John's Journal...


Ice Fishing

Editor’s Note: Bob Jones from Piqua, Ohio, fishes the crappie circuits and is as addicted to crappie fishing as a birddog is to finding quail. Unlike most crappie fishermen who sit next to the fire during the winter months, Jones goes out and tries to find papermouths even in the worst weather. Where he lives in Ohio, often the lakes will freeze up. But luckily for the last few years he's found open water, even in January. He may not be so lucky this year with all the ice and snow storms in his part of the country since the first of the year. This week Jones will give his tactics for catching crappie through the ice.

When I go ice fishing, I go to the lakes where I regularly fish. I know where the structure is in them because I've marked it with my GPS (global positioning system) hand-held receiver. I don't use my depth finder, although many fishermen do, to locate structure and the fish through the ice. When my fishing buddies and I arrive at the spot we want to fish, we use the B'n'M Sharp Shooter poles, a new pole that B'n'M came out with last year. You can buy this pole in 4-1/2-, 5- or 5-1/2-foot sizes. When we're fishing through the ice, we like the 4-1/2-foot pole. We vertical jig with either a 1/8- or a 1/4-ounce weight at the bottom of the line and two ice jigs tied up further on the line and tipped with a wax worm.

If you're going to ice fish for crappie, before you leave home, call the lake. Make sure you have safe ice. Generally most of the bait shops around the lake are more than happy to tell you where the crappie are biting. Remember that bait shop owners want you to be successful and catch fish because if you're catching crappie, then they'll sell lots of bait. Therefore, usually you can get reliable information from local bait shops about where to fish. When you reach the spot where you're planning on fishing, many times you'll see three or four other fisherman on the ice at the same spot. Fishermen usually fish where fish are biting, particularly out on the ice.

The one thing I've have learned about ice fishing is rarely do I return to the same spot where I've caught crappie the day before. I've never been able to duplicate a catch fishing out of the same hole on a second day. I usually look for a new spot and drill a new hole to fish through, if I'm fishing for two consecutive days. Ice fishing for crappie is a much more iffy deal than trolling for crappie because you can't move as much when you ice fish as you can when you have open water and are fishing out of a boat. Fishing through the ice we don't catch nearly as many crappie as we do when we're trolling open water. Eight to 10 crappie is generally a good day when ice fishing. Of course, our day of fishing is much shorter when we're ice fishing. We don't fish as long as we do when we fish out of a boat because we so much colder ice fishing than we do boat fishing. My friends and I never have gotten serious enough about ice fishing to purchase an ice house, although many fishermen do.

Another secret to finding crappie when you're fishing on the ice is to call the lake patrol or your state's department of natural resources. Since these folks are out on the ice every day, they'll often be able to tell you what part of the lake seems to be producing the most crappie and at what depth the crappie seem to be biting best. I want all the information I can get about where the crappie are and how to catch them before I arrive at the lake in cold weather. If you're sitting out on the lake, not getting any bites and the weather is really cold, you're not going to have much fun and certainly won't be fishing for very long.

Editor's Note: Another tactic that consistently produces crappie for many northern ice fishermen is to use the coordinates you've stored in your hand-held GPS receiver where you've marked brush, drop-offs, ledges or any other structure that may hold crappie to return to those locations once the lake freezes up. Then using an ice auger, drill a test hole, put a portable depth finder on the side of the hole, and place your transducer down in the hole.

To get the most-accurate reading, be certain that the transducer is sitting level and still down under the ice. Look at your depth finder to learn if you've located the structure and the crappie. If you're over the crappie and have your depth finder on its highest level of sensitivity, you often you can see your ice jig as it goes down under the water. Perhaps you'll even spot the crappie taking the ice jig on the screen of your depth finder. That's when you set the hook, even though you haven't felt the bite. Using this technique, ice fishing for crappie almost becomes a video game.

Many crappie fishermen who fish in the far North where the lakes freeze so hard that anglers may can drive vehicles on them, will ride around the lake and drill several test holes at the waypoints they've stored in their GPS receivers. Once they find the crappie, they start fishing for them. When the crappie quit biting or no longer appear on the depth finder, the crappie fishermen will move to their other holes and see if the crappie have moved into those spots and start fishing in the areas where they find the fish.

If the ice isn't hard enough to support a vehicle, you can use the same tactic but rather have a sleigh to pull your portable ice house. Go to the section of the lake where you have the most waypoints close together. Taking your ice auger out of your sleigh, drill holes at each of the waypoints where you've located crappie in the past. You can walk from waypoint to waypoint, pulling your sleigh behind you. After you've drilled several holes, check each hole for fish. Once you locate the crappie, set up your portable ice house to fish for the crappie. When the fish stop biting, fold up your portable ice house, and drag your ice house, auger and sleigh to the next hole and look for fish. This wintertime crappie-fishing tactic enables you to be extremely mobile and fish several locations within the same general area and often catch more fish.

The real secret to success with this ice-fishing method is to know you have a portable depth finder that is extremely sensitive and get your transducer level over the hole. Then you'll get maximum sensitivity to see the structure and the fish holding on or near the structure.

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Check back each day this week for more about CATCHING CRAPPIE IN COLD WEATHER...

Day 1 - Crappie after the New Year
Day 2 - How to Catch Cold-Water Crappie
Day 3 - Catch Crappie Now in the Winter
Day 4 - Ice Fishing
Day 5 - Mistakes Crappie Fishermen Make in the Winter



Entry 285, Day 4