Ice Fishing For Crappie: Best Lures & Catch Tactics [2023]

Geoff Stadnyk in Ice Fishing on

The winter fishing season is known for sluggish fish and fewer bites. But this doesn’t always hold true in the winter when fishing for crappie on the ice. Crappie’s winter patterns can be more productive than when catching them in spring or summer. Here are some crappie ice fishing tips to put the heat on those elusive slabs.

If you want to have a fire while ice fishing for crappie, you can read this article here first.

Table of Contents

Where To Go Ice Fishing for Crappie

Crappie are a schooling fish that will stay stacked together all year round, making them an ideal target for ice fishing (we also recommend walleye ice fishing). Crappie are very structure-oriented and in the cold will mass up on weed beds, ledges of creek beds through lakes, and deep holes.

The other two main things that determine where winter crappie will hold are food and oxygen. Crappie just want an easy meal and a place to hang out. Putting all of this together makes it easier to find crappie for ice fishing through the two stages of winter: early and late, and middle (for fishing crappie in the summer check out our other guide).

First Ice and Late Ice

When the ice first starts forming or melting away can be a dangerous time to strike out far in search of crappie. Luckily I don’t have to. Green weeds give off more oxygen for crappie and the baitfish they prey on. These will be a likely spot if 5 to 15 feet deep and in a transition zone or drop off. Transition zones let crappie move up and down as the water cools or warms.

Deep Winter, Deep Crappie

When winter is at its apex I will start to time my outings more. The cold pushes those crappies deeper where any warmer water has settled. They will be more conservative in movement but fierce when a warm day hits.

These moments of heavy feeding and mass grouping can be the most crappie I catch all year, ice fishing or not. I start by looking off points of land and deep shelves. The deep basin is a classic crappie holding area. It’s best to dig several holes over a wide area and bring those in closer after pinpointing large crappie schools.

Any crappie caught at 25 feet or deeper is going to have to be harvested for food. They will die anyway. Their swim bladders can’t release gas fast enough for the pressure change when brought to the surface. Crappie tend to school by size, so if a few too small to eat are pulled up it’s best to look somewhere else.

Best Lures For Ice Fishing Crappie

ice fishing for crappie

Ice fishing for crappie can require a lot of gear and one of the most important gear is having the right ice fishing pick.

There’s the heavy auger for drilling holes and the electronics to find fish. The ice scoopers and ice fishing shelters. Winter clothing, ice fishing heaters and ice-resistant gear are also a necessity. But there are only three types of lure presentations necessary to catch crappie while ice fishing:

  • Minnows
  • Tungsten Jigs with Soft Plastics
  • Spoons and Raps

Live Minnows

Live minnows on a single hook is a tried and true method. If a second pole is allowed where I’m fishing I’ll always dead stick a minnow.

There are many methods of hooking a minnow. But how to use the right one in the right situation when ice fishing will catch more crappie. Keeping the bait alive and on the hook while in the water is key.

  • Hooked through the back- I target the meat just below the dorsal fin along the top. I don’t pierce too low so as not to cause a lot of blood loss or organ damage.
  • Through the lips- keeping the minnow upright and horizontal is the best presentation. I hook upwards through the bottom lip and out the top lip.
  • Through the tail- this is one of the best ways to do it. Again, I hook the meat just before the tail, not too far up to limit injury. This method lets the minnow swim vertically and horizontally. The extra movement attracts big crappie bites.

Tungsten Jigs and Soft Plastics

Tungsten has grown very popular for those ice fishing for crappie. It’s a heavier metal than lead which is a standout benefit for tiny jigs. Getting down to those fish quickly is important, and the right plastic can be super effective.

The VMC Hot Skirt is a great jig that’s been trusted a long time. Pairing that with a tapered tail minnow soft plastic works wonders. That thin profile undulates in the water to mimic a blood worm or many insects and baits crappie love.

Spoons and Raps

When they’re more active, spoons and jigging raps can be deadly crappie catchers. The spoons have a flutter motion on the drop and a lot of flash. Its injured baitfish look can bring in crappies from far away.

Jigging raps have wings on the back for a tantalizing glide as it falls and stops. I do some short and long rises and its design does the rest of the work for me. They have treble hooks underneath, but two single hooks on the front and back catch those shy short-strikers, too.

Pro-Tips: How To Catch More Crappie When Ice Fishing

These fish can be extra finicky this time of year. They’re just not going to chase after food like they do in spring and summer. Here are some tips on how the ice fishing pros consistently catch more crappie.

A Few More Words on Tungsten

I mentioned it’s heavier than lead. It gets down to those deep schools faster, but crappie also like this fast approach more, too. That speed just gets their notice and triggers reaction bites better.

The added weight of tungsten adds sensitivity. I can feel what my jig is doing in the water. Crappie aren’t known for being power hitters, so it also lets me feel more nibbles and bites.

When Their Holding High or Low

This is a tip I heard a long time ago. I still follow it because it holds true most of the time. When crappie are closer to the bottom they seem to want jigs. When they’re holding higher up in the water column they seem to go after spoons the most.

Add Real Food to Artificial Lures

The go-to trick when crappie just won’t bite a lure is to add some bait on the hook. I do this with almost any lure I drop in a hole. This includes my jigs, raps, and even spoons, too.

Waxworms and minnow heads are the classic setup for this. The worm will thread nicely onto a jig and stay secure. A minnow head sticks to a single hook of a treble nicely. Both offer so much more to that crappie thinking about biting.

One trick is called a “collar”. I take a chunk of a worm and slide it up a hook flush against the jig head. I then thread my soft plastic on just beneath it. It still has the profile and movement of a lure but adds that extra scent.

Bright Colors

Especially when there’s snow on the ice, there’s not a lot of sunlight getting through. Using neon and other high-viz colors will help when ice fishing for crappie. Chartreuse, pink, white, and glow-in-the-dark lures can help.

How To Catch Crappie While Ice Fishing: In Summary

Winter is the slow season for most fish. Crappie, too, will hold back more energy just to make it through. But their holding patterns in schools can make them predictable. Knowing where to look and what lures work is how I catch more crappie ice fishing than any other time of year.

Geoff Stadnyk

Geoff started fishing as a child in the gorgeous lakes of Mammoth, while on family vacations. His fishing experience includes the use of fly rod and reel. Guided trips along the Madison and Gallatin rivers in Montana, the Frying Pan and Animus in Colorado, and the Deschutes river in Oregon have all paid off and helped make Geoff the angler and writer that he is today.

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