ALWAYS take safety precautions before heading out to fish the hard
water. It’s impossible to judge the strength of ice by its appearance, thickness, daily temperature, or
snow cover alone. Ice strength is actually dependent on all four factors, plus water depth under the ice, the size of the
water and water chemistry, currents, and distribution of the load on the ice. Here is a great article you should
read about ice safety before you head out: http://www.crrel.usace.army.mil/ierd/ice_safety/safety.html
DRESS WARM FOR ICE TRAVEL/FISHING:
If you go out on the ice inadequately prepared for ice travel/fishing - your likely to
have an absolutely abysmal time, and if this is your first time - you may never want to go back again. Wear heavy felt-pack
boots, or the new family of winter wear products, and ditto for gloves and warm coat. Long-johns are a must, as is a toque!
Sunglasses should be worn out on the ice, even on relatively dull days. Glare from the ice and snow can produce bad headaches
and 'snow blindness' which can be a very painful and serious condition.
When ice fishing, most anglers use ice augers to make a 6-inch hole, suitable for
small crappie, bluegills, and pike. I prefer to drill a 10-inch hole because sometimes the bigger fish like
a large crappie, bass, and walleye will hook on.
I like to use a 29" light-action ice fishing rod with a wire line holding
clip filled with 4-pound Berkley Trilene Micro-Ice line. This will allow enough sensitivity to see a fish if it happens
to take the bait. But this simplistic outfit is only adequate for use in very shallow water, and not deeper than ten
feet. For deeper water and/or with wood cover, I prefer to use an ultra light open faced spinning reel on an ice
rod spooled with one of the new superlines such as Berkley's Fireline Micro Ice line, for more sensitivity
and to pull lures from snags. Some ice fishing rods do come with rod/line/reel as a combo. Any tackle shop
owner will be able to help you choose an adequate rod/reel set-up for the water you are going to fish. As a rule of
thumb though, ice fishing tackle is relatively inexpensive as compared to regular fishing gear. If you have a buddy
that has an ice auger, then the outfit...the rod, reel and an assortment of tackle (small split shots, bobbers or slip-floats,
small hooks) shouldn't cost you more than seventy five bucks.
I hear alot of fish have been taken during the winter months ice
fishing by anglers using minnows, than any other bait. But don't discount maggots & wax worms (my favorite),
especially if fishing for crappie. Live minnows are undisputedly the best for any conditions, but I've found that minnows
work best when fishing on the bottom, and is best when hooked just behind the dorsel fin. Live bait moves around
and the crappie are not willing to chase their food in cold water.
I like to tip small jigs that ride horizontally and imitate minnows with wax worms that
I get from Grubco. Small 1" Bass Pro Shops Squirt mini-tubes, and silver & shad-colored spoons also attracts
hungry crappie. In deep water, dirty water, and at night, glow-in-the-dark lures are a distinct advantage. Use
the smallest lead head jig as possible. A 1/64 ounce lead will give the baits a very slow fall.
ICE FISHING STRATEGY:
With the use of a good topo map and quality sonar, finding the winter crappie isn't all
that difficult. Following the baitfish is also critical. In natural lakes, look for crappie
in and around deep structures (tree tops, brush piles, standing timber, humps and bridge pilings) at 18 to 25 feet. Don't
overlook suspended crappie on the sonar, because they are oftentimes the biters. Look for them holding about
4 feet off the bottom. In ponds or smaller lakes, which has plenty of food and weeds, look for the deepest
water and fish from there. The only disadvantage of fishing smaller bodies of water, as the winter wears on, it
will be difficult to catch fish due to oxygen depletion.
Crappie are cold blooded fish, and doesn't need to feed as extensively in the cold
months, but they still eat and seek structure in the deeper venues of the lake. They often won't be as aggressive biting
your baits, so 'feel' is important with ice fishing. Pike and walleye are still aggressive hitters, but you've
got to be quick & ready for crappie.
Dropping the bait vertically is the key. Again, moving the baits around is not a
good cold weather tactic because the crappie will not chase their food. Drop the baits all the way to the bottom.
Very slowly pull the baits up a foot and gently shake the rod tip. Don't jig too aggressively, just wiggle your bait lightly
in front of them. Tapping your index finger on the rod blank will give a little vibration to your jig. If no takers,
raise your bait up another foot and repeat the process. Strikes will be very light, and the fish will create a slack
in the line making very difficult to feel a strike. Lift softly on the rod and if you feel a little tug, immediately
set the hook. Once you find the fish at a given depth, maintain that depth until they no longer bite.
Winter crappie don't hibernate, and neither should you. Be adventurous, bundle up,
get outside and try fishing in a whole new way: through the ice!
Ice Fishing for Crappies with Jason Durham
Making Ice Fishing Fun & Easy!