Early Ice Crappie
Want to load up on slab crappies? Then start drilling holes in the ice as soon as it’s thick enough to be safe. In Minnesota, where ice fishing fanatic Bob Bohland lives, that usually happens by the first week of December and sometimes earlier.
Why does the early ice yield the best crappie fishing? Three reasons.
1. the crappies are still active because their metabolism isn’t as slow as it will be later in the winter.
2. the crappies are feeding heavily in preparation for a long winter.
3. the crappie’s menu has been infused with a rash of young, bite-size bluegills and perch that measure 1 to 2 inches in length.
"Big crappies go insane for the little baitfish," Bohland says. "On a good day, I’ll catch 50 to 75 crappies."
Bohland generally photographs and releases his fish. He enjoys catching them for fun, and he also competes regularly in ice fishing tournaments.
In the summer, submerged aquatic vegetation grows from the shallows out to depths of 15 feet or more, depending on the water clarity. The dense greenery provides a safe haven where young-of-year bluegill and perch can escape crappies and other predators.
When the water temperature chills in autumn, the grass begins to die. By the time the early ice forms, there are fewer places for the young bluegill and perch to hide. They concentrate in small patches of grass on flats in 6 to 15 feet of water.
This is where crappie forge on the baitfish, and it’s where you can reap a harvest of slabs.
"The early crappie bite lasts until the ice gets 10 to 12 inches thick," Bohland says. "That gives you a window of two to four weeks before the bite tapers off."
Find Grass First
Bohland usually doesn’t drop a lure through the ice until he locates several grass patches that have crappie potential. He drills 50 to 100 holes over flats and looks for grass with a flasher depthfinder and an underwater camera.
"Coontail is one of the best weeds," Bohland says. "But anything that’s thick enough for minnows to hide in can be good."
When Bohland sees promising cover, he marks the hole as a waypoint on the hand-held GPS he wears around his neck. When he’s finished drilling holes, he goes back and fishes only the ones he has marked with waypoints.
Bohland also wears a pair of ice picks around his neck and a life vest. They allow him to claw his way to safety should he break through a thin spot in the early ice.
"I start with a big lure like the 1 1/3- or 1 3/4-inch Lindy Darter," Bohland says. “A big lure catches the biggest, most aggressive crappies during the early ice phase.”
The Lindy Darter is similar to lipless rattling crankbaits that are popular with bass fishermen. The Darter sports two treble hooks, a rattle chamber that mimics the sounds of distressed baitfish, and it has a vibrating action.
Bohland rips the Darter up 4 to 12 inches and lets it wobble down on a slack line. He repeats this two or three times to make the rattles sound off and attract crappies.
Then Bohland "pounds" the bait by working his rod as though he were pounding in a small nail with a hammer. He interrupts this with short pauses. Bohland also uses the same action when he fishes 1/16- and 3/16-ounce Lindy Rattl’N Flyer Spoons.
In stained water, he opts for bright colors, such as "Red Glow" and "Firetiger". Bohland favors natural perch and bluegill colors in clear water.
After Bohland picks off the more aggressive crappies with a Lindy Darter or Rattl’N Flyer Spoon, he switches to jigs to entice slow biters. Although many ice fishermen prefer jigs with #10 or #12 hooks, Bohland ups the anti with jigs molded on bigger #6 or #8 hooks.
One of Bohland’s mainstays is a Genz Techni-Glo Fat Boy jig dressed with a chewy, soft plastic Lindy Micro Mini Munchies Tiny Tail. The line eye protrudes from the top of the Fat Boy. This makes the lure hang horizontally in the water like a suspended minnow.
When Bohland wants to tempt crappies with a livelier presentation, he ties on a Lindy Bug dressed with a glob of spikes or wax worms. The flat faced back of the Lindy Bug not only allows Bohland to get great flasher feedback to know exactly what his lure is doing, but it also gives the lure a distinct kicking action that big crappie find irresistible.
Watching the Bite
Bohland always puts his flasher’s transducer into the hole while fishing so he can see his lure and how the crappies are reacting to it. He claims he can tell when a bite is imminent because two lines on his flasher come together when a fish approaches his offering.
"I’ve watched crappie swim up 10 feet or more to take a lure," Bohland says.
If a crappie approaches the lure but doesn’t nab it, Bohland coaxes a bite with a tactic he calls "the lift." He slowly pulls the lure up while gently shaking it. The crappie strikes because it doesn’t want the meal to get away.
When Bohland fishes in water no deeper than 5 feet, he ducks into a portable shelter that flips over him like a tent. This prevents the crappies from being spooked by skylight emanating from the hole. It also lets Bohland see into the water and watch the crappies react to his lure.
Patience is not a virtue when it comes to early ice crappies. If Bohland doesn’t get a bite on a Lindy Darter or Rattl’N Flyer Spoon in 2 minutes, he moves to another hole. Should he pick off a few slabs quickly, he switches to Fatboys or Bugs and fishes a little longer.
"I don’t want to sit there and coax crappies to bite," Bohland says. "I’m after the aggressive fish."
Any hole that produces crappies is marked with another waypoint. Bohland fishes other spots and gives the productive hole a rest. When he returns 15 or more minutes later, he is often greeted with more quick bites.
An 18- to 30-inch spinning rod matched with 2- to 4-pound test Lindy Ice Line handles Bohland’s ice fishing duties. He claims the super thin copolymer line doesn’t soak up water like monofilament. It stays limp for better lure action and greater sensitivity.
Listen to Bob Bohland's Audio Report, updated every Tuesday/Thursday
By: Lindy Team