updated on: March 13, 2017
How to Target Black Crappies (Part 2)
French River Outdoor Family Adventure
Ontario's elite angler Pete Garnier explains why crappie ice fishing is his favourite "Video Game" - and how anyone can do it, with a little practice.
I know what you're thinking.
You're saying: "I read your blog last week with Ontario black crappie guru Pete Garnier, and you promised to share more of his ice fishing secrets. Especially Pete's 'classic winter pattern.' So, c'mon – share."
Okay, I am cool with that.
Okay, I am cool with that.
"During the low light period, for the first hour or two in the morning," says Garnier, who was the 2012 Canadian Sport Fishing League (CSFL) Classic Champion, "you may have been catching crappies using an active presentation. You were working your lure with a fair amount of movement, you saw the fish come in on the sonar screen, watched them charged up to your bait and whammo – fish on!
"But, then, typically around mid-morning they still show up, but they don't charge your bait. Instead, they hover below it, move up slowly, and don't bite. They're telling you that they've changed their activity level and that you need to become creative in order to trigger the ''lookers' into biters."
Garnier says to the key adjustment now is matching your presentation to the fishes' activity levels. Move your bait and lure ever so slowly and impart painfully long pauses. Matter of fact, he says no movement at all, dead-sticking your bait in front of the fishes' faces, typically seals the deal.
"One of the most overlooked components of panfishing in the winter time is determining the size of the 'strike window'", says Garnier, who every year also nabs some of the biggest and most beautiful bluegills. "By 'strike window,' I am referring to the vertical and horizontal distances a fish will swim to eat your bait.
"Sorting this out tells me how many fish I can expect to catch from a hole before I need to move on to the next one. It also tells me how closely together I should drill my holes. Inactive panfish won't swim very far, so I'll often drill my holes surprisingly close to one another and expect only to catch three or four fish from each hole. On the other hand, if the activity level increases and the fish start moving around more, I'll space my holes much further apart and hole jump much less frequently."
Listening to Garnier talk about coaxing out extra bites reminds me that I often trick moody crappies by changing the colour of my jig and soft plastic dressing. He nods his head in agreement and chuckles, "I'll typically have several rods rigged with the same bait but in different colours. And I'll swap rods after catching a few fish to 'keep them guessing' and the bite going on for as long as possible.
"The Angler's Choice Crappie Wiggler is my go-to bait of choice because it is super soft, yet surprisingly tough. It is shad-shaped with a flattened tail that tapers out to a diminutive thread at the end. The bait comes alive in the water with the slightest movement.
"I'll let you in on another trick," says the personable Garnier, who holds eight Canadian Live Release Records: "when you rig the soft plastic on a heavier than normal jig head, the tail quivers on the way down as if it is swimming. When you use a lighter head, on the other hand, it produces a meandering glide."