Mike Kuna shows off a nice-sized black crappie taken through the ice. Water temperature is somewhere between 39 and 32 degrees. (Photo: Darl Black)
Essentials for Slabs on Ice
by Darl Black
Basic equipment for icing crappies
If the long-range forecast holds true, most northern states can expect a continued cold winter compared to the last several years. That translates to a hardwater covering on lakes and reservoirs where ice fishing may have been marginal in recent winters. Perhaps now is the time to consider taking up ice fishing for crappies.
Hardcore ice angler Gus Glasgow says February is not too late to start ice fishing, as some of the best crappie catches of the winter will occur late February into early March in his home region of NW Pennsylvania.
Gus Glasgow: “I’m always on the move checking news areas, so my shelter must be easily transported.”
“Compared to acquiring and outfitting a boat for open-water crappie fishing, the cost of preparing for ice fishing is considerably less,” explains Glasgow. “Nonetheless, there are essential pieces of equipment you must have in order to safely reach offshore spots, locate crappies and catch them.”
Here are Glasgow’s recommended list of must-have items:
- Spud bar and ice picks: A spud bar is a heavy metal rod with chisel-shaped tip used to probe the thickness of the ice as you cautiously move across frozen water. Probing thickness of ice is absolutely necessary when entering a virgin area of ice or any time there has been a warm spell which may have weakened the ice. Ice picks are hand-held spikes attached to an elastic cord around the neck for immediate access. With one in each hand, the spikes enable an angler who has plunged through weak ice to establish a grip on the edge of good ice and pull one’s self from the water. SAFETY FIRST! – Guidelines for Ice Safety Thickness may be obtained on the website of state natural resource agencies. All ice thickness tables specify at least 4 inches of clear blue ice will support one angler. Ice at least 6 to 7 inches is needed to support groups of anglers.
- Apparel: Staying warm and comfortable is crucial. One option is to dress in layers cumulating in separate windproof outerwear jacket and bibs, thereby allowing the jacket to be removed if one begins to overheat. The other option is the one Glasgow prefers: a fully insulated flotation suit which keeps one afloat should the individual go through the ice. “Quality flotation suits are pricey for a novice just getting into ice fishing, but if you decide to get one, buy a top quality one like the Striker brand suit.” Glasgow suggests supplementing insulated snow boots with either battery-operated hot socks or chemical toe warming packs. A warm hat that covers the ears and a pair of insulated waterproof gloves complete the outfit.
- Shelter: Intended to protect you from cold winds and blowing snow, ice shanties range from extremely portable one-person pop-ups to large expensive tents with room for 4 to 6 people. “I am always on the move checking new areas, so my shelter must be easily transported. I use Eskimo’s sled-style Sierra Thermal Shanty, which can be purchased for under $400,” states Glasgow. “However, as a beginner, you might skip a shelter and simply pick your fishing days carefully – only go on windless days when air temperature is in the 30’s. Shelter or not, I never go out without my Mr Heater Buddy heater.”
- Hole Maker: The device used to drill holes in the ice is an auger. There are manual, gas-powered and battery- powered augers. Manual ones are least expensive, but can wear you out. Glasgow suggest Eskimo’s Pistol Bit – cutting blades on a long shaft that attaches to a portal cordless drill (which you likely have already). “Carry an extra lithium drill battery with you and you drill holes all day long without wearing yourself out.”
- Sonar vs Underwater Camera: Although many ice anglers are carrying the latest high-end sonar units onto the ice, Glasgow explains a basic unit is sufficient for beginners. “The Vexilar FL8 – a flasher sonar that has been around for decades – is perfectly fine as a starter unit. Consider going with the FL8 and put the money saved into an underwater camera. When searching for crappies, I find the palm-sized Aqua View Micro On waters with large weedy flats, crappies hang out in weed-free pockets and often rise above the weed tops to suspend within two feet of the ice. Sonar cannot see them in the weeds or right under the ice. However, the camera can!”
- Rod/Reel/Line/Bait: After putting together the essential equipment for ice fishing, we arrive at the meat of the matter. Glasgow says a basic 24 to 36-inch panfish ice rod and reel combo can be had for less than $30 from well-known brand companies such as 13 Fishing and HT Enterprises. “Or you can upgrade to my favorite Lucky Custom Rods which run around $80 each. I spool all my reels with 3 or 4-pound specially-formulated Gamma Fluorocarbon Ice line. Baits for crappies focus on ice jigs, which are tiny tungsten jigheads with small profile plastic bodies most often intended to imitate aquatic organisms such as nymphs, blood worms and large zooplankton; however, some jigs are meant to imitate minnows. My jigheads are ADK Custom, and my plastic bodies include ones from BC Bait Company, Maki Plastics and Contraband. Throw in a Rapala Slab Rap and a small jigging spoon, and you have all you need to put slabs on ice!