Wintertime Crappies


When you think about ice fishing in Manitoba the image that most often comes to mind is the famous greenback walleye. However, the black crappie has been climbing up the ranks as one of the most “must fish” species in Manitoba.

Targeting crappie can be very versatile with both drive-to destinations and winter access lakes within the Whiteshell region. This allows anglers to cater their trip to their experience level and access to equipment.


Whether you are walking on to a nearby fishing spot or heading to the backcountry lakes, it’s important to pay attention to the shorelines. Look for rock structure protruding out into the lake, as the same structure will generally continue into the water. Start by drilling a hole directly out from a rock point close to the shore and test out the depth. Many different variables determine where the crappie will be hanging out, such as how deep into the winter season it is, how much snow is on the ice, and how large the lake is you are fishing on.

If you drop a line down and don’t mark any fish on your electronics or get a hit, move outwards from the shore into deeper water until you find the fish. The crappie will be moving around throughout the day in search of food. You may find that a hole in ten feet of water that was hot at first light dies off once the sun fully rises. Your hole in 20 feet of water heats up in the afternoon.  On lakes within the Caddy Lake Chain we will drill ourselves holes ranging in depth from 7 feet to about 25 feet and in all directions from our initial starting point.


Not even a large master angler crappie fish compares to pulling a 30 inch walleye out of an ice hole. You do not need to bring along your ten inch auger flight. Pack your 6 inch (or smaller) flight to save on weight and avoid having to remove extra ice. This will also help to save your arms if the fish are really moving around that day. It’s not uncommon for us to drill upwards of 100 holes on the section of lake we are fishing.


Packing for this trip can be super simple; a sled, a bucket with your tackle and rods. This can also double as a stool, a measuring board, auger and a scoop. You tend to be quite mobile when targeting crappie so the less you tow around, the more productive your day will be.


Electronics are certainly a helpful tool to have when trying to locate fish but it’s not like anglers weren’t successful far before the introduction of such devices. If you have the patience and put in the time, you will find those fish without the extra assistance. The main benefits of using electronics include ability to locate fish in the water column, determining depth, and getting a visual of the lake bottom.

You’ll want to set up the most sensitive rod that you own, as crappie tackle tends to be very light and small. The bite can also be a bit soft so set yourself up accordingly. A lighter rod is also ideal for when you set the hook as crappie have fragile mouths and the greater shock absorption will lead to less lost fish. If you don’t want to invest in another rod, any basic ice fishing rod will do.  Adding a 25 foot fluorocarbon leader of light line will help to balance things out.


We are obsessed with tungsten jigs as they are small but weighty enough to get down fast when you mark a fish on your flasher. The most popular colours amongst the fishes have been red, white and pink. When using a jig, we will tip them with plastic grubs or maggots of the same favourite jig colours.   Other lures in our kit include small hair jigs and essentially any other small tackle that you would bring along for targeting perch.


Once your holes are drilled and lines are tied, now comes the fun part. Pick a starting point and drop your line down to the lake bottom. Reel up two to three feet off bottom and make small and smooth jigging motions. Crappie’s eyes are on the top of their head so they are looking up for food and will generally swim upwards to whatever catches their attention. If you find you are not getting hit two feet off the bottom, consider coming up a foot.

When using electronics, keep your line above any marks that may be on your screen, as crappie can be aggressive and enjoy a good chase.  If you get the attention of a fish, reel up quickly staying above the mark on your screen until you get closer to the top of the hole. Oftentimes crappie will not even give you a chance to get your line down, racing full speed from the lake bottom up to your descending line. If you see a fast-moving line on your flasher or feel slack on your line, set the hook on that slab!


Everyone’s got to eat so when those crappie are busy munching away on all kinds of yummy organisms, there is guaranteed to be a big toothy critter lurking around waiting for an opportunity. For most lakes in Manitoba, you can use two rods for ice fishing so why not set yourself up with a tip-up close by to target those northern pike on the prowl.

Set up your tip-up using a larger frozen bait and position within the top third of the water column. This allows the pike a clear view when passing by. You can walk away from the tip-up and continue to fish for crappie but keep an eye on your flag. If you do see a flag pop up, remove the tip up from the hole lightly letting the line run through your hands until you can feel the fish pull the line taught. With a full swift motion set the hook being careful not to slack the line. Don’t be afraid to let the fish take a controlled run during the retrieve by letting out some of the line while keeping tension on it. Continue to slowly retrieve the fish enjoying the rewarding experience of using your hands as the reel.


Consider leaving your pop up at home! We move around a lot when we are crappie fishing and tip ups keep us on our toes so a tent just ends up being dead weight. We recommend dressing in layers, especially if you have a cold snow machine ride ahead of you, and to toss some extra heat packs in your tackle bag for fingers and toes. If you do bring your shack, it can always be used as a warming hut for when you just need a break from the outdoors and to double as your kitchen if you’re planning a shore lunch.


Moving from hole to hole and chasing flags all day can make you hungry. To complete your experience, consider packing a small stove, pan, seasoning and batter of your choice in order to host a shore lunch. If you like walleye you are going to love crappie but be prepared to share your lunch with the local bald eagle whether you want to or not! Be sure to check the regulations and limits beforehand and be mindful of the impact of angling pressure on fish populations.

Whenever people ask us about our favourite fish to target trough the ice, we always bring up crappie. We look forward to these trips all year long and encourage anglers to get out there and try it! The fishing is simple, the scenery unmatched, and there are always good times to be had out on the ice!  Go play outside!


About Author

—Robert Karpiak spent his childhood hunting and fishing under the influence of his parents, grandparents and extended family, and became a professional outfitter and hunting guide at the age of 19. —Robyn Grant  threw her first cast three years ago in 2014, and once that lure hit the water she was hooked. Spending her summers in the Manitoba Whiteshell Provincial Park and Western Ontario, it didn’t take long for this casual weekend activity to morph into a full time passion.

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