Most ice anglers have a bittersweet relationship with crappies. When you find an active school the fishing’s outstanding. Yet on other days getting them to bite can seem impossible. Refinement’s critical when faced with a tough bite, so try these suggestions the next time you’re being tested by these temperamental panfish.
The Right Set-Up
A properly balanced jigging combo is essential to detect light-biting crappie. Ultra-light line and a quality rod with either a spring bobber or a noodle tip add sensitivity and finesse when you need it. If you can’t feel the weight of your bait, the set up’s too heavy. Also, be prepared to drop down line strengths (the pound-test of the line) as fussy crappie can be line shy, especially in clear water.
Ice Jig Details
As crappies have good vision and the tendency to be choosy at times, presentation details make a difference. Carry an assortment of different ice jig profiles, including vertical, horizontal and 45-degree models. Also pay attention to knot positioning on horizontal jigs. The force of fighting a fish often causes the knot to slip forward on the hook eye resulting in a droopy profile. Sliding the knot back to the center keeps the bait straight.
The right color pattern can also be important to tempt lock-jaw crappie, so keep your tackle box well-stocked with natural, hot, and glow-painted baits. Of course, profile and hue aren’t all that’s required to catch fish. You’ll also need to master a variety of jigging moves to make baits come alive and be successful at drawing in fish and eliciting bites.
Don’t Be Afraid To Upsize
Catching crappies isn’t always a finesse game. Sometimes fish will be more selective if given time to overlook small, finesse jigs. This is when upsizing to bigger baits, such as 1.5- to 2.5-inch spoons, swimbaits and plastics, combined with more assertive jigging will ice you more slabs.
Switching to a bigger-profiled bait also helps sift through the smaller crappies and engage the bruisers. Expect crappies to hit larger lures with more gusto than small ice jigs. Good lure choices include the Northland Puppet Minnow, Rapala Jigging Shad Rap, Salmo Chubby Darter, Williams Wabler, Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, Blue Fox Rattle Flash Jig’N Spoon, and JB Lures Varmit.
Live Bait Can Be Critical
The scent trail created from fresh bait is one of the most consistent ways to provoke strikes. If friends are out-fishing you and they’re adding fresh bait every five minutes, this is a sign to speed up your re-baiting tempo. When fish are hot you can extend the timeframe, but when they’re finicky adding new bait frequently is best, whether it’s maggots, waxworms, minnows, or scent-loaded soft-bait.
Do The Deadstick
When crappies aren’t interested in your jigging maneuvers sometimes the best move is none at all. A maggot-tipped ice jig or tiny minnow rigged on a small hook dangled below a split-shot are common set-line rigs. Get these baits into the strike zone and soak them. I’ve watched dozens of crappies on my sonar move in, then stop and stare at my bait. If you’re presentation’s close to perfect they’ll hit the offering. Note that adding a faint jiggle after a long stand-off can also trigger bites.
Pay attention to these details the next time you’re on the hard-water. They’ll land you more “papermouths”, especially when the fish are fussy.
For a fine selection of ice fishing gear, click here.
Tim Allard of Ottawa, Ontario is a hard-water expert and author-photographer of the newly released book, “Ice Fishing: The Ultimate Guide.” For more information visit: http://www.helipress.com/product/ice-fishing-138.cfm/