Unlock the Mystery of Winter Crappie!
By Walt & Poppee Matan
There is something mysterious about crappie. They are good fighters that are tricky to catch and even trickier to pull out the hole. Crappie will feed during low light periods and will return to popular haunts near dusk. Crappier are suspenders. They will find a spot at the weed edge, around fallen timber or even in open water, where food is plentiful and suspend there waiting with open mouths!
A good crappie area in a lake is a weedy bay. Early in the season and at last ice, crappie will be in as little as a few feet of water and as long as weeds are present, crappie will be too. As the season progresses, the best crappie spots in the bay are the edge of a drop-off. Green weeds are still key crappie ambush areas. Remember that the cleaner and clearer the water, the thicker and greener the weeds will be. Depths that fish may be found can vary anywhere from eight to thirty feet.
If the lake is dirty or stained, it can still be good crappie water. Even if there are no weeds at all, the drop off near a flats area is usually a good spot. Depth can vary anywhere from three to twelve feet. You need to find the depths where most of the other anglers are catching crappie. Talk to the guys at the local bait shop or try to get some info from guys on the lake. The best information you get from strangers on the ice will usually come from angers that are leaving.
Set up your tent near the edge of the weeds, but if no weeds are available you can build your own structure. Drill a series of holes around the tent and drop some Reel Weeds down the holes at the perimeter or your tent. Reel Weeds are plastic weeds on a string with a float attached on top. You can drop them in the holes around you and pretty soon fish will appear. You can easily move to another spot and take the structure with you!
Our tent of choice is the Frabill Trekker two man, it’s flip over design is great for one or two anglers. The Trekker is super warm and can be set up quick. It can be easily moved because of the easy sliding Glide Trax system. You can pull it around on foot, throwing all your gear in the sled base or you can hook it up to an ATV and zip around easily.
Inside your Trekker you’ll need two rods. Your first rod should be a dead stick, which is a very noodley soft rod that you rig with size 6 Custom Jigs Ratso and small minnow. When the crappie suck in the minnow, the rod will bend slowly and the hook will be set.
Our favorite dead stick is the Frabill 27” Bro Series Quick Tip Combo. This rod has a very slow/soft tip that you watch as the minnow dances around. You’ll need to rig up a rod holder inside your Trekker tent so that you can set this rod in and let the minnow do the work. You’ll also need to set the drag loose so that when a fish sucks it in, he’ll feel little resistance.
Your other rod should be actively jigged. Our Jigging rods are the ultra light Frabill Ice hunter 26” Quick Tip Walt & Poppee combos. We’re really excited about these rods! We designed these rods specifically for bluegill and crappie for fishing in a shelter. We have a few of these rods rigged with Frabill’s Spring Bobbers and tiny Custom Jigs while the larger Custom Jigs will be fished on rods rigged without spring bobbers.
The key to catching crappie is to find at what depth they are feeding. A good starting point is half way to bottom. If you are fishing in six feet, drop your jig down about three feetxand so on. The easiest and fastest way to catch these fish is with a good locator. Humminbirds Ice series ( Ice-55, Ice-45 and Ice-35 are tops!
If you drill a third hole between the holes you are fishing out of, you can drop the transducer of the Humminbird down the hole and see the action on both of your jigs. If two anglers are in the same tent and you only have one Humminbird, keep it in the hole between your jigging rods and put your dead sticks to the outside.
Custom Jigs & Spins Demons, Ratsos, Shrimpos and Demon Jigging Spoons are our favorite crappie jigs. We have several rods rigged and ready plus we use small FasSnap eyelets, which make for quick changing of jigs. Let’s look at some of the jigs we use.
The Demon is a very effective weapon that has been in ice anglers tackle boxes for more than 25 years! The Demon has a beetle shaped body and comes in two–toned glow colors as well brightly colored two-tone colors with nickel spoon backs. The Demon hangs vertically and when tipped with a few spikes or a waxworm is really effective. The Demon is available in sizes 12, 10, 8, 6 and 4. Match the size of the jig to the aggressiveness of the fish.
The Demon Jigging Spoon is a new style of Demon that works totally different. The Demon Jigging Spoon (DJS) is best used loaded with spikes on the red treble or a small minnow head. The DJS is for aggressive crappie that are actively feeding. Work it a little faster than the regular Demon that many fish will suck in on the fall. You can also use the DJS to attract fish in and then quickly switch rods to catch the crappie on the regular Demon.
The Ratso and Shrimpo are unique in that no live bait is necessary, since they are both equipped with Finesse Plastic. You can add a spike or a waxworm for confidence, but once the bite is on, bait is definitely not needed! The Ratso rides horizontal and imitates a small minnow. As you twitch your rod tip the Ratso will hop and dart like it’s scared.
The Shrimpo hangs vertically, but the Finesse Plastic tail will float out horizontally. The Shrimpo imitates a daphnia or freshwater shrimp that crappie feed heavily upon. The Shrimpo could just be the most effective ice jig for crappie ever invented, just ask the crappie!
Well there you have it. The right location coupled with the right equipment and of course a good supply of crappie jigs will make this season more productive.
Walt & Poppee Matan have developed dozens of styles of ice jigs over the years. Custom Jigs & Spins is the largest manufacturer of ice jigs in the world; chances are you’ve got a few in your tackle box!