JIG IT UP

JIG IT UP: John Crane jigged up this winter crappie during an ice fishing excursion. 

Mid-winter can be one of the best times to locate and “stay on” on crappies. Though the fish are often in predictable areas during this time, getting them to bite can be a bit challenging. Here are some thoughts on where to — first — find mid-winter crappies and — second — on ways to tempt them into biting.

Mid-winter crappies are often found roaming deep basins searching for food. Basin areas in some of the shallow lakes I fish might be in the 15- to 25-foot depth ranges. On other lakes with deeper waters, the basins that hold fish will often be deeper too.

While crappies often roam a particular basin, a good basin one year will often be a good basin the next year too. For that reason, anglers can often return to productive areas they found in previous winters or on previous trips and drill holes in the same vicinity to pinpoint schools.

Moving about a basin and quickly drilling holes to find those schools is key and this is where having a sharp, reliable ice auger helps. The K-Drill auger I use works great for searching as it’s super lightweight and is powered by a cordless electric drill, so with a charged battery, it’s a reliable starter.

Another important part of a successful basin crappie search is the use of a quality flasher sonar unit. Sonar allows anglers to “see” any crappies roaming a basin and, since crappies often suspend, is helpful in effectively presenting a bait in the water column at the level the fish are found.

I use the FLX-20 flasher because it does a great job of helping me locate fish and has ¼-inch separation allowing me to easily distinguish individual fish and my bait when the fishing starts. This is important as crappies often appear several at a time and “separating” them as they appear on sonar helps catch them!

Finding roaming crappies is obviously important. The challenge then becomes getting them to bite. Sometimes the fish are aggressive and can be caught on small jigging spoons tipped with minnow heads or waxworms and worked aggressively. A 1/16-ounce jointed pinhead mino spoon is my favorite as it comes in all the right colors and its jointed design, and the action that design provides, often makes it appealing to crappies.

Spoons are favorites as they appeal to bigger fish and the aggressive ones. At times, however, crappies require more finesse. This is when small tungsten jigs get the nod. In fact, a small tungsten drop-kick jig tipped with either waxworms or a small panfish plastic has put lots of crappies on the ice when the fish refused other lures. Pink, red, and white jig and plastic color combinations have worked well for me when finicky crappies are encountered.

I usually start a fishing day jigging a spoon and go to the tungsten jig if the fish won’t cooperate. These jigging methods are, however, only one part of my 1-2 winter crappie set up. The other involves a simple crappie minnow fished on a plain hook beneath a bobber with some split shot weights added to the line about a foot or so above the hook.

This “do nothing” approach is often effective when fish are attracted to a jigging bait but refuse to eat it. Often, these fish simply slide over to, and inhale, the minnow!

If getting fish to inhale your baits this winter is a goal, consider targeting crappies. By heading to the basin of your favorite panfish lake and employing the tips suggested you can probably find and catch some mid-winter slabs right now. As always, good luck on the ice and remember to include 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: www.fishingthemidwest.com to see more from Fishing the Midwest.

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