I had a chance to get out and finally start ice fishing crappie the other day. We are still bottoming out augers with a good amount of half-melted snow on top. Spring is officially here, which means things will be changing quickly if you love ice fishing crappies. They’re still roaming around in roughly 25 feet of water, in the mud basin area. When this is the case, it’s best to ditch the method of setting up your ice shanty and hoping they come to you. Before getting started, here’s my checklist of everything I’ll need.
Equipment for Ice Fishing Crappie
- First Rod
- Use while hole hopping. 36” to 40” light action. No bobber. Small diameter 4-6lb line. One inch long spoon 3/32 in weight, vertical presentation. White glow with a red dot for clear water. Fire tiger, chartreuse, or glow red for murky or stained water. (Recommended Rod: St. Croix Avid Jigging Series Ice Fishing Rod )
- Second Rod
- Use once you find the fish. This one will be identical to the first. Alternate between this rig and the first. Have your bait/lure in a horizontal presentation. A similar color pattern as the first. Helpful tip: use quick clips to be able to switch out baits/lures quickly.
- Sonar Unit
- Prefer a unit with a liquid crystal display, as they are much easier to read (Recommended Sonar Unit: Lowrance Hook 4x Sonar )
- Find either live wax worms or artificial bait that is formulated with an irresistible scent and flavor. (Recommended bait: Powerbait Power Honey Worm )
- Other Essentials
- Ice scoop, bucket, and chair.
- Drilling Holes:
- Drill one to two dozen holes in the area of the basin.
- Hole Hopping:
- Given the time of year, don't stay at one hole for too long. You're bound to have better luck hopping hole to hole.
- Using Your Sonar Unit:
- Use your sonar at each hole to find the fish, and once found use it to determine how deep the fish are. Drop your bait so it hovers just above them.
- Alternating Rods:
- Once you finally find the fish, alternate between rods and experiment with combinations of rod setups until you narrow it down to the one that works.
- Jigging Techniques:
- Experiment with different jigging techniques such as fast, slow, long strokes, or short strokes.
- If You Can’t Find Fish:
- Try moving in shallower or out deeper depending on your options.
Keep In Mind...
The school is going to be moving slowly, looking for insect larva, bloodworms, or in some cases small minnows. While experimenting with rod setups and jigging techniques, this is the time to learn from them. Different colors will appeal to the fish on any given day. Only the fish can tell you that, but they can’t if you don’t ask them by experimenting with different tactics and rod setups.
If the fish are in the right mood, things will move quickly. Keep an eye on the rod tip, and as soon as there is any kind of tension, set the hook! It’s also common for the line to go slack for a split second when the fish strike your bait from the bottom. It’s important to set the hook when this happens, too. Getting used to this takes practice. You have to be able to sense that feeling of weightlessness. Once you get used to this sensation, your catch rate will increase dramatically. A high-quality graphite rod really helps with this.
At times you may find that you have to drop your lure all the way to the bottom and work it up through the fish. Don’t keep it at one depth for too long. Only keep it there for a minute or two, move it up again, and repeat. Be versatile and pay attention to how the fish react to your movements.
When ice fishing crappie it's important to know as the ice starts to melt the fish tend to move into shallower areas of the lake. Sometimes you’ll find them in 6 to 12 feet of water outside of old cabbage beds, and other times you may find them on slow tapering flats with scattered weed clumps. I’ve seen days where crappies or minnows would be right under the ice feeding on zooplankton, and you might only have to fish a foot or two below the ice. When this happens, you can sometimes see them come right up to take your bait. That’s fun fishing!
If there’s one concept you need to take away, it’s this: don’t sit on one spot and wait for the fish to come to you. Hole hopping and narrowing down your rig combination will almost always catch you more fish (and in a shorter amount of time). Now get out there, have fun, and be safe!
After your day of ice fishing crappie, check out one of Kris' delicious recipes for Fish Fry Corn Flake Crappies: