Outdoors column: Crappie strategies through the ice

It looks like pretty decent ice conditions now that we are entering into the mid period of the ice season and the crappies are hitting on many central Minnesota lakes.

Crappies are unique and special because they are sometimes unpredictable, but almost always catchable with the correct adjustments. I have some tips and techniques that I use for mid-season ice fishing and with a little bit of concentration you too can put these eager biters in the five-gallon pail.

Learning to interpret on-ice electronics can be a crucial key to crappie success.
Learning to interpret on-ice electronics can be a crucial key to crappie success.Submitted photo

Determine their mood

Crappies have moods just like humans. There are times they are moving and active and other times they are neutral. I can almost always tell their moods when I start drilling holes by watching their position in the water column. Non-biting crappies have a tendency to lay right smack on the bottom making it very difficult to get them to bite. High rising crappies on the other hand are active and ready to strike.

By watching their movements below the ice you can determine the correct baits and techniques.

Keep in mind that weather is a great factor in determining their moods.

Weather factors

Always make your forays on the ice relative to the weather at hand. This means you can expect crappies to be very active during high pressure days and especially when we have consistent weather during a three- and four-day period.

Any type of weather disruption like cold fronts, clippers and the like can have a big impact on their moods.

Try and keep your trips to days that feature solid weather patterns and you’ll catch way more fish then iffy days with unstable weather.

High crappies versus low crappies

Often if I am fishing over deep water such as 30 feet or more, you can expect active crappies to be somewhere within the middle of the water column.

This means they will be suspended over the deep water usually half way down.

The modern angler needs to keep in mind these are not always bottom hugging fish like walleyes. Crappies have a tendency to roam throughout the water column. If they are inactive, chances are they will be neutral and hovering right smack on the bottom. These are almost impossible to catch in this mood. It is the high fish that I want to target because these fish are on the prowl and active feeders.

Minnows versus wax worms/larvae

If it is numbers you want, you can’t beat the wax worms and larvae baits.

These smaller baits tend to catch a lot of smaller fish and I much prefer a minnow head impaled on a small spoon. You will have much better hooking percentages by using a small head of crappie minnow versus the larger fathead you would use for walleyes. All you need is just a taste on the hook. Experimenting with larvae, wax worms and minnows is a good way to start. Let the fish tell you what they want.

Believe your electronics

The final point is very important – believe what you see on your electronic unit.

Many anglers tend to ignore the marks on their flasher especially up higher in the water column.

They assume this is some sort of interference but in reality they could be marking crappies. Always investigate those marks by raising your bait parallel to the marks.

Crappies at this time of the year can show up just about anywhere from bottom to the top.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.