Winter Crappie Tips and Tactics – Q & A Session

February 7, 2009 by  

Crappies are one of the most frequently-chased winter fish. So it’s no surprise that the subject of crappies comes up constantly when the Power Sticks gather at sports shows. We put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) when it comes to crappie fishing, followed by solid answers, built from an informal poll of Power Sticks.

These top-notch tips should help you ice more crappies this season.

Q: I have a hard time locating crappies under the ice. Are there any simple rules about their winter location?

A: So much depends on exactly how a lake lays out––in other words, what it has for water depth, how clear the water is, and what kind of weed growth. Especially at early and late ice, crappies can be found in relatively shallow water, in the weeds, if there is decent weed growth.

But in midwinter, crappies are probably more over the basin of the lake.

Chris Hustad with a nice catch and release crappie

Chris Hustad with a nice catch and release crappie

Crappies are not typically found over hard bottom. They’re over soft-bottom areas. Every lake builds up sediment in the deeper basin areas, even if it’s dominated by hard bottom.

It’s common in many lakes to find humps, made up of clay and mud, in the mainlake basins. Crappies are known to relate to those features. Look for those midlake humps, and once you find the hump, look for breaks (dropoffs) along the sides of them. How do you know when you’re over a ‘softer bottom’ break? When you don’t get a second echo on your Vexilar.

Q: In one of my local lakes, I fish a bay off the main lake every year at first ice for panfish and do pretty well. The maximum depth in the bay is 13 feet, dropping to about 30 feet in the main lake. But last winter was a bust for me. Where do you think they would be, if not in the bay? There is a nice flat adjacent, but that didn’t produce either. I was bit off several times in the bay and managed to land several pike. Could the high numbers of predators move the panfish elsewhere?.

A: The presence of predator fish certainly affects the behavior of panfish, but it probably hasn’t moved them out of the bay. The panfish would probably have to be there, in fact, or the pike wouldn’t be there. The abundant numbers of pike and other predators could easily have pushed the panfish tighter into the cover.

But at early ice, the panfish should still be in the bay.

The crappies (and bluegills) could be holding right down in the thick weeds, close to the bottom. They can be so tight to the cover that they become difficult to pick up on a Vexilar. Sometimes you just have to fish down in the weeds, down in the red bottom signal on the depthfinder. Try that, and you’ll probably find the fish.

But as winter progresses, the weeds die off, and that will force fish into the deeper water in the mainlake basin.

One thing that really helps you see fish in thick weeds on an FL-8 is to rig an S-cable (an accessory available at many good tackle shops). The S-cable reduces the amount of ‘clutter’ you see on the display, making it easier to pick out your lure amongst the thick vegetation. When you hook up the S-cable, you might find you have to turn up the gain in order to see your lure. (Note: this same feature is built in to the new Vexilar FL-18 flasher.)

Q: Many times when I’m ice fishing, I find small crappies. Do the larger fish hang out with the smaller ones? It seems as though you rarely catch the big ones if you are on to smaller fish.

Nice pail of crappies

Nice pail of crappies

A:

Here’s a question, like so many fishing related questions, that’s difficult to answer in a few words. The question of whether ‘big fish hang out with small fish’ is asked a lot.

In some cases they do; in others they don’t.

It seems pretty common for larger crappies to be either above or below the school of smaller ones. The main school is made up of crappies of smaller size, and the bigger ones are generally not with them.

If you start catching small crappies, try jigging at different depths, both below and above the small fish. And any time you’re after crappies and you see fish come through your hole at a depth other than where you’re fishing, adjust quickly. Make sure you fish those fish. See if you can get them bite, and find out what they are.

And here’s a fact we all have to face: Some lakes just don’t have big fish in them. You might be fishing in lakes that have decent numbers of stunted crappies and very few bigger ones. In those waters, no matter how good a fisherman you are, you aren’t likely to catch big crappies. So sometimes it’s a matter of moving to another lake that you know has a population of at least decent-size crappies.

A lot of novice anglers think it’s going to take some kind of magic act to find out where the nice crappies are, but it doesn’t. State natural resources agencies use test nets and other means of sampling the fish populations in many lakes. That data, which show how big the fish are, are available for the asking. Your local fisheries biologists––whose phone numbers are available in the phone book––can tell you which lakes in your area have decent crappies.

Realize, too, that the dynamics of a lake and its fish populations change over time. Just because a certain lake used to kick out nice crappies when you were a kid––or even just a few years ago––that doesn’t mean it does right now. Lakes and regions go through high and low water cycles, and fish populations peak and bust. When a certain lake is going good, we humans are not famous for our self-restraint. It’s common for a lot of nice fish to go home in our buckets, if we don’t practice catch-and-release.

