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Updated 2012


By John A. Vance, Environmental Eng. Tech.,
& Outdoor Writer (member Outdoor Writers of Canada) and 'pro guide' emeritus
All photo's here are copyrighted and property of John A. Vance and no reproduction of them or this article in whole or in part can be reproduced without his express written permission. It is for the use of ALL FISHER-FOLK's personal use (not for financial gain of commercial entities) - and is presented here as a 'sportsman-like' gesture  -  for the betterment of all other fellow crappie and 'gill fishers -free of charge -enjoy!

Note for 2012 update- I now have audio instructional Cds available for ice fishing and crappie and bluegill fishing so you can learn to be a very skilled fisher. These are just new for 2012, and I'm adding to the list of subjects all the time. They are NOT fancy, nor are they about me bragging about all the fish I catch – they ARE the info you need to have to be a top notch contender! Listen/learn while you're driving to work – or at home or anywhere you wish! They are in the first person – like I'm your fishin' bud sitting right beside you and looking you right in the eye as I tell you what you need to know about a variety of topics/subjects! Email me for a list of titles/subjects and availability and pricing as they are not listed on my web site yet. These are a great and easy way to learn – and especially valuable for those of us that don't like to read books! - John A. Vance

Ice fishing for crappie is a real hoot - but 'ice crappie' especially, can truly be a challenge! Most of the time when ice fishing for crappie you'll catch an array of fish - whatever is in the water you are fishing, so you need to be prepared to catch 'em! 

 I've taken thousands of bluegills, both large & smallmouth bass, hordes of  perch and hundreds of trout - and likely thousands of walleye - while fishing for slab crappie. Especially it seems, that ice fished weed-line crappie are often found near walleye in many mid to large lakes. The point here is that crappie specialists are going to catch lots of other fish, and from what I see - if you can catch crappie with consistency - you can catch any fish going!  If you can be consistent at catching crappie - including when ice fishing for crappie, you to will likely declare as I have, that crappie are truly 'a fisherman's fish'!

Luckily for us ice fishermen, when fishing crappie, one of the secondary 'most often' catches is the very lively and 'bullish' bluegill.  These 'gills are also excellent eating.  'Gills are regarded by most of us, to say the very least, as great a 'bonus' fish. Bluegills are most often simply called 'gills by most ardent followers and fishers of bluegills - and make no mistake about it - 'gills are not shabby - and have saved my butt many times when crappie just weren't to be found or caught - 'long live the bluegill'!

If you are already an ardent crappie fisherman, or should I say crappie ice fisherman, you don't really need any convincing - so we'll get right down to what you need to know! I'M DEALING WITH LARGE SLAB CRAPPIE IN THIS ARTICLE - GENERALLY SPEAKING, YOU'LL CATCH SMALLER CRAPPIE IN CLOSER TO SHORE - I often simply refer to these as 'weedline' crappie!
Perhaps the most important key to catching crappie, and especially slab crappie, and here we're dealing primarily with ice fishing for crappie at that - is finding 'em!  Sad-to-say, this important factor is where most ice fishing crappie fishers ( and for the most part - at all seasons) fall down. In most lakes or ponds, crappie under the ice will be in the warmest water they can find! And just where's that, you may fairly ask? This is a huge topic all by itself, and while we'll only basically deal with it here, if you want more in-depth information, I'd recommend that you get my book ICE FISHING BASICS and my  crappie fishing book "Just Crappie"  for more fascinating information dealing with this! So where's the warm water when the water is frozen over? If you are a 'local' ( to the water body you intend on fishing) you will know what area generally, of the water body has the largest mass of water in it - this is usually where the water freezes last - and generally this is where you'll find the warmest water. It'll (usually) be down a ways, but it will be down there. Of course there will also be other warm water in most water bodies too, but as mentioned - a huge subject - and I again recommend you purchase my "Ice Fishing Basics" book  and/or my "Just Crappie" book  for far more indepth info than I'm prepared to present here on this webpage.
If you have a decent fish finder, your task of determining where crappie are will be immensely easier. Never-the-less, the best single method to find crappie under the ice is by actually fishing a hole in the ice.  When you're actually doin' it, by  trying various levels right from bottom, or from ( not deeper than, usually) fifty feet deep, whichever comes first, and onward right up to just below the ice itself.  It's worth noting that smaller crappie will generally be found in shallower water closer to shore.  Often,  crappie can be  found in large and mid sized water out in shallower water near sunken islands, shallow flats etc. in these larger water bodies.  Sometimes in these instances – they are not necessarily close to shore at all. These places, sometimes also simply called 'humps' may be surrounded by quite deep water. Find weedline crappie in the shallower water closest to the top of such a hump, and the slabs out a bit deeper.


