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Finding crappie on a frozen lake is a daunting task. With endless water to cover, it’s crucial to put your effort into the specific times and places that will increase your odds of success when ice fishing crappie. If you are new or inexperienced in crappie fishing, the thought of finding and breaking down water can be intimidating.

Many online guides often give you generic advice, not providing tangible solutions that actually walk you through how to find and catch these fish.  That’s where this guide comes in. We will walk you through the intricacies of finding and catching crappie in the winter, including how to choose a lake, understanding basin locations, selecting the right gear, and using technology to make your life a whole lot easier when targeting these fish. 


Before you begin, it’s essential to put your effort into selecting a lake that has a fishable population of crappie.

So how do you choose a lake? Use your local conservation resources. Most states have survey reports and detailed mapping. As a citizen of Minnesota, my favorite is the MN DNR’s LakeFinder, which breaks down the species, size distribution and more. It makes finding a good lake a breeze.

It also provides public access information and a brief lake history; which can also be beneficial such as determining if a smaller lake has experienced significant winter kill. 

When trying new lakes, I prefer smaller lakes (1000 acres or less) with a couple different deep “bowls” to try. This size of lakes are the most manageable and allow me to break down each basin separately. 


When it comes to locating crappie during the ice season, you can’t go wrong going deep – ESPECIALLY at night. Target crappies at night and it’s nearly a guarantee.  They often congregate in these areas in response to the zooplankton coming off of the deep bottom.

The key is to look for deep water surrounded by really shallow water, often in back bays, or near small inlets. These fish will suspend well off the bottom, often in big schools, making them easy to locate with a live sonar or even a traditional flasher.  

When dissecting a basin, your strategy will depend on which technology you own. For those with traditional flashers, get ready to drill. I’ll often start by drilling an X pattern across it (or across half of it), and then grab my flasher to try to spot these fish. Their stacked and suspended behavior is a dead giveaway. 

The more people you have in your group, the easier it is to breakdown a basin this way.

The other option is to use live sonar (such as the Humminbird Mega Live or Garmin Livescope). In this situation, I drill one hole, drop down live in forward mode and search for the fish. If I find them, I’ll drill on top of them (and often all around) and use my flasher to directly target them while staying mobile.

Best case scenario is to have one person behind the live sonar unit keeping tabs on the fish, one person drilling, and the others right behind them ready to drop a line, their flasher, and start catching fish. 

Livescope and traditional flashers complement each other in this type of situation. 


Finding the fish is the first challenge, but catching them is the next. Crappies can be finicky, and having the right setup and presentation are key in finding success.


When it comes to choosing a rod, it’s important to match the rod to the baits you are going to use. The lighter the bait, the lighter rod. This allows for more control over the smaller baits, and especially helps for detecting light bites.

My favorite panfish rod is a light, extra fast action rod from St Croix called the Pan Dancer. It is PHENOMENAL. However, it’s also a premium rod, meaning it comes in at a premium price point. A great alternative is also their much more affordable Panfish Series Combo. 

Ultimately, look for a light powered rod with a fast or extra fast action end. Make sure it has a fluorescent colored tip to help with detecting those bites as well.


Tungsten VS. Lead Jigs

When it comes to targeting crappie you can’t go wrong with small jigs. However, not all jigs are the same. So how do you choose between tungsten and lead?

  • Tungsten Jigs: These offer a smaller profile yet boast greater weight, allowing for a faster and more controlled descent through the water column. The compact size is enticing to crappie, making tungsten jigs an excellent choice for various depths.
  • Lead Jigs: Opt for lead jigs when a slower fall is preferred. This can be especially effective in situations where a more leisurely presentation is needed to entice cautious crappie. The variety in shape and slow fall make it deadly for the toughest bite days.

Tip your jigs with wax worms or crappie minnows and you can’t go wrong.

My favorite crappie lures (use code NICOLE15 on any of the items below at Lurenet for a discount):

Preferred Line

It’s important to pair a lightweight setup with lightweight line. Any 2 – 6 lb line will do, however, I prefer a 4 lb braided line paired with a 4 lb fluorocarbon leader for the perfect balance of sensitivity and invisibility. Alternatively, opt for mono to take advantage of its stretch. I find this too can be beneficial when targeting finicky crappie as they often breathe in the bait just barely, and that little bit of give can make all of the difference.


Slow and Steady Raise

The biggest mistake I see people make (and the biggest mistake I used to make) is being way too aggressive with the cadence. Instead of jigging aggressively in the fish’s face, do a slow and steady raise up the column. Patience is key in allowing you to turn over more fish. This nuanced approach is particularly effective in enticing sluggish winter crappie into striking your bait.


Armed with the right knowledge, skills, and carefully chosen gear, you will learn how to crush the fish no problem. Whether you are new or just beginning, utilizing these simple and affected strategies will allow you to turn over more crappies each winter.

Be sure to checkout more crappie tips here.


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