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Patterning Crappie Through the Ice–Pay Attention to ‘Prime Time’

Understanding when to target crappies through the ice AND information about jigging for crappies in high percentage areas during "primetime"

To some panfish anglers, the crappie is often considered a favorite due to the fact that they can be so elusive compared to bluegills and perch.  There is a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from locating a school of “slabs”, recognizing a pattern, and ultimately catch them in numbers.

One of the largest reasons that crappie are difficult to target with consistent success is because of their roaming and nomadic nature during daytime hours.  They tend to be in a restful state and suspended within the water column within the nearest basin at varying depths.

Like those who chase walleyes, serious crappie anglers are well-aware of an almost nocturnal-like feeding behavior that exists in the black crappie.  They fully understand that to increase the odds of success, crappie patterns on a body of water are most readily established by those who are setup on their locations and drilled in AT LEAST an hour BEFORE sunrise or sundown.

Where are they?
As lowlight conditions present themselves during these specific hours of “primetime”, a solid pattern reveals itself in the way crappies will respond to diminished light. Under the ice they will begin to school up and feed ferociously along the edges of weedbeds, on weedlines and on mud-based humps and points.

Crappie are the top of the food chain in the panfish category. The reason they feed heavily in weedy areas is that they are targeting bite-sized morsels in the form of young of the year perch, bluegill, and minnows using the weeds as a refuge shelter.  Insect larvae is the meal of choice for crappies on bodies of water which contains mud-based substrate structure.

It’s true that the weedlines can be somewhat expansive and weedbeds near deep water can be vast. However, the angler who’s done their homework and has and understanding of inside turns–their location relative to weed cover and how they are positioned against weed and mud flats–will be the most successful individuals on the ice when it comes to consistently catching crappie.

Inside turns are generally next to those deep water basin areas that crappie relate to during the day time. When “primetime” hits, crappies will congregate and use inside turns as a major migratory route to funnel into the aforementioned areas to feed.

The best way to setup on an inside turn
Locating the GPS coordinates of inside turns on a quality topographic paper map or by using online mapping software and transferring those waypoints to your handheld GPS unit will put you at the center of the crappie funnel.

When the angler arrives prior to “primetime”, they will best be served to drill in with their hand or power auger directly on top of the centralized waypoint on an inside turn.  From ‘Crappie Central’ the angler should drill holes in some form of radial pattern resulting in jigging holes positions about 5-10 yards apart. *SEE ATTACHED PHOTO*

Necessary Crappie Equipment
Vexilar:  A Vexilar flasher unit is an essential tool to targeting crappie as they will move into your ‘crappie central’ target zones at different depths depending on a multitude of conditions (i.e. water clarity, snow cover or lack thereof, depth of the water column, location of prey within the water column, etc.)  Your “primetime location” might be the right position on the lake but crappies may come into feed close to the bottom one night and the next night they may be 10 feet down over 20 feet of water on your inside turn.  Without a flasher, many anglers simply drop their presentation to the bottom and turn the handle of the reel a few times and continuously target the bottom 6 feet of the water column.  A Vexilar keeps you from dropping your presentation past the noses of active fish in a crappie school.

Proper Rod:  Many crappie anglers make the mistake in thinking that to land more of their crappie bites, an ultralight, “noodle-style” rod is the preferred setup for detecting the subtle bite of the crappie.  However rods that are too limber in their action are slower to load and will actually cause you to detect less of your bites and result in too many fish that pull off due to poor hook penetration.  A high module, tapering, graphite rod that features a spring bobber like that of the Jason Mitchell signature series, is the best application for night time crappie fishing.

Line:  1-2# line provides all the subtle sensitivity and strength needed for reliable crappie fishing.  Using 1-2# FireLine Micro Ice Fused Crystal tied directly to your presentation provides the advantage of a smaller line diameter.  With the diminished water resistance the angler will gain more sensitivity and more control over their presentation.

Maintaining similar levels of sensitivity by using FireLine Micro Ice Fused Original paired stealthy to an attached leader of 1-2# P-Line FloroIce is the actual set-up I’ve been using lately with more and more confidence. 

Jigs: White and red glow jigs get the call at the business end most frequently.  Red glow jigs like the K & E Moon Glow Jigs tend to glow the longest and strongest, while their white glow jigs emit the brightest presentation.  Water clarity on the given body of water you’re fishing will dictate which the fish prefer.  Given a choice between the two, white has produced the most consistently night after night.

Tipping your jig with a fathead minnow head, soft plastic, or a single wax worm or spike are all options to try once you’ve marked the fish.

BONUS TIP
To instantly achieve exponential success in the area you’ve chosen to set-up, and discern at what depth crappies are most active on a given day/night, utilize tip-downs with crappie minnows in other holes as deadstick presentations.  In Wisconsin we are allowed to utilize 3 lines per angler.  Setting up 2 tip-downs while staying mobile and jigging is a great way to draw fish to an area and even turn neutral/negative fish into biters as minnows on a deadstick represent the closest presentation to natural you can get.

Implement the information within this post and let me know if it proves to be successful during your next crappie trip!

Chad Leton's blog is an extension of his youth guide service HookedUp101 Fishing Academy which serves Southeastern & Central Wisconsin.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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