Bites in the Basin: The Basics to Basin Crappies

Bites in the Basin: The Basics to Basin Crappies

By: Blake Tollefson

Winter is here – and it’s here to stay for some time. Shanty towns dot the frozen landscape – filled with anglers willing to trade long rods for those of a shorter variety. During the timeframe, panfish, and crappies in particular, are at the top of many anglers’ most wanted lists.

Nomads & Roamers

In general, crappies are a relatively nomadic species and are constantly on the move. It’s not uncommon to locate them across countless types of structures within a body of water. Weeds, wood, rocks, and open basins are all equal opportunity employers when it comes to holding fish. That being said, the most consistent bites throughout the winter months often occur in the basin areas. Crappies will continuously roam these large expanses in search of nourishment.

A typical late summer-early fall period will drive schools of crappies from their summer haunts to the deeper portions of the lake, where the fish can often be found suspended throughout the water column.  Predictable depths for winter crappies will range approximately 15-40 feet of water, although they can be found in much shallower or deeper locations depending on the lake.

Most relatively small, natural lakes share a similar pattern so replicating results can become second nature. These patterns and techniques related to winter crappies can also be applied to flowages, impoundments, and larger lakes, although they may not prove to be as consistent.

The Hunt

At times, the hunt for mid-winter crappies can seem daunting. Fortunately for anglers, technological advancements continue to make things easier. Take on-the-ice mapping, for example. It’s literally available at one’s fingerprints – either via phone or sonar unit. Using these tools, anglers can easily identify basin areas to begin the search.

Focus your initial efforts on the deepest portion of the basin. Works towards the nearest feature that meets this area, like a steep break, point, and so forth. On heavily pressured lakes, basins are will often become community holes – focus on the outer edges to avoid traffic. If fish are nonexistent in an area, then keep drilling.

Historically, anglers would be tasked with the drilling hundreds of holes to find fish and stay on fish. In recent years, the advent of forward-facing sonar (FFS) has drastically shortened the fish-finding curve. Such technologies offer anglers the ability to scan 100 feet or more in any direction. As a result, fishermen can quickly and efficiently cover an area to determine if fish are present or not, or to confirm in which direction the fish have moved to.

While FFS is a great tool for locating fish, there are arguably better tools for actually fishing. Enter ‘Old Faithful’ – the flasher or sonar unit. These sometimes-forgotten tools are better suited for fishing for a variety of reasons. The real time display and enhanced target separation cannot be matched by FFS units. Not to mention, most standard flasher and sonar units weigh next to nothing compared to the average FFS, making hopping from hole to hole quite simple.

A combination of both style of units is arguably the best recipe for success. Once fish have been located, rely on a forward-facing unit to verify exactly where the school is located or moving to, while employing the traditional unit to fish them from hole to hole. 

Baits Du Jour

In these deep-water situations, involving fast roaming fish, fast fishing baits can make all the difference. Take dense materials like tungsten, for example. With fish that are constantly on the move, it’s vital to have a lure that can reach the fish before they move in another direction. Baits like the ESR Nano and T-Flasher were tailormade for these scenarios.

Historically speaking, jig tipping options were dominated by live bait, but in recent years plastic options have really taken over – for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the fake stuff doesn’t die – no aerator, no changing water, no freezing concerns. Additionally, the absence of live bait eliminates stops en route to the lake – just grab your stuff and go. Lastly, in most scenarios, plastics will outlast livelier options, making it much more efficient to get stay on the school.

Opt for natural presentations in clearer water, like browns, greens, and golds. Rely on high contrast color options in stained water, such as chartreuses, pinks, and oranges. Options like whites, reds, and blacks are effective choices for almost any situation. Eurotackle’s Micro Finesse lineup has a number of options ranging from realistic to unrealistic, including the Bloodworm, Leech, Plankton and Gamma Scud.

In addition to jig and plastic combinations, there are a variety of other lure categories that have proven effective for basin crappies. Spoons are certainly no secret – they’ve proven their worth in nearly any ice scenario. The all-new Spade Blade is a great choice for winter crappies. The bait combines aspects of flashing, fluttering and rattling to make the perfect spoon.

Micro to mid-sized rattle baits and darting baits, like Eurotackle’s Z-Darter and Z-Viber, are certainly less talked about, but they’re perfect choices for picking off more aggressive crappies. Additionally, the mantra of ‘big baits, big fish’ really does have some truth to it. It’s not uncommon to catch plus-sized panfish when using larger ice baits.

Rods of a Shorter Variety

Rods & reels are often overlooked when it comes to ice, especially for panfish. Having a quality set up is just as vital on the hard water as it is on the soft water. Choosing the right rod has a lot to do with user preference, however, it’s beneficial to rely on rods that will effectively fish the lures you’re presenting.

Reels should be appropriately sized to balance well with a specific rod choice. Having a high quality drag function, in cold climates, is arguably the most important factor in choosing a reel for ice fishing. 

Conservation Minded

With great knowledge comes great responsibility. In terms of crappie fishing, this statement has multiple meanings. The more obvious conservation-minded topic revolves around fish quantities. It’s important that anglers remain cognizant of the numbers and sizes of fish they’re keeping. Just because you can keep more fish, that doesn’t mean you should keep more fish. Only take what you need – and remember to the let the big ones go. Truly giant crappies are getting harder and harder to find. 

One of the more hot-button issues for winter crappie fishing relates to barotrauma. In simple terms, barotrauma is injuries (whether visible or not) that occur to a fish from a rapid change in pressure (i.e. catching fish in deep water). Anglers fishing depths greater than 20 feet should proceed with caution, as barotrauma incidents are likely to be fatal to fish. Even though a fish may swim away, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will survive. If you’re covering the depths in search of crappies, be prepared to keep some fish for a meal.

Winter isn’t going anywhere – you might as well take advantage of what it has to offer. Ice fishing for crappies can provide some fast and furious action, as well as a delicious meal or two. Rely on the tools available, don’t be afraid to drill some holes, offer the right presentation, and there’s a good chance to put some serious crappies topside this winter.

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