March 06, 2023
If there’s a time of year when hardwater crappie fishing can really heat up, it’s late- to last-ice. Fish start to transition and can be pretty easy to locate. Another bonus is they start to feed heavily, often smashing larger lures like rattle baits and minnow-style glide baits.
We talked with Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-located hardwater crappie expert, Blake Tollefson, and he shared his late-ice crappie wisdom—intel that should help you catch more crappies over upcoming weeks.
“Once we start getting into late ice, typically March, a lot of crappie ice anglers abandon the basins,” Said Tollefson. “Me, I still start my search in the basin, especially shallower ends of it, then I proceed to 10- to 20-foot flats adjacent to the basins.”
“Fish will begin to transition from mid-winter’s deeper crappie-holding basins and start moving toward spawning areas in shallower bays, typically the northwestern ends of lakes, where water temperatures and the ice melts first.”
Another thing, Tollefson said, is crappies tend to cruise higher up in the water column as they move from mid-basins to flats on their move shallow.
“You’ll notice them from five or six feet below the ice all the way up to just under the ice. They’re chase a bait really high to smash it!”
“In Wisconsin we have a lot of manmade fish cribs, Christmas tree piles, and brush and timber. These areas load up during late-ice—especially those in the mid-depth range. The deeper cribs and shallow cribs don’t necessary hold fish during late-ice,” he said. “It’s that mid-depth stuff you want to target.”
He says crappies will pretty much stay on this kind of mid-depth structure until they get ready to move into the shallows to spawn.
“And if there are green weeds shallower, there will always be crappies there, too,” he said.
Tollefson says it’s hard to beat a 3- to 4mm tungsten jig tipped with a micro-plastic, most often without the addition of a waxworm or a couple maggots.
“Late-ice fish are aggressive. It’s all about getting your bait to pods of fish fast and not worrying about having to re-bait,” he said. “While scent can be important, it’s not super important for me during the late- to last-ice period. These fish just want to eat.”
In terms of specific micro-plastics, Tollefson is a fan of the Eurotackle Bloodworm for fishing many of the smaller basin-style lakes in his neck o’ the woods that have a soft, muddy bottom with emerging critters.
“The other bait I fish a lot is the Eurotackle Leech. which is like a tiny Beaver-style bass bait with a big, water-displacing tail,” he said.
His three go-to colors are red, black, and white because they work across all water clarity situations.
“In really stained water I might use pink or chartreuse—and in clear waters I might try a bluegill or green pumpkin hue pattern—but 90% of my late-ice crappie fishing is done with red, black, and white micro-plastics.”
In terms of electronics, Tollefson keeps things pretty simple, relying on lake-mapping via cell phone apps and a MarCum flasher.
“I have yet to switch over to using forward-facing sonar on the ice,” he said. “I know where the cribs are and have fished these lakes for years and the crappie migration patterns.”
Rods and Reels
He is pretty particular about the rods, reels, and line he uses. When it comes to tungsten jigs and micro-plastics, Tollefson turns to the 32-inch light-power, extra-fast action St. Croix Custom Ice Pan Dancer.
“I also use the St. Croix CCI Perch Seeker quite a bit, especially if I’m slinging mid-sized gliding/darting style baits and rattlebaits for aggressively feeding late-ice crappies. At 32-inches and available in a unique medium-light, extra-fast action with green indicator tip, this rod handles it all, even the occasional bass, walleye, or pike.”
Both set ups are taped-up with Daiwa QR, QG, or QZ 750 reels and 3- to 4-pound mono or fluorocarbon.
And when the crappies finally do set up in shallow depths, he does a lot of sight fishing through the hole.
“That’s when I fish them like the Michigander straight-line crowd with a short, 24-inch ultra- or medium-light St. Croix Skandic combined with a simple and inexpensive Schoolie reel, which allows me to strip off short lengths of line manually and fish vertically right over the hole, looking down into the water,” he said. “Then I’m typically back to tungsten and micro-plastics. Brighter baits are obviously easier to see, watch disappear, and then set the hook.”