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Ice Fishing for Crappie: Tips & Tactics

Ice Fishing for Crappie: Tips & Tactics

With due respect for all ice fishers who think they know how to find crappie under the ice, a huge majority of ice fishermen just go where other ice fishers go. The common strategies for locating crappie are scanning a lake from a good vantage point to look for clusters of anglers, or asking at the local bait & tackle shop.

The only good reason to strike out on your own at most popular crappie lakes is a desire for solitude. Yes, you can find crappie on your own. However, unless you are lucky, finding crappie on your own may take considerable time. Or you might find them at the first place you try.

Ok, that is the harsh view. It can be easier, though not necessarily simple. The likelihood of locating crappie on your own depends on the crappie population, the size of the lake, timing and your knowledge of the types of places where crappie may be.

Tools For The Job

The most important tools for finding crappie under ice are a power auger, a portable sonar, a jigging rod, a selection of jigs and bait for tipping the jigs.

Locating wintertime crappie through iceA few standard things you should have on your ice fishing trip would be an manual auger for easy hole building, a sled to haul the equipment, ice chisel, bait bucket, seat and a dip net to dip into minnow buckets to retrieve bait and keep hands dry.

If you are young with strong shoulders, you might get by with using a manual auger with blades no wider than 5 inches. But even then, drilling dozens of holes in one day can get very strenuous, more so if the ice is thick. And too much drilling may ruin good shoulders in time. Young ice fishers probably will ignore this caution, and later regret it.

A much better option is to use a power auger. This way you will not have any serious limitations on the number of holes to be drilled. As any experienced crappie ice fisher knows, with two holes three feet apart, one might be productive while the other is worthless.

Searching for crappie under the ice is not a matter of drilling one hole and moving on if it is not productive. Several holes should be drilled at each likely location.

Bait Options

Bait is also important. Unless crappie are very aggressive, you can expect to catch many more crappie on jigs that are tipped with bait than on bare jigs. Minnows are almost always the most effective bait for white crappie, especially larger white crappie. Black crappie will usually hit jigs tipped with grubs just fine.

Whether or not to carry minnows makes a big difference in mobility. Using grubs makes it practical to carry just one bucket with all gear and the catch in that bucket, except the grubs, which should be carried in a pocket to keep them from freezing. A sled is virtually a necessity if minnows are used.


Using a sled actually can be a big advantage since much more gear can be hauled in even a small sled. This might include a folding chair (which is much more comfortable than sitting on a bucket).

Also a lantern, which makes fishing after dark easier. A one-man sled that folds back leaving the sled empty for hauling gear is excellent. A lantern will be enough to keep a shelter toasty warm.

Many crappie fishers believe crappie are attracted to the light of a lantern. Maybe so, maybe not so much. But in any case the lantern does not seem to hurt ice fishing at night, so unless you have owl eyes a lantern probably should be used.


Start at the same places where you caught crappie last spring in lakes or reservoirs with stable water levels. Depths probably will be 7 feet to 12 feet, over flats with varying degrees of weed growth. Try to find green weeds. Clusters of green weeds will cause crappie to congregate because there is good oxygen and a food chain.

Long, gently sloping points and mid-lake reefs may hold crappie. Some green weeds help the situation, but are not necessary.

Tactics for wintertime crappie fishing Patience is necessary under normal circumstances while searching for crappie under the ice. However, forget about patience once you have located crappie. Keep moving until finding a few good holes, then switch from good hole to another good hole if action slows.

A steep drop-off from a point or reef can be a gold mine. Well, calico mine. Check the deeper water during the day with sonar. Look for suspended clusters of fish. Crappie may be suspended at several different depths at the same time. Some may be close to bottom.

Around nightfall, crappie will move up the drop-off onto the flat. Fishing can get hot even during the slowest times of midwinter.

Locating crappie suspended in deep water can provide fair to good fishing through the day. Key to this fishing is keeping a sonar transducer either in the hole you are fishing, or in a hole drilled less than a foot away. Watch constantly for fish signals, then adjust your jig accordingly.

You may, depending on your sonar, be able to watch the jig to get it to precisely the right depth.

In smaller lakes and reservoirs, some crappie will probably be suspended over deep holes, or in the case of dams, close to the dam. Here again the crappie should be evident on a sonar screen.

On large, flat-land lakes, any kind of irregular structure or cover might attract crappie. Try to find sunken creek channels, humps, cribs, sunken brush pikes and sunken roadbeds.

Patience is necessary under normal circumstances while searching for crappie under the ice. However, forget about patience once you have located crappie. Keep moving until finding a few good holes, then switch from good hole to another good hole if action slows.

Use your favorite jig tipped with bait. The better fishing normally comes in relatively short sessions, so do not waste time.

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