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Have a Crappie Day

Editor's note: John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional Walleye Trail Angler of 
the Year and a 12-time championship qualifier on the PWT, RCL and Masters 
Walleye Circuit. His articles can be read in numerous Midwestern outdoor 
publications and several web sites. Kolinski is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Lowrance Electronics, Normark/Storm Lures, MinnKota, Lindy Legendary Tackle, Flambeau, Tempress Rod Holders, Off-Shore Planer Boards, Berkley Trilene, Optima Batteries and Panther Marine.

For most of the year, my career as a professional walleye fisherman consumes 
the angling opportunities I have on open water.It's walleye this and walleye that day after day, week after week and month after month.
Once winter puts its icy squeeze on the upper Midwest, I'll still spend a few 
days on the water in pursuit of a fish I truly love to catch.But like a legion of hard-water anglers, I've also developed a passion for crappie fishing. 
While walleyes are wonderful, bluegills are beloved, perch are palatial and 
pike are perfect, crappies are crafty, cranky, crazy crackerjacks that can be 
as challenging as any species and as satisfying to conquer.The challenge with crappies is their finicky nature. 
While there are those rare situations when they exhibit reckless behavior and 
whack almost anything you drop down the hole, more often it becomes a 
cat-and-mouse game between angler and prey.When a fish forces an angler to dig deep into his or her bag of tricks to achieve success, those are among the most rewarding and memorable experiences. 
And when a 12-inch crappie comes through an 8-inch hole in the ice, even the 
most seasoned anglers have been known to get a little giddy.In my experience, crappies seem to move around in small groups when they are active. They'll pass through an area and then vanish, leaving an angler to wait for the next group to show up.

LOwrance X67 Ice Machine
Lowrance X 67C
Ice Machine
When the weather is cooperative, I like to drill about 20 holes around the areas I believe are holding crappies, then go from hole to hole with my Lowrance X67C Ice Machine until I spot fish.Among its numerous features, the Ice Machine provides 800 watts of peak-to-peak power, full-screen and split-zoom color display and a Fish Reveal feature that exposes fish hidden in cover.
In other words, there is no doubt when I've located fish and I can then get about the business of attempting to catch them. At other times, the weather is not so friendly, and it limits our mobility while forcing us to take cover inside an ice tent or shelter.
Then we have to find ways to draw the fish to us whether it's through sight, sound, vibration or a heavy dose of attractant. Sometimes, aggressively working a Jigging Rapala doused with liquid scent is all it takes.Once I have the crappies' attention, I like to use Lindy's Techni-Glo Frostees, Genz Worm jigs or Rattl'n Hookers (red is my favorite color) tipped with either live or artificial bait.I usually start with live minnows, small shiners and/or waxworms. If the crappies take them readily, I'll switch to Power Bait or small grub tails because it limits the need to rebait and gets your lure back in the strike zone more quickly. 
the author John Kolinski hoists a nice ice crappie Early in the season, there seem to be more of those fish that rush right up 
to an ice jig and eat it. However, after the initial first-ice binge, a little 
more finesse is usually in order.
We've all experienced those situations where a crappie will show up on the sonar or an underwater camera and eyeball a jig for several seconds without committing. Sometimes, they nudge it and back away like they are waiting for a 
reaction.So that's what I try to give them.  First, I slowly raise the jig a few inches in the water column and wiggle it slightly. If that doesn't draw a charge, I'll lower it back to the crappie's level and try the same maneuver with an aggressive lift-drop stroke.
If that doesn't get the fish to respond, I'll hold the jig in place just an inch or two 
above the fish and tap my rod with my finger to create more of a vibration 
than a jigging action. Often, that is more than those old specks can stand!
Another way to get those fussy fish to bite is to add a small strip of plastic such as a Lindy Techni-Glo Tail to your jig to give it a subtle, undulating action. I've experienced days where that made all the difference.Crappies are also notorious for "lift" bites where they actually take a bait into their mouths while pushing it upward in the water column. Too often, the fish has spit the bait by the time the angler realizes what's going on.Many anglers like to deadstick a rod in one hole while they jig with another. It takes a sharp angler to detect a lift bite on a bobber, but that's why Thill makes its floats with the distinctive water-line color rings. If you look over and see that float riding a little high, set the hook because there's probably a crappie on the other end.It's a little easier for jiggers to detect and deal with lift bites. First, I like an ultra-sensitive line like Berkley Micro Ice coupled with a quality graphite rod that tells me when anything unusual is going on below the ice.Sometimes, you can feel a lift bite by the weight on the end of your rod. Sometimes, a little slack in your line gives it away.Most of the time, I rely on the X67C. When lure and fish come together, I sock it to 'em before they get a chance to spit the bait. If I'm coming up empty, that tells me the crappies are not taking the entire lure or they are hitting the jig head rather than the business end (I've seen it happen on camera). In that situation, I try several adjustments. 
First, I add a little more wiggle to my bait to see if that entices them to eat it more aggressively. Second, I downsize lures so that the minnow, shiner or waxworm is the dominant feature of the presentation. Third, I change lure styles to something that features a slightly different hook angle to see if that does the trick. Finally, when all else fails, I go to a plain hook and bait.Usually, one of those modifications will solve the problem.Such are the challenges of crappie fishing. It keeps me smiling when I'm having a crappie day.
E-mail John Kolinski

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