When the fishing goes crappie, it’s not necessarily a sad day.
We’re talking crappie, some of the most delicious panfish you can land.
Aside from following the in-crowd and picking yourself a spot among other local anglers, there can be a bit of an art to finding these little nuggets under the ice. Plenty of factors can come into play: the crappie population, the size of the lake, timing, and your knowledge of the types of places where crappie may be.
It’s a good thing we have Angler Expert, Jonathan Dietz, on our side. He’s been fishing for crappie for as long as he can remember.
“There’s just something about this fish that makes them fun to go after,” he says. “I especially like fishing for them in the ice. They’re just a very interactive fish. It’s cool to watch how they react to your bait on the fish finder.”
Dietz takes us through how you can locate and land these fun fish for yourself.
Locations to Ice Fish for Crappie
“On more shallow lakes with a lot of vegetation, there are aquatic organisms that live within that deeper vegetation, so the crappie will position more in the grass,” Dietz explained. That’s where their food is. They’re almost always two to three feet off of the bottom, depending upon the depth of the water you’re fishing in. “You can go fish in five feet of water, just drop it to the bottom, reel it up a foot, and you’re good to go.” You won’t have to move around as much to find them. “You might have 10 different holes you punch, but you’re only going to be rotating them.”
“If you have a deeper reservoir, those same fish would be out and suspend offshore more. So that’s going to make targeting them a lot harder without an electronic unit because they could be in so many more different water columns.” That means you’ll be fishing over a much larger area because the fish are constantly on the move chasing bait or other smaller aquatic organisms.
The type of lake you’re fishing on is really going to dictate what type of gear you need and how you’re going to fish for them.
“At the beginning of winter, the water has a relatively high dissolved oxygen ratio, so those fish can afford to be on the bottom in those deeper fisheries, where the warmer water is,” explained Dietz. As the winter progresses, the dissolved oxygen becomes less and less as the fish use it up and vegetation isn’t able to produce more, sometimes using it up, themselves. Such is the case when there’s a lot of snow blocking out the sun on top of the ice.
“As the winter goes on, those fish get shallower and shallower, since the oxygen depletes at the bottom first, so you’ll find them suspended in those columns. Late in winter, you could be fishing in 40 feet of water, and the fish may only be six feet below the ice.”
The open water schools of fish tend to travel more, too. That means you’ve got to be willing to punch a few holes at first until you find where they’ve gone.
Crappie Ice Fishing: Feel The Bite
Fish tend to feed a little bit earlier in the morning, and later in the evening, they tend to be moving around more and feeding. You’ll have fewer lull periods and you’ll consistently catch more fish.
Crappies feed upward for the most part, so you’ll want to drop your bait down and keep it right above their heads for the most part. Their eyes are on the top of their head and their mouths are positioned so that they swim up to their prey and suck it in from below. That means you really have to pay attention to your rod. It may be bent just a little bit from the weight of your bait and will straighten up slightly when the fish eats it since they’ll be pushing up from underneath, taking the weight off.
Dietz describes what you’re looking for. “Those bites can often be really, really subtle, especially if you’re fishing outside of a hut in the wind. You’ll get what is called ‘an up-hit,” which is when they feed upwards and just take the slack out, take the pressure off of the line.” He recommends using a very sensitive rod.
Once one fish bites, the rest of the school generally gets fired up, so the faster you can get your jig back down again, the better. Fishing with a friend over the open water can increase your chances. As one is reeling in, the other can be dropping, keeping the fish’s attention.
Crappie Ice Fishing Equipment
Aside from the obvious auger, you’ll want to be sure you’re loaded up with the proper gear.
Fish finders are really an awesome tool when it comes to crappies out on the open water because they like to suspend. Dietz explains, “They really work well when you’re out on those deeper water fisheries because if you’re fishing in, say, 30 feet of water, those fish can be anywhere from right on the bottom to 10 to five feet below the ice.” He uses a MarCum Showdown, which has a vertical screen.
Fishing in deeper water without one is still doable. Drop your bait all the way to the bottom, jig it for a couple of minutes, reel up five feet, jig it for another couple of minutes, and continue that routine all the way up to the surface until you start to figure out a pattern with those fish.
Having an underwater camera can be nice, sometimes, too, so you can see what fish are showing up on your sonar.
“Your rod should be a really sensitive rod since you’ll be using very light jigs,” advises Dietz. You’ll be using those soft, presentation-style baits for the most part. Look to use anything from a 28” rod up to a 36” rod with a really soft tip so you can lift that bait up and see that tip move a little bit.
A softer rod will also cushion things when the fish are kicking back and forth a bit, since they have really soft mouths.
Most people use small tungsten or lead jig heads, down to around 1/32 or 1/64 ounce baits. Dietz advises using tungsten, because it’s much heavier than lead, so it gives you good weight, while still being able to maintain the smaller profile.
Most people tip their jigs with either minnows, maggots, or wax-worms. Dietz prefers wax worms or minnows, depending upon where you’re doing your fishing. Most crappies eat small macro-invertebrates, especially in the shallower waters within the grass. Those open-water fish are cruising around more, and will eat more of the bait fish like minnows.
Sometimes soft plastics can come in handy. “Trigger-X makes some of my favorite soft plastic baits. Their Mustache Worm is phenomenal.” They can be advantageous in helping you not go through so much bait, and you don’t have to fidget with them when the fish are striking. They can give you many different options for size, color, weight, and profile.
“If you’re going to a fishery to specifically target bigger crappies, you’ll want to use small spoons or smaller lipless baits, even though they’re commonly thought of as bigger species baits,” he shared. They’ll get you less bites, but you’ll hook onto higher quality fish, eliminating the smaller fish because it’s a bigger profile meal.
Dietz isn’t as picky about the reels he uses when going after crappies. “Almost any reel will do, depending on how serious you want to be. If you’re going to get really serious, they make smaller fly-style reels, which will eliminate any spin that the bait will have.”
Dietz utilizes the wide variety and selection that FishUSA has to offer on all ice fishing gear. Their online shop is unmatched in this type of gear, which is why it’s his go to when he’s looking for more ice fishing gear.
Advice For Crappie Ice Fishing
Dietz shared one last word of wisdom. “ When you to go a fishery you don’t really know and you see an older guy sitting on the ice somewhere, he’s probably been fishing there a long time. He’s the guy you should be asking questions. I’ve never been afraid to walk up and ask questions.”
Take advantage of ice fishing forums, too! There’s a wealth of information out there!