Late Ice Crappies

By Dave Duwe - March 1, 2010
The warmer weather of March means the end of another long Wisconsin winter. The ice is becoming soft and can be dangerous, so always use caution. The end of the ice fishing season does offer one big benefit; some of the best crappie fishing of the year. The last ice period in late winter, I believe is better fishing than the first ice period. The fish are bigger preparing for their spring spawning ritual, and they are far more aggressive. I will try to protect the resource by releasing the bigger females and never keeping a limit. In addition, the warmer March weather makes fishing much more pleasant. Pre-dawn, dusk and night are the best times to catch late ice crappies. This is when they are aggressively feeding on small minnows and zoo plankton. During the day, crappies tend to be less active and concentrate around weeds and other structure. At night, crappies move into more open water. They are notorious for suspending throughout the water column. Crappies will school up in large numbers and wander throughout the lake feeding.

With the fish off structure in the main lake basin the depth to find them varies and is very dependent on the body of water you are fishing. On Big Cedar, in Washington County, Wisconsin, I catch fish in 30-35 ft of water. On Fox Lake, in Dodge County, Wisconsin, the bite is shallower and the fish are typically in the 12-15 ft depth range, and on Delavan Lake in Walworth County, Wisconsin the depth range to fish can be anywhere from 8-40 ft of water. The constant for all three of these lakes is the crappies will suspend off bottom.

For schooling crappies I will try to fish three poles, which is the maximum allowed in the state. Two of the poles are "dead sticks" and the third will be in my jigging hand with my Vexilar. Dead sticking is basically letting your poles sit. The presentation I use is similar to summertime slip bobber fishing. I will use a small Thill bobber with a small treble hook (size 16), with a small split shot. Don't be surprised when you go to purchase the small treble hooks, they are expensive for their size! I like to position one of the dead sticks about a foot off bottom and the other will be 2-3 ft off bottom. Minnows are undisputedly my favorite bait for late ice crappies. Of course, when using a locator you will be able to see exactly the depth they are coming in at. You can adjust your presentation to match their location within the water column. My jigging rod will have a small spinning reel spooled with 4 lb Silver Thread. I found that lighter line isn't essential when you are fishing at night. I like a heavier ice-jig like a Lindy Fat Boy or Genz worm, a glow color is a must. I will tip the jig with spikes or wax worms.

The use of a quality locator is critical for suspending crappies. My preference is a Vexilar FL-20, which has a bottom zoom feature and a flat display screen. I found that the fish higher in the water column are the most actively feeding. I have noticed that crappies have a tendency to feed upward. The fish under a school of feeding crappies are usually tough to get to strike.

On my jig pole I will use a spring bobber. Unlike most fish, crappies will strike both in an upward or downward motion. When a fish bites it usually jiggles your spring bobber downward. When a fish is biting upward, your spring bobber will go straight. This indicates an upward bite. You need to lay the steel fast. When fishing a Thill bobber, if a fish bites upward your bobber will go flat on the surface of the water.

Late ice crappie fishing is great, but please remember that safety needs to come first. Soft ice can deteriorate in a hurry. Always be safe and check ice conditions before venturing out.
Author Dave Duwe
Dave Duwe
Full-time guide Dave Duwe owns and operates Dave Duwe's Guide Service, featuring the lakes of Walworth County, WI. Dave has been guiding for over 20 years and is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's best multi-species anglers. Dave is an accomplished outdoor writer and seminar speaker. He is a member of the Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Association and Walworth County Visitor Bureau. Sponsors include: Lund Boats(Jerry's Sport Service Inc.), Mercury Marine, Arkie Jigs, and Vexilar Marine Electronics, a pro-staff member of Minn-Kota trolling motors,Hummingbird graphs, Cannon downriggers, Lindy, Pure Fishing and All Terrain Tackle. For more information, please check out Dave's website www.fishlakegeneva.com .