measured 5½ inches of ice. Kopjo thought fishable ice should hold at Shabbona at least through the weekend, depending on what happens with the rain forecast Wednesday night and Thursday.

It has been a short ice-fishing season around Chicago.

Wild things

Several evenings last week I heard and saw cacklers overhead. Not sure what it meant.

Stray cast

Surely Johnny Burnette Trio’s ‘‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ ’’ sounds like a buck covering a doe looks.

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