In Praise of Early Winter Crappies

In Praise Of Early Winter Crappies

The right combination makes for super-slab fun on the ice!

I get fired up about ice fishing from my first trip of the winter to the last late-ice escapade. But there’s something special about hitting the ice when your quarry is on a rampage. And such was the case last week, when son Jake and I ventured out for a late-afternoon panfish trip on a local lake.

The setup was classic. Crappies and bonus bluegills were schooled over a soft-bottomed midlake flat that tapers gradually from 16 to 20 feet deep in the space of roughly three football fields. Depths of 17 to 19 feet held the most fish, which were milling around within a foot of bottom.

On a side note, there’s a 50-foot hole half a mile away. But neither the hole nor its surrounding structure has ever yielded so much as a blip on the sonar. I imagine the food supply must be better on the shallower flat than in the abyss. In fact, a pair of similar deep flats farther down the lake also hold panfish, so they must offer finer dining on insects, zooplankton and baitfish than the sterile deeper water.

Jake and I might have fished the farther-flung flats, too, except we were hoofing it. Ice depths weren’t quite up to our comfort level for risking life and ATV, so we walked close to half a mile to our destination. Such hikes provide ample incentive to pack light. And indeed, we limited gear to a few rods, two sonars, an Aqua-Vu Micro camera, small bait bucket and conservative inventory of jigs and spoons.

The hot ticket turned out to be a 1/16-ounce Lindy Frostee Jigging Spoon tipped with a down-facing minnow head, pinched off a quarter inch behind the gills. I used a new Frabill Straight Line 371 Bro Series Combo, spooled with 5-pound PowerPro Ice Tec braided mainline, capped with a 4-pound Sufix Invisiline Ice fluoro leader. A variety of braids and fluoros from Berkley, Northland and other companies also hold water, but I was working on gear coverage for North American Fisherman and wanted to give these new lines a try. Both worked great, as did the Frabill 371.

Anyway, when suspended four to five feet above the mob and animated with aggressive, 4- to 6-inch jig strokes, the spoon and minnow called crappies up like a charm. The fish would race up, and when they closed to within a foot or less, a little slower jiggling while raising the bait sealed the deal.

The spoon program works wonders on hungry crappies throughout winter, but early and late ice are my favorite times to use it. Give it a shot on your local lakes this week and with luck, you’ll soon be enjoying a fine early winter fish fry like we did.

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