I have some new 2-pound test diameter Fireline on all my reels and plenty of one-sixty fourth and one-eighth ounce Northland Lip-Stick Jigs. Just the thought of chasing some of those tasty crappies on open water makes me smile.
The reason I like the early open water for crappie is because that is when you can really pinpoint large schools of fish, and find some of the big ones too. I always start my search right in front of a big shallow dark-bottomed bay. It's here crappie start grouping up right after the ice goes out, and they always seem to be real hungry.
These ice-out crappies are going to stage in deeper water, usually suspended, but not always. Position your boat right in front of the bay, and start slowly motoring back and forth moving out into deeper water on each pass. Watch your depth finder for the tell-tale sign of a big school of fish. You might see one's and two's under the boat; ignore this, you are looking for a bunch. Don't be afraid to keep going deeper. You might be over 60 feet of water and discover a school of crappies suspended at 20 feet. They're just sitting out there waiting till the water in the bay warms up and all the bait fish move in. In the mean time they're easy pickings for the angler that has one of my signature series crappie rods, some hair-thin line, and a small jig.
My number one technique for ice-out crappies is to take a small crappie minnow and hook it right through the nose on a Whistler Jig. Estimate a spot away from the boat that would be the distance that the fish are suspended and cast the jig to that spot. Let the jig just sink down until it is vertical under the boat.
You must watch your line as it is settling because these suspended crappies like to whack that jig as it drops. All you will notice is the line twitch. Time to set the hook. Don't set the hook hard. The Fireline doesn't stretch so just a light snap will bury the steel. Another thing I like about Fireline for this type of fishing is that it has no memory. You can quiver and jiggle that jig and you won't end up with a bunch of twisted line.
Now, if the lure makes it through the fish and it doesn't get hit, you're going to have to tease them some. The Whistler is a good jig for this. It has a little blade that spins and this can activate a negative crappie. Snap the jig up quick by popping the rod tip about a foot, then just drop the tip and let the jig fall. When you pop the rod tip again be prepared, you might have a fish on.
If the fish aren't biting it could mean a couple things. It's possible you don't have your bait deep enough, or maybe it's too deep. You want that jig right in their face. Let the minnow twitch a little right on their nose. Even the crappies with lockjaw will eventually have to take a bite.
Try a smaller minnow and jig, change colors, if you're getting bites but not hooking up switch to a Stinging Foxee jig. That stinger is a sure thing for light-biting crappies.
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