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Early Ice Crappies
By Colin Crawford

When it comes to hard water angling, panfish top the list. If you were to take a survey on the ice, you would find as many as 80% of the fishermen are in pursuit of panfish. Don't get me wrong, some attention is given to walleye and pike, but they seem to be secondary on many fishermen's agendas. Unlike pike or walleye, which can turn off for days, panfish are predictable. The average fisherman is out to have fun, many times making it a family affair.The problem with ice fishing, in many cases, is that people let themselves get bored, or cold, or discouraged. That doesn't have to be the case. It's a matter of being willing to change and try something new. Early ice, or sometimes referred to as "black ice" is some of the best fishing that you can find, it is also the most dangerous ice around. Usually this ice is less than three inches thick. The reason that it is 
referred to as "black ice" is that it hasn't had time to set-up yet and the ice is just a thin layer over the water. When ice has time to set-up it will become pure and clear, and have a frosty coating to it. Much like your ice cube trays in the refrigerator. They are better when they become frosted over and more solidified. When I'm picking a lake for that first early-ice outing, I want to go on to a body of water that I have spent some time on in the summer and know 
where the points, rock piles, sunken islands, and deep weed edges are. Bays on the north side of the lakes will be good starting points. Locations of these types warm up first and see the earliest crappie usage.Structure is as much the key to success for the ice fisherman as it is for the open water angler. Structures take many different shapes, but  they share one thing in common, and that is they differ from the surrounding bottom enough to be noticed by the fish. The most common and most recognizable piece of structure is the point of land that extends from shore out into the water. Points create a raised portion of land 
beneath the water's surface, making it different from the surrounding bottom. These points extending from shore may be classified also as bars or reefs. Sunken islands and rock piles can also be ideal fish holding areas, and areas where you want to concentrate your efforts. Pieces of structure found in a migration route created by current from a nearby river that flows into a lake, can offer a choice hunting ground for crappie and walleye seekers, in winter as well as summer.Although many structures (such as points) can be visually located even in winter, others like sunken islands or underwater rock piles can be difficult to find because of your limited mobility. The need to drill holes to fish through greatly reduces the amount of area that the winter angler can cover in a set amount of time. This is where technology is helping the ice angler out. The use of a depth finder and a GPS unit is essential for fishing on the ice. I know that I spend a great deal of time on the water in the summer time and when I find a piece of structure that has all the elements of good ice fishing,

Lowrance X-15MT
Lowrance’s new X-15
I will put it in my Lowrance X-15. When late season walleye fishing gets tough I will use a hand held GPS unit and find that specific piece of structure. Some companies even have a hand held depth finder that will shoot 
through the ice and eliminate the need for drilling unnecessary holes.
Crappies will be found in different areas in different bodies of water. In some lakes, they'll be in thirty feet of water over a rock reef. In other lakes, crappies will be on the drop-off near a weedline, and in other situations they'll be in the rushes. Where they are will determine the size of jig we'll use. You'll have to go to a heavier jig when the fish are deep, although I seldom go much over the 1/8-ounce size. I probably use more sixteenth and eighth ounce jigs than anything else. For the record though, 1/32 and 1/64th ounce will work at times when 
nothing else will. When fishing is tough, go to the smaller size. At times ice fishing can be non-stop action, but all to often it is a waiting game. Good ice conditions are hard to come by because no ice is really safe ice. Usually the rule is the following. Less than 3 inches stay off it unless you have extensive ice fishing experience, or you want to get extremely wet and cold, maybe even become a fatality. Three inches is usually safe for a few scattered anglers if the ice is clear. 
Four inches of ice is safe for a larger group, if the ice is clear and pure. Five inches of ice is safe for anglers on foot. Fifteen inches of ice is extremely safe, but weakness can occur, as springs, currents, and heavy vehicles all park together, and overlook pressure ridges.Early ice crappies are extremely fun to catch and excellent table fare, a few scaled and filleted out pan-fried with potatoes and a garden green salad makes me want to get out on the water before the early ice or black ice starts. BE SAFE WHEN ICE-FISHING.If you are interested in catching some early ice crappies or if are interested in a guided trip, a personal media interview, or photo shoot, please call 715-545-8347. If you are interested in reading more about these techniques or other fishing patterns log onto 
www.northwoodsfishing.net . I hope to hear from you soon.

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