Chasing crappie lies at the heart of fishing. They’re a delicious panfish that’s available all year round in the US.
For a smaller fish, they can put up a heck of a fight on light gear, providing memorable fishing fun for pros, weekend warriors, and family anglers.
It would be rare to find a dedicated angler who doesn’t enjoy the simple fishing pleasures of chasing crappie.
Even those who chase sharks and marlin revel in the chance to bait up a live minnow and fish for hours.
Fishing for crappie through the ice produces impressive results, as long as you know a few basics about locating them, bait and lure selection, and cold weather techniques.
Let’s check out a few useful tips and techniques when ice fishing for crappie, so you don’t brave the cold for a fishless adventure.
Ice Fishing Crappie – Beginner Tips
The first thing is safety. Never underestimate the dangers of extreme cold.
In fact, it doesn’t even have to get as cold as possible for icy conditions to become dangerous. Safety should be your first concern.
The list below has a basic list of safety and equipment.
You could write volumes about this; however, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, covering only the very basics.
To begin with, you must understand the ice, because falling through thin ice can dampen even the most enthusiastic angler’s spirits.
We won’t explain the complexities of the ice here.
The recommendation for those new to ice fishing is to get an introduction with an experienced ice angler to get a basic understanding of ice conditions and nuance.
While some investment is required here, it’s worth every cent and shouldn’t be compromised.
Ice fishing suits typically consist of a jacket and bib. Good ones will keep you comfortable in extreme cold for hours.
The better suits are waterproof and breathable and have flotation assistance built into the fabric. Both jacket and bib will have many convenient pockets for storing tackle.
Waterproof ice fishing boots are also essential and can be a little pricey. Buy the best you can afford, look for grip, and copious insulation.
Hats and gloves with a focus on extreme chilly conditions are essential. Even if you don’t wear them all the time you’re fishing.
Also Read: How Does Barometric Pressure Affect Ice Fishing
Basic Safety Gear
Always carry ice pics, and keep them with you at all times. You should always have a cell phone, or if service is unavailable, carry an emergency EPIRB that activates when submerged.
Backpack and Sled
Big treks across the ice are not uncommon when chasing crappie. A lightweight backpack and a sled to carry all of your gear make the process easier.
Remember, you could be carrying a hut, an ice auger, and fish-finding electronics, as well as your fishing gear.
An auger for drilling through the ice is essential when ice fishing for crappie.
Battery augers are great, as they are lighter than fuel-powered augers, and you don’t need to carry fuel.
It is also fine to use a good old manual auger, even if it is a little harder on the back.
Also Read: What is The Best Ice Auger for Fishing?
Fishing Finding Kit
Not essential, but very handy, particularly for fishing crappie. Local knowledge can be a great substitute for electronics, but as crappie school and move about, finding them can be made a lot easier with fish-finding gear.
You can either look into buying an ice fishing fish finder or a flasher. They both have their differences and pros and cons.
Pop-Ups & Rod holders
It’s very popular to have many holes equipped with lines and rods deployed on pop-ups and rod holders to deadstick.
This is up to you, but for panfish, I like to hold a rod and hunt.
I like feeling the bites and working a strike, rather than fish hooking themselves on pop-ups and set rods.
See Also: How To Sharpen Auger Blades
What Tackle to Use for Crappie Ice Fishing
There are countless combinations, but my advice is to not overthink it. This is not complicated fishing, and you are going to get good results with any lightweight outfit you have in your existing arsenal.
I like a lightweight rod between 26 and 30 inches, with a medium/light action. I use a 2500 spin reel for ice fishing, spooled with fluoro to 10 pounds.
My line choice is about sink rate and abrasion protection. I don’t bother about ice-specific fishing line. I use my mainline for trace.
I have standard terminal tackle with a focus on split shot options for weight. I also have small ball sinkers of equivalent size to the split shot.
Often I prefer a running ball sinker than the split shot, as I require a little heavier weight to reach depth faster.
I carry a selection of hook sizes 6 to 2. Any style that has a longer shank for easy baiting and fish removal.
I carry gold and silver spoons, of whatever design, and several different weights. Again, weight is about the depth I want to fish.
Where to Find Crappie in the Ice – locations to Search
There are two very fine rules to kick off your search. Firstly, when you are at the tackle shop getting your minnows, ask the proprietor.
These people get daily information from anglers and have their fingers on the local pulse. They can also guide you to productive locations.
Secondly, when you get to the lake, look for other anglers, and ask other anglers.
Be careful not to intrude or invade the space of others, but a collection of anglers can be a great indicator of a productive spot.
Another great option is to fish the locations you fished in the warmer months, even though crappie will move to winter-specific locations.
Make sure you get a sense of the structure and depths, as this information can be critical come winter.
Fish structure. There is no better tip. Structure can be anything from a weed bed, steep slope from the bank, drop off, reef channel, or channel edge.
Check out river mouths, and tributary mouths as well. Holes bends, and points are also meeting places for crappie.
Crappie can school up in several depths in the water column. Either use your flasher or explore all depths in any particular ice hole.
How Deep do Crappie Go in the Winter?
You’ll find crappie throughout the water column depending on location, weather, and time of the season.
The horrible truth is that crappie will be anywhere from 2 to 50 feet depending on the aforementioned variables.
This is where local knowledge or insight is pretty important.
Different locations have their own peculiarities. Even with fish-finding tech on board, some local insight can save a heck of a lot of time.
What is the Best Ice Fishing Jig/ Lures for Crappie?
This is a very local question. You will also get different responses from different anglers.
For all intent and purposes, this is not a fair question, as there are as many responses as there are anglers.
Depending on your location, crappie will respond to any number of jig and lure types, from soft plastics, lipless cranks, metal slices, and more.
Try anything that delivers its best action on a vertical jig. I’ve seen crappie caught on foil and a zipper tag mounted to a number 4 hook.
After 40 years of fishing, I’m convinced anglers are fussier about lures than the fish. There are exceptions, but that’s mostly true.
Ice Fishing for Crappie with Live Bait
There are countless old-school anglers such as myself who firmly believe there is no better bait than live bait.
Minnows are and will remain my first choice over any other bait at any time of the year.
Given a choice of the best lure available and a minnow, I’d go with the minnow every time for icebound crappie.
Grubs are great too; you just need to take care they don’t freeze to death before they’re deployed.
The Best time of Day to Catch Crappie
The best time of the day to ice fish for crappie is dawn and dusk. All fish species tend to be active at these times, not unlike us humans. Fish seem to like breakfast and dinner.
However, crappie can be caught throughout the day, even when the sun is at its highest and hottest. The bite is likely to be a little more spasmodic at this time, and far less predictable.
If it’s overcast, crappie will often remain quite active throughout the day, regardless of the time.
For those anglers keen to brave the evening temperatures, a nighttime crappie hunt can be very productive, however, live, or fresh natural baits are a must.
Crappie ice fishing is grassroots fishing. There’s a particular joy to hunting crappie, that’s just as wonderful when you’re frozen to the core after a 5 hour, bag limit session.
They’re a delicious feast, easy to prepare, and put up some sporting resistance on light gear that remains a thrill for anglers of all skill types.
You don’t need an ice cabin or snowmobile, or the fanciest kit on the planet. This is easy fishing, where the ice fishing tips above can get you amongst the delicious crappie.
Get some local information, stay warm and safe, and don’t overthink it, and you’ll be back year after year for more ice-bound crappie.
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