Crappie is amongst the most sought-after freshwater fish. You will find this predator fish in almost all water bodies across the United States. Anglers love crappie ice fishing for several reasons including their fairly large size and fighting spirit. However, the number one reason why an angler like me goes out in winter to fish for crappies is that they are so delicious!
Now, fishing for crappie in winter can be as easy as fly fishing if you do it the right way. With the right information and dedication, even novice anglers can improve their catch ratio when crappie fishing. As your favorite guide on your pursuits of adventure, I will provide all the information you need to catch more crappie this winter.
So let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Top Tips for Ice Fishing Crappie
There are two types of crappie that you can encounter as an ice angler, they include white crappie and black crappie. Though they have their differences, the tips that I will share in this article will work for both species. Crappie travel in schools, so you should make a good number of catches when you locate a school. On the downside, this also means that most of the water won’t contain any fish.
Additionally, fishing for crappie in winter and during the warmer months isn’t completely different. Most anglers usually use vertical presentations in both situations. The fish tend to school up based on the type of cover. Crappies are also more attracted to baits such as jigs and live minnows. The fish always tastes delicious regardless of where it is caught.
However, you have to prioritize your safety. Every year, several anglers are involved in accidents related to exposure to extreme temperatures and weak ice surfaces. Hence, you should ensure that you take the necessary safety measures during your ice fishing session.
Don’t know the difference between white and black crappie? Watch this video:
Best Tackle For Ice Fishing Crappie
The tackles used for ice fishing for crappie are usually simple. You can use the same tools that you use when fishing for other small gamefish. Opt for a light fishing rod that is between 30 to 36 inches in length. Your rod should also have a soft tip to avoid ripping the mouth of the fish. As for your reel, choose an ultralight reel.
Spool up your reel with a four-pound fluorocarbon line but if you prefer braided lines, opt for a 10-pound test. You should also tie a 3-foot fluoro leader on the braid using a swivel. This will help you limit wind knots and make it easier for you to change the leader.
Additionally, you should have a variety of hooks, split shots, and floats that are suitable for live bait. As for the size of the hooks, your choice should range from #4 for bigger crappie to #8 when using small baits. Other items that you need to have in your tackle box include artificial lures such as spoons, plugs, and tiny jigs.
Certain tools can make your ice fishing session much smoother. Some vital tools for ice fishing crappie include an auger, a portable sonar, and a sled.
An auger will help you drill holes in the ice comfortably. However, the level of comfort will depend on the type of auger you use. If you have strong shoulders, you may opt for a manual auger whose blades aren’t more than 5 inches wide.
I would like to note that drilling several holes during one fishing session will be a lot of work, especially when the ice is thick. This is why I always recommend electric ice augers. An electric auger will allow you to drill as many holes as possible without fuss. The higher the number of holes that you can drill, the better your chances of capturing crappie.
Additionally, a sled will make it much easier for you to haul your fishing equipment from one hole to the other while an ice fishing fish finder will eliminate the guesswork by giving you a clear view of what’s under the ice. Other tools that could come in handy include an ice chisel, a bait bucket, and a seat. To keep your hands dry, you should have a dip net for getting your bait out of the minnow bucket.
The Best Strategies For Ice Fishing Crappie
The importance of finding a favorable fishing spot can’t be overemphasized. It is usually a good idea to head to the same fishing spots that you used last spring. Look for green weeds as they attract crappie due to the presence of oxygen and food. You may also find crappie in mid-lake reefs and long, slightly sloping areas.
If you are new to the area, you can visit your local fishing shop for information. Another good idea is to check out message boards and online resources. You can also join a group of anglers on the ice as it usually means that a school of crappie has been spotted. Just try to be courteous.
When drilling holes, you should maintain a distance of 10 feet between your holes. Your holes should be at various depths and over various structures. This way, you will be able to cover a significant amount of water without fuss.
Additionally, you will have the option of either actively fishing each ice hole or setting up a series of tip downs. This will enable you to use live baits in some holes and jig vertically in others. The best approach will be to actively jig holes that your fish finder has spot fish and set tip downs with live minnows in holes that have less activity.
