Ice Fishing for Crappie, a Beginners Guide

Ice fishing for crappie, an Beginning Angler’s Guide to Success!

This article will focus on ice fishing for crappie. Crappie are a very popular freshwater fish. They are found throughout most of the United States. Crappie are pretty and grow fairly large for pan fish. They put up a decent fight, but the primary reason for their popularity is for their value on a dinner plate. Crappie are delicious eating!

ice fishing for crappie

There are two types of crappie, black crappie and white crappie. There are a few differences in habits and locations. However, for the purposes of this article, we will treat them both the same. Crappie are a schooling fish, once located a bunch can be caught quickly. However, this also means that there is a lot of water that is devoid of fish.

Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.

There are several similarities between ice fishing for crappie and fishing for them in open water. Vertical presentations are often used. Crappie will school up, generally relating to some type of cover or structure. The top baits are jigs and live minnows. They taste great, no matter when they are caught!

The number one factor to consider when ice fishing for crappie or any other species is safety. Safety always comes first! Unfortunately, anglers die every year from exposure to the cold and from accidents involving falling through the ice. There are simple safety measures that can be taken to ensure that this does not happen.

Best ice fishing tackle for crappie

Tackle used when ice fishing for crappie is pretty basic. The same basic outfits used for panfish and other smaller game fish will work fine when pursuing crappie. Fishing rods are generally light and between 30 inches and 36 inches long. Rods with soft tips are preferred as crappie have a very thin tissue in their mouth. Ultra light reels are attached and spooled up with line.

Read more about ice fishing tackle in this article

ice fishing for crappie

Four pound fluorocarbon line is a good all around choice. Anglers who prefer braided line can go with 10 pound test. However, they will need to attach a 3 foot long fluorocarbon leader to the braid. This is usually done using a swivel or snap swivel to reduce line twist and allow for easy changing of the leader.

Anglers can shop Amazon for  ice fishing rod and reel combos

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. ”

Ice fishing for crappie video

Anglers will want to bring along a decent selection of hooks, split shot, and floats for fishing with live bait. Hook size it should range from #4 for larger crappie down to #8 when fishing smaller baits. The tackle box should also have some artificial lures. Small jigs, spoons, and plugs are the most productive.

Strategies when ice fishing for crappie

Now that we have all the gear, it is time to go fishing! Just as in open water fishing, determining the spot to fish is crucial to success. It can also be a bit daunting. Local bait shops where minnows and other tackle can be purchased are a great source of local information. Message boards and other online resources such as report sites can save anglers a lot of time. Clusters of anglers already out on the ice can signify that a school of fish has been located. It is okay to fish there, just be courteous.

crappie fishing

Click to shop Amazon for an ice fishing fish finder

As stated earlier, there are actually fish migrations under the ice. Crappie will move around seeking ideal conditions as well as forage. In November and December, which is early in the season, points, weed beds, and other structure in water between 14 feet deep and 20 feet deep are good places to start.

Placing the holes

One good strategy when ice fishing for crappie is to drill 10 holes 10 feet apart. The goal is to have these holes in several different depths and over different structure. This technique makes it easy to cover a fair amount of water relatively easily. Drilling holes and finding depth of the fish is important.

Anglers can actively fish each hole or they can use a series of tip downs. Setting up tip downs will allow anglers to fish live bait and some holes while while jigging vertically in others. Normally, anglers will actively jig holes that are marking fish on the sonar unit. Tip downs set with a live minnow are placed in the holes with less activity. However, just because no fish are being marked is not mean that there are none in the area. We will discuss more about tip downs later in this article.

crappie fishing

The best times to go fishing are early and late in the day and on days with cloud cover. This is true for anglers ice fishing for crappie just as it is when open water fishing. However, they can certainly be caught in the middle of the day as well.

