Outdoors column: Crappie tricks through the ice

I will admit my fascination with crappie fishing through the ice has begun to take precedence over walleyes the past year or so and I have learned many tricks from spending a ton of time on the ice. Here are some tips and tricks I have picked up from fishing many prime crappie lakes through the Midwest. In a nutshell, these tips will work anywhere in the country.

Don’t be afraid to explore the deepest water on any given lake for big crappies.
Don’t be afraid to explore the deepest water on any given lake for big crappies.
Submitted photo

Finding crappies is rule number one and I have found I have missed many opportunities in the past because I wasn’t looking in the right spots.

Crappies during the wintertime tend to hang in the deepest water in any given lake but also tend to migrate to shallow water when feeding. When starting on a new lake, find the deepest section of the lake and drill some holes randomly there and look for activity on your electronics.

Years ago we didn’t think fish were in 40 to 70 feet of water, but believe it or not they do inhabit water that deep in the winter. I like to start in very deep water first and then find some backup spots for the prime evening bite which usually begins around sunset. Those prime depths are much shallower in the eight- to 14-foot range.

Baits and lures 
When I am looking for crappies I want the big boys! Choosing the right baits are paramount to big crappie success. I use a ton of walleye sized jigging spoons as well as minnow imitating swim baits during the winter.

These choices give me a crack at any random walleyes that come by, but also assure me that any crappie that strikes there will be nicely sized. I prefer silver or perch colors and limit my choices to those two. I like to add a minnow head to the treble hook not the entire minnow body. Just a taste on the spoon is all you need. I have never been a fan of euro larvae or wax worms because I believe these tend to catch smaller crappies most of the time.

The trick is to present a significant bait that requires a big fish strike. Smaller crappies tend to bounce off the larger baits so that saves time and effort in the long run.

Electronic tips
Your electronics or “eyes under the ice” can tell you everything you need to know about crappie moods and attitudes. I can tell right away by the performance of the red lines just what I am up against. Active crappies are what I call “high” fish. These are fish in the upper water column that are speedsters.

High crappies are biting fish and will attack with vigor. Red lines that indicate crappies along the bottom are very difficult to get to bite. These are normally very neutral fish and not aggressive at all. By raising or lowering your offerings, you try and entice those fish by aggravating them. Don’t be afraid to make big sweeps with your rod and get those lures moving.

A good rule of thumb is to actively jig those fish on one rod when observed on the electronics and have another rod in a second hole doing absolutely nothing. Here you present an active and passive bait decision and usually one or the other will produce.

Steve Carney is a outdoors columnist for ABC Newspapers