You should note that the fact that your sonar unit hasn’t spotted fish in a hole doesn’t mean that you can’t catch crappie in it. I will provide more information on tip downs later in this fisherman ice fishing guide.
Just like in open water fishing, the best times to fish for crappie in winter are dawn, dusk, and cloudy days. However, you can also catch crappie in the middle of the day but you may need a sonar unit to catch more fish.
Fishing With Live Baits
Several ice fishermen prefer using live bait when fishing for crappie. This is because several anglers believe that it is much easier to catch fish with real prey than artificial items. The most effective live baits used by anglers include minnows, mealworms, and wax worms. Mealworms and waxies are usually more effective in environments with shallow grass. I prefer using minnows in deeper water.
There are several ways by which you can present bait fish. The easiest way to create a rig is by tying a hook to the end of the line and attaching a tiny split shot about 18 inches above it. This is highly suitable for live minnows. Hook the back of the minnow in the area between the dorsal fin and the tail. You should avoid hooking the minnow through its lips. Instead, you should suspend the minnow at any depth that you desire using a float.
Waxworms and mealworms are usually combined with jig heads. You can choose either a bear jig head or pair a jig and grub. Either way, you should have a productive session. Sometimes, I even combine live baits and artificial lures as it allows me to enjoy the benefits of both types of baits.
Fishing With Artificial Baits
Artificial baits are a great option for any ice angler looking to catch crappie and the best type of lure is easily a jig and grub combo. This combo also works in the regular fishing season. The jig head serves as both the hook and weight that ensures that the bait sinks. Newer jig heads are mostly built with tungsten, an incredibly dense material that will enable you to use ultralight jigs. A jig head can weigh as little as 1/64 of an ounce.
Additionally, jig heads are available in various designs. What you have to watch out for is the location of the line as it determines how the jig functions. Jig heads also come in a wide variety of colors and designs. However, the brightly colored options are the most popular choice as the fish are more attracted to them.
Grubs can also be attached to a jig head. This combo is highly suitable for anglers looking to catch all kinds of fish. Grubs are available in several sizes, shapes, styles, and colors. I can’t list all of them in this article but can find the best option by doing little research in your locality. Another option will be to display something unorthodox as it can trigger the curiosity of the fish.
Jig Fishing Techniques
Though crappie can’t resist jigs, catching them isn’t a piece of cake. The best way to ensure that you continue to make catches is to change your presentations constantly. You should fish for crappie using varying colors, depths, and jigging motions. Some ice fishermen prefer tipping the jig at all times while others check the aggressiveness of the fish first.
Crappies are known to eat while looking upwards so you should position the jig one or two feet above the bait when using a sonar device. However, this can make strikes hard to detect. The line usually goes slack as the fish swims in the upward direction. When you notice this, you should speedily get rid of the slack and lift the rod tip carefully.
After placing the jig at the required depth, carefully twitch the rod tip. This should draw the attention of the fish to the jig but if this fails, lift the rod about a foot high and let it fall back. In the end, the best way to trigger a strike is to finesse the jig and then become a little aggressive.
How to Hook and Land a Crappy
Jigs are an excellent choice for targeting crappie in shallow waters, especially in areas with weed beds. Your jigs should be positioned just over the grass. This will cause the fish to leave their cover and strike the jig. A combo of a small jig and waxworm will be perfect.
Once you have your crappie on the hook, apply even, steady pressure on it. Due to the softness of the mouth of the fish, you need to handle the fish carefully. Relax, take your time, and apply slow, steady pressure.
Ice Fishing for Crappie Using Spoons
Spoons are another good example of an artificial lure that’s suitable for ice fishing crappie. They are the best choice for anyone looking to catch larger crappie. The three major features of spoons are their weight, flash, and vibration. Thanks to their weight, they are highly effective when your target fish are at the lower part of the water column. You can tip a spoon with a live or dead minnow.