Ice fishing for crappie with live bait

Many anglers choose to use live bait when crappie fishing. There is very good reason for this! Many anglers feel that it is easier to catch fish on the real thing as opposed to trying to them with a piece of hardware. The top live baits for crappie fishing are minnows, wax worms, and mealworms. Often times, mealworms and waxies work best around shallow grass. Minnows generally produce better when fishing in deeper water.

The live bait can be presented in a couple different ways. The simplest rig is a hook tied right to the end of the line with a small split shot 18 inches above. This works very well with a live minnow. The minnow should be hooked in the back between the dorsal fin in the tail. Many anglers make the mistake of hooking minnows through the lips. This does not work as well when ice fishing. A floats can be used to suspend the minnow at the desired depth while also providing visual evidence of a bite.

Wax worms and mealworms are most often fished on a jig head. They can be used on a bear jig head or in conjunction with a jig and grub combination. Both can be very effective. In fact, the combination of a live bait and an artificial lure in one package can often be the key to success as it combines the taste of the bait with the flash in action of a lure.

Artificial lures produce crappie through the ice

Artificial lures will certainly produce for anglers ice fishing for crappie. The number one bait without a doubt is the jig and grub combo. This is true for anglers ice fishing just as it is for anglers open water fishing. The jig head provides a hook and weight to get the bait down. Modern ice fishing jig heads are usually made of tungsten. This is a very dense material and allows for anglers to use very light weight jigs. Jig heads can be as light as 1/64 of an ounce.

ice fishing auger

Jig heads come in several different designs. The key element is the placement of the line tie. This will determine the action of the jig and the water. The lure will be balanced differently and will react differently based on this factor. Jig heads come in many different colors and designs. Most anglers ice fishing prefer very brightly colored jig heads to help call the fish to the bait.

Grub bodies are threaded on to the jig head. This is an outstanding fish catching combination that will for just about every species of fish on the planet. Grub bodies come in many different sizes, shapes, styles, and colors. It would be impossible to cover them all here. The best approach is to get some local information and find out what baits work in a particular area. However, sometimes thinking outside the box and showing the fish something they have never seen will produce even better.

Jig fishing techniques

Crappie will readily take a jig. However, this does not mean they are easy to catch. One of the most important things is to constantly vary the presentation. Anglers should try several different colors, depths, and jigging motions. Many anglers ice fishing for crappie always tip the jig. Others wait to see how aggressive the fish are, tipping the jig if the bite is a bit slow.


Crappie almost always feed facing up, so if using a sonar unit, it is best to work the jig a foot or two above the suspended fish. The bite can be very difficult to detect in this situation. Often times, the line will simply go slack as the crappie takes the bait while swimming up. When this happens, the angler should real quickly to remove the slack in the line and gently raise the rod tip.

After initially dropping the jig down to the desired depth, angler should try a subtle, gentle twitch of the rod tip. This will make the jig dance seductively in place. If that does not produce, then raising the rod tip a foot or so and allowing the jig to fall back down should be tried. In general the best approach is to start with finesse type movements in the become a bit more aggressive, hoping to trigger a strike.

Hooking and landing crappie

Jigs will produce crappie in very shallow water, particularly over submerged weed beds. In this situation, the jigs should be fished just above the tops of the grass. Fish will dart out of the cover to inhale the jig. Tiny jigs tipped with a meal warmer wax worm work very well.

fishing for crappie

Once the crappie is hooked, the angler must keep even, steady pressure on the fish. Crappie have a very thin membrane in the side of their mouth. This will result in the hook creating and wallowing out a whole. The slightest bit of slack can result in the jig falling out. With small hooks and a soft mouth, a delicate, light touch is required. Anglers should take their time and avoid pumping the rod tip. Again, slow steady pressure works best.

Ice fishing for crappie with spoons

Spoons are excellent artificial lures for catching crappie. Especially true for anglers who are after larger fish. Spoons provide weight to get down into the water column as well as flash and vibration. They are outstanding lures to use when crappie are suspended in deeper water. They can be tipped with a piece of minnow or even a live minnow.