Crappie & bluegill bait and tackle!
Be sure you have light line and small ice fishing jigs, even for slab crappie, and especially when ice fishing crappie. Most fish species, with only a few exceptions, take smaller offerings when the water's hard. I prefer a size eight hook, and proportionate ice jig for most slab crappie, and when the going is tough during a neutral or negative bite, I don't hesitate to go down to size ten and twelve, and in neutral or negative bite situations, I will OFTEN use an ice jig with a horizontal presentation. Once you actually find slabs, then switch over to a size 6 or four hook as they'll easily rip out a small jig due to their brittle mouth. I cover this more extensively in both my already mentioned books.

If you are using minnows- and I've found myself leaving the minnow bucket home more and more often when crappie and 'gill fishing over the past several years - use minnows no longer than inch and a half in length( if you can)My choice of 'store bought' LIVE bait for ice fishing crappie are wax worms, mousies and maggots. I like the maggots best when ice crappie are neutral or negative and use the wax worms likely 75 % of the time when using 'store bought' bait! Mousies are fine, but in my neck-of-the-woods are tough to get regularly - and so I do OK without 'em most of the time! But assuredly - there is a free bit of bait that I use more than any of these previously mentioned 'store bought' baits - you need to buy my "Ice Fishing Basics"  - and once you do so - you'll save more money in bait than the cost of the book in short order - and improve your overall catch too boot!
When fishing an ice hole at various depths, I  like to use a thread slip bobber stop to help me with depth marking on my line - quick, easy, cheap and accurate! (TIP = Folks not using or having a depth finder unit should heed this last method - big time!) Once I find the level crappie are at while using this 'thread marker' method, I can go right back to the 'kill zone' quickly and stay right on 'em. VERY OFTEN, but alas, not always, if I find bluegills ALSO suspended in deeper water. When this is the case, and if they are together I often find the slabs down about five feet deeper - just bellow the bluegills.  This happens regularly and the fact is, this does happens enough to cause me to be very attentive when you find 'gills out in deeper water - and when they're suspended - look for the slabs a few feet below!
Generally I like to stay focused on my line - intently focused - but by the end of a day I may slack it a bit and use a ( full) slip bobber rig to help me determine a bite which can be incredibly subtle and light when crappie are neutral or negative. Indeed, your line may  slowly move around the hole, or even go slack, and if using a slip bobber it may simply come up and lie on its side - indicating a bite - fish on!

WE HAVE TO PRACTICE CONSERVATION, but in some waters, especially small lakes and ponds, crappie and especially bluegills and pumpkinseeds will get overpopulated and stunted out. Either increase fishing pressure or by taking more fish out of these locations to have fewer but larger fish overall, will beneficial; this often takes several years to accomplish. Once can also put larger predator fish such as walleye, pike or musky in the lake or pond to take down the large numbers of smaller fish!  I don't recommend putting pike in such a place. Pike can spread worms/parasites in fish - and if they breed  - they can almost decimate a smaller lake/pond of fish, pronto!

Horizontal presentation will no doubt be new terminology for many fishers, and this 'lingo' is simply describing how the ice fishing jig, or any jig for that matter, hangs when suspended off bottom at the end of your line. Fish seem to take a lure/jig with a live bait offering more quickly when they are in the neutral or negative bite mode. This neutral or negative bite mode is when you know fish are there and may be all around your bait, but just don't seem interested in biting. The horizontal presentation of how your jig is 'hanging' or presented seems to be more subtle to the fish.  Often you can coax them into biting when using a lure with horizontal presentation over a more standard vertical 'hang' of the lure/bait. If you take a jig and tie it onto your line and let it dangle and it hangs with the hook's shank straight down, it is vertical; but if it sits with the shank of the hook horizontal, then it has a horizontal presentation. Too, it should be noted that such a 'horizontal' jig, when thrummed or triggered LIGHTLY - AS IT SHOULD BE - NO HERKY-JERKY STUFF HERE PLEASE - it will transmit the light jiggling action very well and is wonderfully seductive to a fish! NOTE: This is sometimes called 'pounding' by some outdoor writers. This is no doubt  one of the reasons these ( horizontal) jigs work so well under these 'tough going' situations!  The SUNFISH JIGS AND TEETER TOTTER JIGS  FOUND HERE AND ONLY HERE WITH MY UNIQUE AND VERY SPECIFIC (EXCLUSIVE) GLOW On BLACK CONCEPTS -DO HAVE A HORIZONTAL PRESENTATION! When ordering, and you have questions about a product, do not hesitate to contact me by email - that's what I'm here for - and I'll gladly answer any questions you may have.

If you have enjoyed this write up, then you are a true fisher - and I urge you to surf-out ( right here at this web site where you are right now) more info on, and ultimately  buy my "Ice Fishing Basics" or "Just Crappie" book(s) - where we go much more in-depth on all aspects of ice fishing - and why we do what we do. - both these books will save you money and time - and will pay for themselves quickly!

  Click here for more info on my "Ice Fishing Basics" Book! 

Click here to purchase my "Just Crappie" book

  Click here for EXTENSIVE info on 'HOW TO' use Ticks, teeter totter and sunfish jigs effectively!

Author: John A. Vance
Copyright © 1998 John A. Vance. . . 

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