Ice Fishing Tip: Target Big Crappies With Big Lures

You can’t catch big crappies when your lure is in the mouth of small ones. By choosing the right size lure you can weed out almost all of the smaller fish.

Ice Fishing Tip: Target Big Crappies With Big Lures

The biggest crappies in a lake behave more like largemouth bass than smaller crappies. Using 1- to 1.5-inch jigging spoons helps ice anglers eliminate bites from small panfish and gets the attention from larger ones.

Depending on my lake of choice, I might want to catch every crappie that appears on my flasher or underwater camera, or I might want to limit the total number of fish I catch with the chance of landing a lunker.

On most lakes, I’m happy to tie on a tiny jig and tip it with two or three Eurolarvae. This miniscule presentation will entice strikes from small- and medium-size panfish, as well as the rare big one. When fishing this way, I often sit in my portable ice shelter and fish a single hole, sometimes for hours on end without moving.

I’ve learned during the past two winters, however, that this finesse method isn’t the best one for catching the biggest crappies. My son and his high school buddies were the ones who convinced me otherwise. Here’s how they attack a crappie bite.

Running and Gunning for Crappies

Two, three or four anglers — all with electric augers — arrive to a 7- to 9-feet-deep weed flat a half hour before sunrise and begin the work of drilling holes — dozens and dozens of holes. No two holes are within 20 feet of each other. In less than 10 minutes the boys have turned an area measuring 50x50 yards into swiss cheese. Zero time is spent clearing every speck of ice shavings from the holes with a skimmer.

Each angler grabs a flasher (fishfinder) and one jigging rod rigged with 4-pound-test mono. To entice strikes, they use jigging spoons measuring 1-1.5 inches. Most often they’ll tip the treble hook with a single minnow head. That said, if they don’t have crappie minnows handy, they’ll use soft plastics. FYI: The boys have two favorite styles of jigging spoons: the Pinhead Mino from Clam Outdoors, and the UV Forage Minnow Spoon from Northland Tackle. When tipping them with soft plastics, they typically use the Maxi Plastics Mino Head or Mino from Clam.

Two great spoons for big crappies are the Pinhead Mino (left) and the UV Forage Minnow (right). Both spoons are available in a wide variety of colors.
Two great spoons for big crappies are the Pinhead Mino (left) and the UV Forage Minnow (right). Both spoons are available in a wide variety of colors.

Each angler walks to a hole and drops in the flasher’s transducer. Even though fish signals/marks appear near the bottom, they lower their lure only to 5 feet and begin jigging aggressively. The fish near bottom, which are typically small sunfish, sometimes rise up to check out the jigging spoon, but they’re too small to eat it. At times a small crappie, say 6-7 inches, will hit the spoon, but generally they avoid the big lure, too.

The biggest crappies don’t feed along the bottom among the small sunfish. They cruise higher, which is why the boys limit their jigging to the 5-foot depth. If nothing appears on the screen in a minute, they raise their rod tip to the clouds (no winding the reel handle) to lift the lure from the water, grab the flasher and move to a nearby hole. Once there, they set down the flasher, then lower the lure.

The first time I watched this game of crappie dot-to-dot, I simply sat there shaking my head, thinking, The boys need to learn patience.

Wrong! As I sat there unhooking tiny sunfish after tiny sunfish, with the occasional small crappie, I’d see one of the boys land a 10-inch crappie. Then another. Then a 12-incher. Then another. At times one of the boys would catch two fish from the same hole, but most often they’d catch a big crappie, jig for another minute, then move to find another active fish.

This run-and-gun method keeps them warm during cold temperatures. It has to because using a portable shelter — no matter how light — is impossible with this system. 

I should also mention that the boys fish while standing. They’ll kneel after they hook a big crappie, bass or pike, but with 4-pound-test they can lift medium-size fish from the hole without breaking the line.

 

Roaming the Flats

It seems that crappies move across weed flats randomly, and my son and his buddies have developed a mobile system that increases their chances of staying on fish. If one boy catches a decent-size crappie, then the others will quickly move around him to try and pick off another fish or two.

The biggest crappies don’t swim in schools; they’re loners. And when they show up on a Vexilar three-color flasher at 5 or 6 feet, its signal is a thick, bright-red line. My son says that when he spots such a mark when he arrives at a new hole, the big crappie almost always hits aggressively. He lowers the spoon to the fish’s depth, or one foot higher, jigs it once or twice and then holds it still and waits for the strike.

Even when the weather is nasty, the author’s son (left) and his buddies actively hole-hop without the aid of a shelter to stay on active crappies.
Even when the weather is nasty, the author’s son (left) and his buddies actively hole-hop without the aid of a shelter to stay on active crappies.

Gear and Fish Fighting Tips

It’s important to set a reel’s drag properly to avoid breaking the line on these big fish. Remember, the depth at which you hook a big crappie will likely be only 5 or 6 feet below the water’s surface; you won’t have the benefit of line stretch given the fact that so little monofilament is in play. The tiny trebles on these jigging spoons are very sharp, so it doesn’t require a lot of pressure to set the hook.

When a big crappie is hooked, it’s critical to keep steady pressure on the fish, but don’t horse it into the hole. Take your time. A crappie’s nickname is “papermouth” for a reason. Allow the rod to tire the fish, let the crappie run and pull drag when needed, and then steer it into the hole when the time is right.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to lift a big crappie from the water with the line alone. Yes, you have 4-pound-test, but if the fish quickly flops its head at the wrong time, it could generate enough force to break your line. And if you’ve caught a few crappies prior to hooking this big one, there’s a chance the knot is weakened or line is nicked near the jig.

A big crappie might break the surface with its mouth open, giving you a big handle on which to grab, but it might have its mouth closed, too. Instead of trying to grab the fighting fish behind the gill covers, I prefer plunging my hand into the water and scooping the entire fish onto the ice. Yes, I’ll end up with a wet sleeve, but it’s worth it for a big crappie.

The author’s son caught this 17-inch white crappie on a pink-and-white (Pink Tiger) UV Forage Minnow Spoon tipped with a white/red flake Maxi Plastic Mino.
The author’s son caught this 17-inch white crappie on a pink-and-white (Pink Tiger) UV Forage Minnow Spoon tipped with a white/red flake Maxi Plastic Mino.

This winter, try this on-the-move method of using jigging spoons if your favorite lake has a history — or the potential — of producing big crappies. Finally, remember to keep the 8-10 inchers for dinner and release the big ones. You can’t grow 14 inchers if you keep the 12s. And you can’t grow 16s if you keep the 14s.

Crappies make for a delicious meal. Keep the 8-10 inches and release the bigger ones.
Crappies make for a delicious meal. Keep the 8-10 inches and release the bigger ones.
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