The middle of winter can be a challenging time for ice anglers.
The hot early-ice bite has passed and most good fishing spots and the fish that live there have seen a steady stream of baits dropped and dangled in front of them. One bite, however, that is often good this time of the year is a deep-water basin bite for crappies.
This bite revolves around crappies roaming deep basins searching for food. While these fish are roamers, they often stay in the same general areas. For that reason, anglers can often return to productive areas they found on prior trips and then drill holes to pinpoint the school.
Lots of the basin areas I fish are in the 20-30 foot depth ranges, some of the deepest water available in my favorite crappie lakes. Other lakes, however, have deeper basins where crappies roam.
As mentioned earlier, a key to this fishing is locating fish by drilling holes. A quality ice auger that starts when needed and quickly cuts holes is necessary for this search.
Another important equipment consideration is the use of a flasher sonar unit. Sonar allows me to see bottom, bait, and any fish approaching it. This is especially important when fishing crappies as these fish are notorious for suspending in the water column and coming through at various depths. Being able to see the fish on sonar allows me to quickly make adjustments to the level the bait is fished at.
I have been using an FL-18 Vexilar flasher and love it because it’s easy to use, has a nice zoom feature and also has good target ID so I can pick out individual fish to target with my bait when several crappies from a school appear at once.
The final component comes in presenting the right baits in the right fashion. Small jigging spoons tipped with waxworms or minnow heads are pretty standard fare for catching winter slabs. In fact, a 1/16-ounce Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon tipped with either waxies or a small minnow head is one of my favorites.
The new UV Buck-Shot is an even deadlier crappie bait as the enhanced coloration of these lures make them more visible in low light, which is perfect for basin crappies as they often bite good at day’s end and into the evening. The Pink Tiger and Electric Perch patterned UV Buck-Shots have quickly become my crappie favorites.
Jigging spoons are proven crappie producers, especially when the fish are aggressive. When the bite is tougher, I like to reduce the size of my baits and for that, nothing beats tungsten baits. Denser than lead baits, tungsten-made baits are small in profile yet they fish “heavy.” That is very important when several crappies come through, one is caught, and I quickly want to get back down to the school to catch more.
Tipping tiny tungsten offerings with waxworms has been the norm for me, until this year. I committed to giving scented, soft artificial baits a thorough workout and have been really impressed with the results. I have been sliding a glo white Impulse Tapeworm on a glow red 1/16-ounce Tungsten Fire-Ball UV Jig, and that combination has out-fished any offering using live bait I have fished against it.
I like to pound the bait with short but aggressive rod movements and when fish come in and can be seen on the flasher, I raise the bait above them and get ready for the bite.
Light line spooled on an ultra-light rod and reel combination fitted with a spring bobber completes this set-up. The spring bobber is important for detecting light crappie bites. Often the bobber straightens as a crappie hits from below, and a quick, crisp hook-set leads to a nice fight from a scrappy slab.
Head to the basin of your favorite crappie lake and employ some of the tips suggested and you can probably get in on the mid-winter crappie fun.
As always, good luck on the ice and consider including a youngster in your next outdoors adventure.
Mike Frisch is co-host of Fishing of the Midwest TV and a multi-species Minnesota fishing guide, view the website: wwwfishingthemidwest.com or follow Fishing the Midwest on Facebook for more information.