Insights on Ice Fishing Plastics for Crappies

Good to eat? Good to go.

Some of the greatest lures of all time don’t necessary look like anything in particular. They just look like something that a fish wants to eat. Trout anglers often fall back on a simple wooly bugger, which, we can argue, looks like a caddisfly larvae or perhaps a damselfly nymph. They’re not really a spitting image of anything. A wooly bugger looks kinda, sorta like a lot of things. A classic tube jig is one of the greatest smallmouth bass lures of all time. It kind of looks like a crayfish, kind of like a goby. It could be something else altogether, depending on how you fish it. Here’s a few crappie crackers you can bet on for ice-fishing.

As more ice anglers embrace the soft plastics, classics are emerging. Soft plastics fished correctly simply catch anything that swims. But, tungsten paired up with soft plastic is particularly deadly for catching crappies through the ice. The original white Maki plastic has quickly become to winter crappies what the classic motor oil tube jig is to smallmouth bass.

Make it a Maki, the big deal crappie crackers

The Clam Maki doesn’t look like anything specific. It could be a young-of-the-year fish. Could be an insect larvae or water beetle. Like so many productive lures, the shape, profile, action and water displacement aren’t necessarily a dead ringer for any specific living thing. The overall look, however, mimics several living organisms that fish eat. During the winter, the diet for black crappies can range from zooplankton like Daphnia to larval insects like chironomidae. Crappies also eat aquatic insects like back swimmers, crustaceans like freshwater shrimp,  and other fish such as spottail shiners, young-of-the-year perch, dace minnows or fathead minnows. Black crappies are notorious for foraging on zooplankton because their gill rakes allow them to filter feed. Typically, suspending schools of black crappies are consuming a lot of zooplankton with larger forage items mixed in when the opportunity arises.

Despite the fact that so much of a black crappie’s diet during the winter can consist of microscopic invertebrates and zooplankton less than 1/4-inch long, some of the greatest jig-and-plastic combinations ever developed measure an inch or more. Matching the hatch is a cliche that gets thrown around a lot in fishing circles. You should ignore it for crappies. Some of the most effective crappie crackers for winter follow a different mantra.

The original Clam Maki is about an inch long, with five tentacles. It more resembles a squid than anything a crappie actually eats. However, this profile is easy for crappies to find and it set the trend for ice anglers over the past decade. Other profiles that fish big in the water include the Clam Maki Draggi and the Clam Maki Jamei. As these soft plastic designs became more popular, ice anglers demanded even larger profiles like the Maxi Maki and the Minni XL.

Go big or go home empty handed

Winter crappie locations might be a flooded brush pile or submerged tree along a channel edge. Natural lakes might have weed and reed patterns. Regardless of the ecosystem, crappies often suspend and roam over open water. Over this massive abyss, matching the hatch isn’t practical because finding and catching fish is a game of logistics. Use a realistic duplication of a backswimmer that is 1/4-inch long and fish that drift by 10 feet away might not ever see it. Fish 6 feet below you might not see it. So, often, larger profiles that are easier to see catch more crappies simply because more fish come over to investigate. Once the fish close the distance, and get close enough to scrutinize the bait, the lure simply has to look similar to something the fish has eaten before.

Frequently, the presentation of these larger soft plastic profiles of an inch or more becomes a game of keep-away. You attempt to keep the presentation above the fish so that the fish has to accelerate and rise. Bigger profiles move fish from farther away. Attempt to get an aggressive reaction from the fish. When working soft plastics, there are often two basic thought processes: Be the bug or be the minnow.

Find more of your favorite fish, learn about identifying crappie patterns.

Mimicking minnow movements

Replicating minnow movements might mean more abrupt slashes and snaps on the upstroke to raise fish. The smaller movements that happen as the fish gets closer might resemble upward hops with stops and shakes mixed in. Replicating bug movements might mean simply quivering the tentacles and vibrating the rod tip to impart a pulsating action to the soft plastic. You can still raise the jig and pull fish up, but the actions are more methodical while pulsating the soft plastic tail the entire time. From there, you can mix and match to the mood of the fish. Remember that you can “be the minnow” or “be the bug” with the same fish, interested in the same jig. Mix and match until the fish either bites or swims away.

Now this isn’t to say that small bug profiles can’t catch crappies. Tiny finesse plastics can catch crappies, too. Day-in and day-out, however, many ice anglers have discovered that bigger is often better simply because fish can see the presentation from farther away. The more fish you can pull into the cone angle of your electronics, the more fish you can catch.

Get noticed, get bit

Even if the crappies are sucking in zooplankton, these predators have mouths big enough to grab a golf ball. Soft plastic options that fish can see from several feet away are crappie crackers. They can simply catch more fish. Finding fish is absolutely the most important component of catching fish. These soft plastics do a really good job of helping the fish find you. You will see more crappie suspended over the abyss this winter and catch more of them if you use these crappie crackers. Get seen. A profile, a silhouette, a contrast of color that is twenty or more feet away can be enough for an entire pack to roam in your direction.

The combination of the larger-profile soft plastics and horizontal tungsten jigs enable you to fish through water faster. Since tungsten is heavier, it imparts more action on the soft plastic. Crappies can see and feel the combo from further away. Start out fishing big to track down the fish. You can always scale down after you find the fish (your most difficult task). Most days, however, you won’t have to scale down. Throw matching the hatch out the window, use these crappie crackers. Simply attempt to find and contact as many crappies as possible and you will catch more of them this winter.

Jason Mitchell is a top walleye guide on Devils Lake, N.D. and hosts the outdoor program, “Jason Mitchell Outdoors.” Visit jasonmitchelloutdoors.com for more.