It was well into what I call the “happy hour” of ice fishing. The sun was falling rapidly behind the hills to the west of the small farm pond upon which I had set up my Fish Trap shelter.
My depth finder suddenly lit up with the arrival of a big school of crappies. I tried to hold my jigging rod steady so the horizontal jig tipped with a minnow head would entice one of those fish that had encircled my lure.
A coyote suddenly howled on the hillside to my right, surely not more than a hundred yards away, and I flinched at the sound, jerking the rod. I felt the satisfying pressure of a good fish.
“I’d rather be lucky than good,” I mumbled to myself and soon pulled a nice pound crappie onto the ice.
I dropped him into the plastic bucket sitting alongside my small heater and sent the jig back down on a mission.
Forty-five minutes later, the sun was long gone, and nine nice crappies, all about the same size, were flopping in the bucket. I folded back the Fish Trap, put my power auger, bucket and heater into it, and began pulling it behind me on the way to the truck a couple hundred yards away.
I love catching crappies through the ice, and farm ponds are one of my favorite places to do it.
Most farm ponds do not contain crappies because the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not stock them. Crappies compete directly with largemouth bass, so the DNR feels it is better not to introduce them.
However, crappies have found their way into a lot of farm ponds in both Iowa and Nebraska.
Crappies tend to cycle so there is always a dominate year class in these ponds. If you keep track of them you can concentrate on the ponds with the biggest fish.
The best crappie ponds that I know of have a lot of submerged timber in them. Crappies like to school alongside something, and wood seems to be their favorite. The best fishing is usually in the upper end of these ponds where the flooded timber is. You need to be careful in these areas, however, because most ponds are littered with underwater springs, especially in the shallow end, and this can mean thin ice.
If there is snow on the ice you will not be able to see the thin spots and about all you can do is drill test holes. A few years ago I was venturing out onto a pond and my test hole drilling showed a good, solid six inches of ice. As I advanced I suddenly stopped. Something didn’t feel right. I drilled a test hole and found I was standing on about one inch of ice. One more step and I would have taken a swim.
While you can catch crappies all day long, the action really heats up during “happy hour,” that one hour of daylight just before sunset. Crappies seem to come up higher in the water column and begin feeding.
I catch most of my crappies on small, horizontal jigs. I use them from 1/16 to 1/32 to 1/64.
When fish are active I use the heavier jigs, but if things are slow I may go way down to the 1/64-ounce.
While minnows, very small minnows, come to mind as the best bait for crappies, I have caught a lot of farm pond fish on waxworms. I think it pays to carry both.
If the weather is nice and I don’t need the warmth of my shelter, I’ll drill another hole about six feet away and fish a minnow under a bobber. I don’t usually fish two holes side by side because the fish often tangle up in the adjacent line. And, I like to fully concentrate on one lure.
When I fish a minnow under a bobber, I usually hook him through the flesh on his side just in front of the tail. I use just enough weight, usually a split shot, just large enough to keep the small bobber upright. I place the shot about a foot above the hook because this gives the minnow more room to swim around.
You will see that tiny bobber bobbing around as the minnow swims, and that is what you want. If the bobber stops moving for long periods of time, it’s time to put on a fresh minnow.
On the jigs I’ll attach the minnow the same way as under the bobber or just use a minnow head or a waxworm.
When it comes to jig color, I don’t pay much attention. Lighter colors for bright days and darker colors for dark days is a reliable guideline. When it comes to “happy hour” fishing, however, I do believe that lures that glow have an added attraction, so I’ll always have a rod rigged with a glow bait and carry a small flash light to light it up.
I always use a flasher which will show my jig and the fish that move in to inspect it. When a fish moves in I try to hold the jig still. If the fish won’t take it I’ll slowly begin to lift it up in the water column. That will usually make a crappie want to bite.
Since crappies often suspend, watch for fish moving in above your lure. When you see that, reel up to their level. Crappies will come a long way up to bite, but they seldom go down. That’s why I often fish my jig much higher than when fishing for perch or bluegills.
When it comes to panfishing, all of my reels are rigged with two- and four-pound test line. Light, nearly invisible line is very important. Some anglers even go lighter than two-pound test.
Crappies are one of my favorite fish to catch through the ice. And fresh crappie fillets drenched in my secret seasoning and deep fat fried are one of my favorite ways to fill my ample belly.