We need to learn that fish populations are not like an apple tree loaded up with a crop that’s going to spoil if it’s not picked right away. Fish can be caught and released, and caught again. If we keep just enough for one meal at a time, there will be decent fishing on most lakes for years and years, barring natural forces.

Q: When fishing for crappies and using minnows for bait, what size hook should I use and also how should I hook the minnow?

Crappie minnows

Crappie minnows

A:

For crappies, one good way is to hook a crappie minnow through the back on a plain hook, size #6 or #8. To be successful on crappies consistently, you need to bring along different size crappie minnows, too, from small to large. Crappies prefer different size minnows on different days.

It’s also effective to fish minnows on an ice jig, generally a vertical jig, not a horizontal jig. You might use a #8 or even a smaller, #10 ice jig. In the ‘Dave Genz’ line from Lindy/System Tackle, that means a Pounder or Coped.

How you fish with minnows depends on the mood of the fish. When the fish are less active, use the ice jig, which tends to slow the minnow down and limit its movements. But on days when the crappies are more aggressive, they often like a minnow that’s struggling more, moving more. So then, use the minnow on a plain hook. Experiment with both, each time out, until you see what the fish want.

Generally speaking, minnows are often the ticket at night, after dark. But during the daytime hours, a horizontal jig like the Fat Boy or Genz Worm, tipped with maggots, will usually outfish minnows.

Q: I’ve begun to catch crappies, but I have been catching them by holding the jig and waxie completely still. I’m unable to catch them jigging, and I’ve tried many variations. Why don’t they seem to like any jigging action?

Dave Genz with some nice crappies

Dave Genz with some nice crappies

A:

Dave Genz himself handles the reply to this one:

“I haven’t seen you jigging,” Genz begins, “but I’m guessing you’re pumping the bait, which a lot of people do. You need to make that lure dance. I’ve always called the motion a ‘kicking’ motion, but I’m learning that a lot of people come up with a lot of different images in their mind when I say that. So from now on, I’m going to call it a ‘dancing’ motion.

“You want that lure to not move far up or down, or side to side, but you want the jig to ‘dance’ in place, almost vibrating, as rapidly as you can make it happen. We talk about our wrists moving, quickly, but almost in place. It should look like you’re ‘nervous’ while you’re jigging. The head of the ice jig stays almost in place, and the hook part, that has the bait on it, kicks up and down, like a bucking bronco. There I go again, calling it a kicking motion. Kicking, dancing, whatever you want to call it, that’s the motion you’re trying to achieve.

“Once you learn to achieve that dancing jig, then you have to make it move slowly upward and downward as you keep it kicking. Picture this in your mind: the jig is kicking, or dancing, in place. Almost vibrating. Now, slowly lower the bait as you keep the thing dancing. When you get it to as low as you want it to be, now raise it back up. Up, up, up you go, all the while keeping the jig dancing. By fishing ‘up and down,’ in this manner, you’re checking different depth levels. Also, the up and down movement is often needed to get daytime crappies to chase the bait. If you just sit there and pump that thing, at one depth level, don’t be surprised if you catch nothing.

“Get those daytime crappies to chase that dancing jig up or down, and that’s the key to triggering bites. Sometimes, you get them to chase it so far, then you have to hold it still before they’ll bite it. But it’s usually that dancing motion that pulls them into your hole.”


Comments

4 Comments on "Winter Crappie Tips and Tactics – Q & A Session"

  1. alan tooley on Mon, 25th Jan 2010 1:59 pm 

    dave, i’m always looking for new ways to catch winter crappies, when i ran across this article . the dancing motion is what works for me most of the time and as you said to work it slowly up and down is the trick too, i enjoyed your article, you just never know what will work best on any given dayi have had real good luck fishing with the kalin’s jig’s , the smaller the better the arkansas shad and the john deere green works well also. i enjoy crappie fishing, it;s my favorite. i’m 56 and have fished for them for many years now. good fishing to you….alan tooley

  2. Brian on Tue, 2nd Mar 2010 3:01 pm 

    I do most of my crappie fish in Northern Minnesota, Ely. Most of the lakes up there have no weed structure and the water is very dark, mainley alot of rocks and deep holes. What do I look for to help me find fish in march. I drill more holes through the ice than I catch fish.

  3. unknown on Sun, 22nd Jan 2012 11:05 am 

    Using just a small normal hook with a small crappie minnow works really good to.

  4. Roy Richardson on Thu, 31st Dec 2015 4:41 pm 

    I’m still looking for my tyepro!!

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