Ice Fishing Crappie: Tips and Techniques

Crappie is a predatory fish from the genus Pomoxis. Science has identified two species: P. annularis (also known as the white crappie) and P. nigromaculatus (also known as the black crappie). Each species changes its color throughout the year, so it can be difficult to distinguish them by their patterns.

Counting spines on the dorsal end of the fin is the best way to determine the difference. Black crappie has seven spines, while white crappie has six.

You might think that we are just playing taxonomical games, but there is a real difference between the two species and you must know which one you are fishing.

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Below are some great tips and tricks for ice fishing crappie. These links will provide you with more information about other species.

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Our Top Crappie Ice Fishing Tips & Tricks

  • Chummy– You can also use live bait if you have it with you. Make a paste of a few minnows and worms, then drop them in the water. This scent is strong enough to carry a long distance and act like a dinner bell for crappie. It’s easy to see if there is a school at the bottom or one that’s suspended just above your transducer angle.
  • Slow down Crappie can be aggressive predators. However, if you try to fish them in open water as you would under the ice, it’s a huge mistake. Crappie is slow to move due to cold-induced torpor. Your presentation should be slower to match. Use finesse and gentle jigging, slow movements, and don’t expect fish to move fast or far.
  • Winter: Use lighter lines you might consider dropping to 2 if you are a regular user of 4-pound test mono in the summer. Why? Crappie eyesight is excellent, so the thinner the line, the better. You can also experiment with ultra-slim braided lines or nearly invisible fluorocarbon. Your line will attract crappie more if it is difficult to see.
  • Keep it small 1/16th- and 1/32-ounce jig heads are as big as they will go with hard water crappie. Also, keep in mind that they don’t chase larger prey than they would in summer.

Crappie: The Black and White

White crappie is a native of a large part of the central United States. This includes the Mississippi River valley and the Great Lakes. They can now be found almost anywhere there is freshwater since they have been widely stocked. In fact, I used fish white crappie in Louisiana’s bayous and swamps. They were known as saic au-lait or “milk sacks.”

The black crappie is also abundant, but its natural range has been lost. Black crappie can be found in the lower 48.

The easiest way to determine which species you are fishing for is to catch one of them and count the spines.

What are the behavioral differences between these two groups?

Both species’ young eat zooplankton, tiny invertebrates, and then go on to predate small fish like shad. As they grow older, however, the black crappie will eat invertebrates such as worms and insects while the white crappie will eat small fish and large invertebrates such as crayfish.

White crappie is, therefore, more piscivorous and should be taken into consideration when choosing lures.

Black crappie species are more likely than others to choose clear water with lots of vegetation or cover. White crappie, on the other hand, can be found in muddy water or strained waters and they are not afraid to go out in the open.

Clearwater is better than weed beds if you are fishing for black crappie. While white crappie can also be found in weeds but will prefer clear water over weed beds, they will also go for cover or school in murky waters. They can even be caught in water as dark as strong iced coffee!

What are the similarities in behavior?

Both black and white crappie can be found as morning feeders and night feeders. Prime hours are between dawn and midnight, but it’s possible to catch these fish in shallow waters in the afternoon, as we’ll see.

Crappie follows an unusual and energy-saving feeding strategy. Crappie stop hunting and locate prey by sight. This prevents them from wasting energy while cruising for food and is something that the experienced angler will make use of to their advantage. If you find a still school, they will be searching for prey and you can continue dropping jigs, catching fish after fish.

Remember that crappie of both species slows down in winter. They become very lethargic from all the cold water and won’t move or chase food.

Find Crappie under the Ice

You’ll be able to identify crappie behavior and where they are. It’s crucial to identify the species you are after.

Take a look at our suggestions for ice rods or ice reels

Predictable Seasonal Patterns

Both species of crappie will keep their fall positions, often in shallower water, until winter. As winter gets deeper, the crappie will move to deeper water. For instance, by mid-winter, you will need to begin your search for basins or channels.

Crappie begins to move towards their spawning areas, which are typically flat, deep bays by the end of winter. These spawning areas can be muddy and rocky. If you don’t know where you are fishing, it can be difficult to predict how they will behave.

Crappie is more predictable than you might think. You can see a pattern in their behavior, so if one school is doing something, the other will too. If you see one school at 12 feet on a point there will be another on a similar feature. You can plan and drill holes at similar points, channels, or shallow weed beds. This way, you can move easily from one school to the next when one school stops biting.

Flat, Featureless, and Shallow Lakes & Ponds

Crappie will hang close to the bottom of flat lakes and ponds that lack features. Sometimes, their pectoral fins touch the lake bed and can be almost invisible to flashers. This is true for all bodies of water.

You might try jigging one foot off the bottom. You might just be able to see a bunch of crappie mobs appear from nowhere.

On Ponds and Lakes With Structure and Varying Depth

The rule of thumb is that white crappie will cluster near drop-offs in open water, while black crappie prefers to hover around weed beds. Sometimes both species can be found near the bottom in deep water. These variations can be accessed by carefully studying a contour chart. You can select the most probable spots and divide a larger lake into smaller sections. Find similar features and auger enough holes so you have many options.

Remember that others may be looking for similar schools at the same depth once you have found one.

Shallow Afternoons

Crappie can be caught in 20-30 feet of water. However, many anglers are aware that crappie move to shallower areas as the water warms up in the afternoon. Even though they are more active in the morning, the evening can be a great time to catch them. You should look for water with shallower depths that can hold the prey they love.

Crappie Jigs

Crappie is a voracious predator and can turn on at will. Your knowledge of the species that you are fishing will help you make the right jig choices. All the jigs that we have listed will work for both species. However, black crappie is more inclined to use jigs that look like larvae and insects. White crappie is more likely to catch anything that looks or moves like a minnow.

Eagle Claw Jig Ball Double Eye Hook

90deg Double Round Bend ST PointWe like to keep a variety of colors in stock for our crappie tackle. Small jig heads can be essential. Ideal heads are between 1/16 and 1/32 ounces. They should be kept small, especially in winter. Eagle Claw’s jigheads are very popular on the ice and come in many colors.

Eagle Claw Crappie Jig

CIRCLE SEA SHARK RIGThese jigs look like a fly and are deadly for black crappie. These jigs mimic an insect’s skirt. They float and flutter, tempting crappie to strike. We recommend white and chartreuse.

Berkley PowerBait Power Honey Worm

PowerBait Power Honey Worm Soft Bait - Red - 1in | 3cm - PanfishA good idea is to sweeten a jig. If you prefer soft baits over live options, Berkley Honey Worms can be a great choice. These faux larvae are just one inch in length and richly flavored with scent and flavor make them a popular fishing tool.

Berkley PowerBait Power Minnow

Berkley PowerBait Power Minnow Smelt, 2' (10 Count)

White crappie love minnows, and if you’re having trouble finding live bait off the right size–tiny!–Berkley’s got you covered. These soft baits, which imitate shad, measure just 2 inches in length and have a tail that wriggles to induce strikes.

Live bait

Crappie is always happy to try anything that can sweeten a jig, including minnows, worms, and insects. You should consider the species you are chasing.

Last Thoughts

Crappie is one of my favorite fish to catch. Their propensity for schooling means that your rod will burn for quite some time once they’re hooked up.

These tips and tricks will help you to find the best ponds and lakes in your area. You’ll have hours and hours of enjoyment putting these delicious meals on the ice if you have the right knowledge.

Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.