ice fishing for crappies
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First Ice Slabs
by Rick Olson

Getting in on early ice slab crappie action, is a simple as one, two, three.

  • One; If you want to catch slab crappies, you better be angling over waters with the capabilities to produce big fish.
  • Two; Once youíve settled on a body of water, you have to find them.
  • And
  • three; You must put together a presentation that will entice the wariest of the species.

Jon's Crappie In regards to One, good crappie water isnít all that hard to find. Great crappie water, on the other hand, is a different story. Good crappie lakes can produce tons of small, to medium sized fish, but rarely give up more than a few of the really giant slabs.

Those are the fertile lakes, that are generally characterized by possessing darker water, indicating a high fertility content, and plenty of shallow, feeding and spawning areas.

There is nothing wrong with targeting lakes like the aforementioned, as they can provide plenty of action, and tons of fun. They also provide a terrific venue for earning an ice fishing degree. Nothing can replace the time spent, finding and catching fish.

By spending time on the numbers lake, the job of finding and catching fish becomes much easier. By spending more time caching, and less time looking, you soon learn how crappies relate to structure, as well as seasonal movements, and little subtleties in presentations that can keep your pole bent.

2 plus pound crappieGreat crappie lakes are usually a little less fertile, and donít produce nearly as many fish. They still have what it takes to support a varied, and plentiful, food supply, but support much fewer predators. The combination of enough feeding opportunities, with a limited amount of consumers, makes ideal conditions for producing real slabs. With little competition, crappies grow fast, fat, and happy. Upper Red Lake in Minnesota is an ideal example. (Photo courtesy of Hudec's Resort)

The answer to Two, is the most difficult piece of the puzzle to place, and accounts for over ninety percent of the equation. Generally, if you can find them, you can catch them.

One of the keys to success, is concentrating your time in high percentage areas, where youíre chances of contacting crappies are better than even.

High percentage spots, like the mouths to shallow bays, are top early season producers, and a great place to start your search. Shallow bays play the role of nursery to all kinds of minnows, and baitfish, that spend most of the summer and early fall, living and growing in the relative safety that shallow water and cover can provide.

However, by the time the first layers of ice develop, a mass exodus occurs, which leads all of that food, out of the bay, and directly into the path of predators, waiting for their supper to come to them.

The mouths of shallow bays, where they join the main lake, are the spots to look for, especially if there is deep water in the immediate area. Deep water may be defined by depths of fifteen feet, or more, and preferably deeper.

To find out if thereís any crappies in the neighborhood, scan the entire area with an electronic depth finder, and look for a group of fish, holding off the bottom. Crappies spend most of their lives suspended, and are easily marked. They tend to hold tightly together, and move in unison, as a school, or pack.

When you get on them, they show up as multiple marks, instead of just one or two. An electronic depth finder, like the Raytheon L265, can be read, by pouring a little water on the surface, holding the transducer tight to the ice, and shooting directly through the ice. You can find breaks, structure, and fish, without ever drilling a hole.

If youíre on a likely looking area, make sure your search is a thorough one, before you give up and head for greener pastures. Donít expect to find fish stacked to the ceiling, and more likely, you may find a little school hear, and maybe another over there. They may be anywhere along a break, and may even be holding out, away from any break or structure, suspended over deep water.

The only way to find them is to keep moving and looking, and not stopping until you start to mark fish. Once youíve marked a few fish, itís time to drill some holes and wet a line. When drilling holes, try to open a few directly over the fish, as well as few in either direction, including deeper and shallower.

Crappies seem to have a hard time standing still for any length of time, and you can usually expect them to move. They may not move far, but they will move, especially if some of their brothers and sisters come up missing. By drilling a few extra holes, you can stay with them as they make minor shifts in location.

Finding first ice crappies is the tough part, while catching them, is usually easy. However, there are a few things to consider, when putting together a first ice game plan.

Although crappies have the ability to forage on a variety of food sources, finding exactly what they want on any given day, is the challenge. The key is being prepared to offer them a couple of dining options.

Minnows are the standard, and it usually pays to have a few with. Smaller crappie minnows are the ticket, and can be rigged below a small float with a plain hook, or tiny ice fly. The problem with the rig is the fact that it is a little too slow, especially when fish are on the move.

A better option may be using a small jigging spoon, tipped with a piece of minnow. Another option would be the use of a tiny jig, tipped with a waxie, minus the float.

Getting a bait down the hole is a lot quicker, when you donít have to wait for the line to work itís way through a slip bobber. The spoon wins the speed race, but on any given day, crappies may demand the subtle presentation of a micro jig and waxie set up.

Another option is to set up a float and minnow combination, and keep an eye on it, while moving hole to hole with a jig.

Whatever it takes.

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