Spoons built for ice fishing are available in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. When fishing in low light conditions, you should opt for a golden minnow. Meanwhile, silver spoons are more suitable for bright, sunny days. Spoons are also better than jigs at attracting active fish from long distances. Though you can catch crappie in any part of the water column with a spoon, it is more effective in deeper water.
Ice Fishing for Crappie Using Plugs
If you are interested in ice fishing plugs, the best option for you is the Rapala Jigging Rap. Though the product has been around for several years, it remains as effective as ever. A line is tied to the center and tail of this lure to create an erratic movement. The lure moves around circularly just like a wounded baitfish.
Another option is the Sulmo Chubby Darter. This plug is slightly larger than the Rapala Jigging Rap. However, any of them will be highly effective in attracting aggressive fish. Plugs are the way to go if all you want is quality fish.
Tip Downs Are a Great Option for Friends and Family
A tip down is an ice fishing tool that holds a rod in a stationary position over an ice hold. Though it has some similarities with an ice fishing tip-up, it has its unique benefits. Firstly, it doesn’t require any supervision. Also, you will be able to bring the fish in using a standard rod and reel the moment crappie gets hooked.
Tip downs are budget-friendly so you won’t have to break the bank to have fun with your loved ones. Artificial lures can be a great choice but I’ll recommend that you get yourself a live bait since it won’t be actively fished. You should consider suspending your live minnow into the hole on a hook along with a split shot.
Crappie Ice Fishing in Shallow Lakes
The activity of crappie depends on the type of water that they are located in. If you are fishing on a lake, you should expect to make your catch over submerged weed beds. This is because they feed on forage. You can also find the fish in the deepest holes. However, the fish will move higher when the vegetation dies and the food sources diminish. Good vegetation means availability of oxygen and this draws baitfish.
Crappie Ice Fishing in Deep Lakes
The activity of crappie in deep water is quite different. Most times, you will find schools of crappie further offshore. In the first days of winter, crappie dwells at the lower parts of the water column due to the presence of abundant oxygen. However, the fish will relocate higher as the oxygen levels drop during the latter days of winter. This happens at a higher rate when there is more snow blocking the pathway of sunlight to the vegetation.
Though crappies are known to relocate to the shallow parts, they don’t necessarily move closer to the shore. They move higher in the water column instead. Due to low levels of oxygen, the fish are usually located between 10 to 15 feet underneath the ice. This remains the same in deeper water.
Ice Fishing for Crappie in Big Lakes
Larger lakes tend to contain more structures than shallow bodies of water. Examples of these structures are sloping points, reefs, rock piles, creek tributary channels, and more. When fishing for crappie in a river system or lake that has a similar current and fish to rivers, you should target areas with little current. Such areas include coves, backwater, and tributary creeks.
Watch this video for a recipe for southern fried crappie:
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you use for ice fishing crappie?
Ice fishing for crappie requires the same tackle that you use for other panfish. Choose a light rod that is between 30 to 36 inches in length. Ensure that the rod has a soft tip so that you don’t damage the mouth of the fish. The best type of reel for catching crappie in winter is an ultralight reel. Spool it with a four-pound test fluorocarbon. You can also opt for a 10-pound test of fluorocarbon but you will need to add a 3-foot long fluoro leader.
How do you catch finicky crappie on the ice?
When ice fishing for crappie, one of the easiest ways to give your presentation a natural appearance is to use a strong snug knot like a Palomar knot. Place the knot above the eye to allow the lure to hang in horizontally. This will give it the appearance of a live, stationary minnow.
What is the best bait for crappies?
There are different types of baits and lures that you can use when ice fishing for crappie. However, the best options are jigs and live minnows.
How deep do crappie go in the winter?
In the early days of winter, the largest crappie can be found in highland reservoirs at depths of about 20 feet. However, they move on to brush piles at depths of about 40 feet in creek channels when it gets colder.
What colors do crappie like ice fishing?
If you are ice fishing for crappie with jig heads, you should opt for the brightly colored options. Bright colors attract crappie.
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