Midwinter Crappie Crackers: Insights on Plastics

This article by Jason Mitchell will help you catch more slab crappies through the ice this season.

As more ice anglers embrace the soft plastics, classics are emerging. While soft plastics fished correctly simply catch anything that swims, 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.

The 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 chironomid. Crappies also eat aquatic insects like back swimmers, crustaceans like freshwater shrimp  and other fish such as spot tailed shiners, young of the year perch, dace minnows or fathead minnows. Black crappies are notorious for foraging on zooplankton because the fish’s 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 tiny microscopic invertebrates and zoo plankton that are less than a quarter of an inch long, some of the greatest jig and plastic combinations ever developed measure an inch or more. Matching the hatch is a cliché that gets thrown around a lot in fishing circles—and you should ignore it for crappies. Some of the most effective presentations for winter crappie follow a different mantra.

Winter crappie locations might be a flooded brush pile or submerged tree along a channel edge on a reservoir. Natural lakes might have weed and reed patterns. Regardless of the ecosystem, crappie 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 straight up logistics. Use a realistic duplication of a backswimmer that is a quarter of an inch long and fish that drift by ten 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.

If you like ice fishing for panfish, you’ll love the January issue of MidWest Outdoors magazine, available now on newsstands or by subscribing at the MidWest Outdoors website.