It was a cold snap in mid November in Northern Wisconsin. The lakes had just gotten their first ice extending out from the shoreline a few hundred yards, maybe 3 inches thick at most. And I being the ice fishing fanatic that I am, decided to venture out on the ice.
There was a specific ice fishing pattern I had discovered on this particular lake, and being just outside of town, I was pleasantly surprised to see not a single soul as I dragged my sled full of ice fishing gear onto the water, prodding with my ice spud as I proceeded over the clear and thin ice.
Ice fishing for crappie in shallow water, that was the plan, and I had discovered this pattern by accident a few years before, setting tip-ups in ultra shallow water of only 3-4 feet on an inside weed edge for pike. The first flag that went up during this discovery trip resulted in a 16 inch crappie caught on a mid sized lake shiner, and throughout that first initial fishing trip the action was so fast paced I could hardly keep my lines in the water.
The tactic I use for shallow water crappie ice fishing is very simple and straightforward: find the insight edge of a weed bed in shallow water, and then drill ice holes extending from the inside weed edge to the middle of the weed bed at a depth of 6 to 7 feet. From there fan out, and drill dozens of ice holes in the process. If you’re new to ice fishing, and not sure about all the technical details and gear you need to know, you can get more information here.
Choosing the right bait is very simple as well – any of the common minnow varieties will do. On that particular day I used rosy red minnows and the natural crappie minnow variety, hooked with a single hook or small jig head through the lips to allow the minnow to swim freely, a mere few feet below the ice.
The weeds in this particular shallow area consisted of a dense mix of green cabbage, milfoil clumps, and curly pondweed, and getting a decent amount of ice fishing holes drilled that weren’t completely filled with weeds was a challenge. But by drilling almost two dozen holes I managed to cover a decent area with ice holes that were open enough to fish in.
In shallow water that’s clear enough, it’s actually possible to get on your hands and knees and look into the ice hole. You’ll often find that you can see all the way to the bottom, and that way you can easily determine what kind of weed growth is underneath the hole. From there you just choose the best ones. And if the water is clear enough, you can even try sight fishing for crappie, which is another of my favorite ways to catch them.
I clearly remember setting the first tip-up that day, and I’m pretty sure this will be a crappie ice fishing memory that will stick with me for my entire life. As I set that tip up into the first ice hole, I leaned in to get a closer look into the water underneath the hole (to ensure my minnow wasn’t caught on weeds), and right at that moment a big crappie shot into view and instantly inhaled the minnow. As it pulled the line off the tip-up spool, the spring-activated flag shot up and slapped me in the face.
Ignoring my throbbing cheek, I grabbed the rod to set the hook, and promptly felt the resistance of a strong crappie bending my rod down to the water. Following a short struggle I was thrilled to pull a gorgeous 14-inch crappie through the ice hole, after a total of 3 minutes of active fishing time.
I then proceeded to set up tip-ups on two adjacent ice holes, while actively jigging on a third hole next to them. The fast paced crappie fishing action that followed in the hours after that was at times overwhelming, and I struggled to find time to fish with my active jigging rod because the tip-up flags constantly popped up and started flapping in the brisk breeze, indicating yet another bite.
More than once I got a bite on my jig, and almost at the same time both tip-up flags snapped up. I remember frantically trying to land each fish as fast as possible, so I could move on to the next one before it managed to get off the hook.
These unexpected discoveries of patterns that other anglers don’t know about is one of the things I enjoy most about fishing. The technical aspects of ice fishing that serious anglers employ, coupled with regular experimentation is what sets a great angler apart from an average one.
If you always follow the crowd and stick with the tactics employed by everyone else, you will fail to discover unusual fish feeding patterns and fishing locations on your own, missing out on the true essence of fishing. So try to think outside the box, and experiment with your tactics, and you’ll find yourself rewarded with those unexpected wins.