Ontario Ice Fishing

"Tackle Tips for Icing Winter Crappies"

By
Justin Hoffman

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Ice Fishing Tackle

Clockwise from top: Forage Minnow, Power Honey Worm, Genz Worm and Marmooska jig.

When it comes to ice fishing, my number one quarry is the crappie. This specie can give an angler endless action throughout the day, a great fight on light gear, and of course, can provide a tasty meal at the end of a long stint spent on the ice. Targeting crappies certainly isn't considered rocket science, but there are certain techniques and baits that can greatly increase your odds for success.

Lures and Baits

After spending many seasons chasing crappies, certain lures and techniques have consistently produced above average results.

Although many folk have their own tactics and tricks, my personal favourite would be jigging with a small spoon. To be more precise, a Northland Forage Minnow spoon. This small metal bait, (1/16oz. being the size to use), has accounted for more crappies over the years than all other baits combined. Fish seem to jump all over this lure, and it has a way of triggering both active and inactive fish. Silver is my first choice in clear water, with any of the bright colours mandatory when dealing with the murky stuff.

Working this spoon is quite rudimentary. Simply lower it down to the desired depth, and proceed to give small and gentle lifts and raises. Once back at its original position, pause for roughly ten seconds, then repeat the motions again. The majority of fish will hit on the pause, either smacking it like a runaway train, or gently mouthing it. If the latter is the case, many times you won't realize you have a fish until your next lift of the rod.

For tipping, I've had success with two different techniques. If you have access to livebait, a small portion of minnow, (I find the tail section works best for its hardiness), impaled on one of the hook points is very effective. A pair of sharp scissors in necessary for this task, and one minnow will usually last a full day.

For those that aren't interested in fussing with livebait, simply use a Berkley Powerbait Power Honey Worm. The scent and texture of these are just like the real thing, and are mainstays in my tackle bag come winter. Remember to routinely change the honey worm, in order to get a fresh smelling target in front of the fish. Experiment with colours, but you can't go wrong with natural and yellow.

Another bait that has worked well, especially on those fish that have a severe case of lockjaw, is the Marmooska jig by HT. This small jig with the single hook seems to appeal to BIG fish, making it a great go-to bait when cold front conditions roll in, or hotspots get a heavy pounding from the crowds. The chartreuse, orange and white combination has been a personal favourite on my home waters, but taking the time to experiment can often reap great rewards in the area you reside in.

Tipping options for this horizontal-at-rest bait include a small scrap of minnow, half a power honey worm, or live maggots or wax worms.

Fish seem to prefer a shaking or quivering motion with this style of jig, with random pauses thrown in for good measure. As with any of these lures, a slight hook set or lifting motion is all that is needed to get a hook into the paper-thin mouths of these fish.

Two other jigs that can't be left off the list are the Genz Worm and Fat Boys, both made by Lindy. Much like the Marmooska, these horizontally lying baits can get you into some mean-spirited fish. Look for the techni-glo finish, especially for those that chase crappies during the dusk and nighttime feedings. As with the Marmooska, tipping options and technique are pretty much standard.

Another slab falls for the Marmooska jig!

The Importance of Line and Rod

Using the right baits is the first step, however, having the right setup is imperative. As you may have noticed, the baits I have discussed are extremely small in stature. Without utilizing the appropriate line and rod, your fish catching ability will certainly be ineffective.

Two-pound test mono is a mainstay on my reels when chasing crappie. This ultra thin and limp line will allow me to work these miniscule baits to their utmost ability, while also fooling these line-shy fish. Heavier line will impede the action of your lure, resulting in less fish being hooked throughout the day. Two-pound test is more than enough to handle even the biggest slab you will tie into, as long as drags are set loose and an ultralight rod is part and parcel of the package.

Utilizing an ultralight rod gives the angler feel, sensitivity and action when fishing for panfish. A 24-inch micro or ultralight rod is my weapon out on the ice, and they have yet to let me down.
Pairing up this part of your equipment will make the whole package come together. (Lets face it - there's no point in using a small lure and thin line, if you're going to rig up with a medium-heavy ice rod! Compatibility needs to be adhered to in order to get into the fish.)

Many fish will hit the Forage Minnow on the pause, either mouthing it or smashing the bait hard

Tips for Success
- Use a Vexilar or other similar flasher unit. Crappies are prone to suspend in the water column, making them difficult to locate without the use of these underwater eyes.
- Use a camera flash, or specially made Tazer light to illuminate phosphorescent lures.
- Work your lure above the eyesight of crappies. They will come up for a bait, but will rarely swim down to get one.
- Move around. Don't be content to let the fish come to you. You might be waiting for a long time.
- Downsize your bait when fishing becomes slow.
- Depending on the body of water, crappie can feed actively throughout the entire day. Some lakes or rivers have a morning or afternoon bite, whereas others will only produce during the dusk and early evening time frame. Evaluate your lake in order to figure out the type of bite you have.
- Portable huts allow for ease of mobility, and a warm environment to fish in. These two factors alone will increase your chance for success ten-fold