Unsurpassed crappie fishing for the whole season takes place from now until ice out.
March’s warm temperatures are the best, a time when crappies are eager to bite and simpler to find without the restraints of a fish house.
According to the veteran Minnesota guide Tom Neustrom, the end of the hard water season can be some of the best ice-fishing opportunities available.
Picking the right waters
March crappie action is far from average on Minnesota prime crappie waters. How to find those bodies of water? Well, word of mouth is one way. Asking at the local bait shop another. Hot crappie bites are rarely kept under wraps for too long – word gets out.
While at the bait shop, grab some crappie minnows and waxworms. Throw in an extra scoop of minnows for good measure.
Before augering that first hole, a good place to look, with just one click, is a site that lists all the Minnesota lakes, species of fish, sizes, and quantity in them, lake maps and access points:
Finding crappie and stuff needed
The deep-water lakes are ideal fish magnets. Start with a depth range of 25 to 35 feet.
Locating the fish takes some work, drilling a few holes in hopes of finding the eager-to-bite crappie.
Primetime transpires during the low-light situations of before first light and again at dark – the time when newly present bug hatches feed schools of minnows and attract the hungry crappies.
Fishing Hall of Famer Neustrom realized late winter causes the ice to crystallize, and small bugs emerge from the newly formed ice cracks. Crappies are near these pockets, prowling the warm, late-winter sun, gorging on available bugs.
Neustrom's choice is 1/32 oz., VMC Tungsten Fly jig, tipped with a waxworm. To appeal to more biters, Neustrom alternates his presentations with VMC Tingler spoons or a No. 3 Jigging Rapala.
I used jiggle sticks, a fond memory. Jiggle sticks, as we called them, are 2.5 inches long to 3 inches in length, with a wooden handle and fiberglass tip. They are relics compared to today's ice rods and reels. The sticks were loaded with clear No. 4 test monofilament line. A small bobber was added and perfectly balanced by subtracting a split shot or two to achieve the delicate poise we felt necessary. Measured depth came in arm lengths, not feet. Three arm lengths, or 18 feet, always seemed the best place to start.
Neustrom likes the Hummingbird Helix 7 decked out for ice fishing. It shows water depth, marks the fish and the lures at the end of the line, on the screen. Neustrom adjusts his ice flies up or down based on the fish location shown on the locator screen.
Simple methods produce crappies
The mainstay for our methodology: homemade ice flies, a dab of solder on No. 8 gold hooks, painted bright orange, with rubber band legs.
The bait shop had cards of these commercially made at a price, but we could not afford to buy them. We impaled small "crappie sized" minnows, just hooking them lightly just below the dorsal fins. Lower the works, making sure the minnow swam freely. A bobber stops our lures from going too far. Then slowly moved around the hole, bobbing and just dipping below the surface. Crappies like to have choices, so a second rod set at a different depth or the jig tipped with waxworms.
Crappie survival decreases when caught out of deep water. Best practice is to catch fish, keep and stop. Delayed mortality happens with released crappie and can be as high as 40 percent.