Ice fishing spoons come in a myriad of sizes, shapes, and finishes. Generally speaking, gold works best in low light conditions such as early, late, and on cloudy days. Silver spoons are a better choice on bright, sunny days spoons will also draw active fish from further away than will jigs. When crappie are feeding on small bait fish, spoons are incredibly effective.

ice fishing for beginners

Spoons are best worked in deeper water. They can be fished at any point in the water column. Anglers ice fishing for crappie are often surprised at how close to the ice these fish can be caught. However, that does not mean that anglers should ignore the bottom or lower portions of the area that is being fished.

Ice fishing plugs

The standard when it comes to ice fishing plugs is the Rapala Jigging Rap. It has been around a very long time and still catches a lot of fish to this day. This lure has the line tie in the center of the bait and a then on the tail. This results in the lure having an erratic action. It falls in a circular motion, mimicking a wounded bait fish.

The Chubby Darter is another effective ice fishing plug. It has a bit larger profile than the Jigging Rap does. Both of these plugs or any others should be worked fairly aggressively. These lures are best used when fish are aggressive and anglers are looking for quality fish over numbers.

Tips downs are great family fun

Tip downs are clever devices that hold a fishing rod stationary over a hole. They are bit similar to tip ops except that with a tip up the fishes hand lined in. With the tip down, the angler has a couple of advantages. The whole can be fished without an angler actively supervising. Also, once the fish is hooked, the fight can be enjoyed on a standard rod and reel.

ice fishing basics

These devices are readily available and quite affordable. Sullivan is widely recognized as one of the best brands available. They average around $25 apiece. While anglers can fish artificial lures, since the bait is not being actively fished, live bait works best. In most instances, anglers lower down a live minnow on a hook with a split shot.

Tip downs are great for family fishing! Kids don’t always have the longest attention spans. With tip downs, there is almost always something going on, between fish being caught and hooks being attended to. There’s nothing wrong with the kids playing on the ice or snow the and scrambling for the rod with the tip berries in the hole.

Ice fishing for crappie in shallow lakes

Crappie respond a bit differently, depending on the body of water being fished. Anglers ice fishing for crappy in shallow lakes will usually find them over submerged weed beds. In that environment, that is generally where the forage will be found. Because the weeds are on the bottom and the food is on the bottom, that is most often where the crappie will be found.

ice fishing for crappie

Crappie can be found in the deepest holes available in the shallow lakes. However, once the vegetation dies off the food source will be depleted and they will generally move shallow again. Healthy aquatic vegetation in shallow water will put off oxygen which will attract bait fish.

Deep lake crappie fishing

Crappie in larger, deeper waters will react a bit differently. Schools of fish will generally be found further offshore, often times suspended. While in open water, they will generally relate to some type of structure such as a creek or river channel edge, submerged islands, fallen timber, or rock pile. Having this much water can certainly make the fish more difficult to locate. A portable sonar unit is invaluable in helping to locate structure and fish.

Early in the ice fishing season, there will be plenty of oxygen in the water near the bottom. Therefore, crappie can be caught there. However, as winter lingers on in oxygen levels become lower, fish will relocate. Particularly true if there is a lot of snow on the ice which will block sunlight, resulting in vegetation loss.

These fish will generally move shallower, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll move in closer to the bank. Instead, they will slide up the water column. Anglers ice fishing for crappie will often find them 10 or 15 feet below the surface, even a water that is very deep. This is due to oxygen deprivation levels and forage location.

Big lakes have more structure

Larger lakes will generally have more defined structure than will shallow, weedy lakes. This type of structure includes sloping points, main river channel edges, creek tributary channels, underwater islands and reefs, rock piles, and even bridges.

In river systems and in lakes that have current and fish like rivers, anglers ice fishing for crappie will find them in areas of lower current flow. These would include coves and backwater areas away from the main current flow. Coves and tributary creeks can also be great places to fish.

In conclusion, this article on ice fishing for crappie should help novice anglers experience success catching these tasty fish through the “hard water”!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

Recent Posts