By Jeff Samsel
Who says that going miniscule is the only way to catch crappie through the ice?
Downsize. That always seems to be the call to crappie fishermen for working through the ice, and crappie specialists commonly use 1/100-ounce jigs, 1- or 2-pound test and ultralight ice rods equipped with spring bobbers.
Not Doug Sikora.
Doug Sikora likes to be on the ice before it gets light in the morning and/or stay until after dark in the afternoon because the best crappie bites often occur at first and last light.
An Indiana crappie tournament fisherman and year-round angler who chases everything that swims, Sikora rarely messes with ultra finesse. In fact, Sikora’s jigs and plastics he typically uses for ice fishing aren’t officially ice lures. They are the same baits he jigs and casts for open water crappie, and most are around 2 1/2 inches long.
For Sikora, who fishes primarily in reservoirs when he ice-fishes near home, it’s partly a matter of matching the hatch.
“Reservoir crappie mostly eat shad,” he explained, “and there are no little shad during the winter, so a really tiny bait doesn’t even look natural to the fish.”
That’s not his only reason, though. Sikora doesn’t believe that it generally makes sense to downsize during the winter because fish feed less frequently and therefore want more bang for their buck. Of course, for summer, winter or any time in between, Sikora also favors baits on the large end of the spectrum simply because he wants to catch bigger crappie.
Beyond the unique fish attracting advantages that Sikora points toward, heavier jigheads are simply easier to manage with vertical presentations than traditional ice jigs, especially if the wind is blowing. A little added weight allows for better depth control of offerings, better feel of baits and control of presentations.
Most importantly, Sikora has learned that his open-water baits produce fish during the winter, and he can use the same color selections and presentations that he already knows well and uses to catch fish.
A black and white crappie double fell to Bobby Garland Scent Wiggl’R jigs.
“I think people make ice fishing too complicated with all the specialized gear and techniques, and that keeps a lot of people from going,” Sikora said. “I don’t fish much differently than I would from the boat.”
Sikora’s home ice season is fairly short. He admitted that if he lived in Minnesota, he might experiment with more specialized ice techniques. As is, his regular crappie lures and only a handful accessories do the job well.
Specifically, Sikora likes a Bobby Garland Scent Wiggl’R, Baby Shad Swim’R and Stroll’R. He fishes all on 1/8 or 3/16-ounce Mo’Glo Jigheads. The Scent Wiggl’R has a big body profile but tapers down and has a subtle wavering action. The Swim’R has a tiny paddle at the tip of a pointed tail, so it shimmies with every movement of the rod. The Stroll’R offers a more punctuated swimming action and shakes with every lift and drop. Sikora experiments and lets the fish dictate their preferences any given day.
Sikora similarly leaves color determinations to the fish. If he is fishing with a friend or two, everyone tries to start with a different color. With or without company, he switches colors from time to time to time and pays attention to which colors draw strikes. His normal selection includes both translucent shad imitations and bold, bright, opaque color patterns.
Along with using big baits that are highly visible, Sikora adds attraction by coating baits with Bobby Garland Mo’Glo Slab Jam. The Slab Jam is a thick, gooey gel that can be loaded into an opening or used to coat a bait. As the name suggests, it glows in the dark and really lights up an offering in low-light conditions or stained water. As importantly, it adds a strong fish-attracting scent.
Beyond fishing with big baits, you can make a big impression with Mo’Glo Slab Jam, which adds scent and glows in the dark.
Sikora uses a fairly long ice rod because it allows him to fish aggressively, drilling several holes, moving from hole to hole and standing or kneeling instead of getting settled. He doesn’t like to use too light a rod or go super tiny with his line because while crappie are his target species, he likes to catch everything, and he commonly encounters white bass, largemouths and various other species while he is crappie fishing.
Sikora walks onto lakes near home and travels light so he can walk farther from access points and easily move to new areas. He has found that just 10 or 15 minutes of walking can get him to areas that receive far less pressure than similar spots that are closer to popular access points. His typical gear includes a hand auger, which he carries over his shoulder, a bucket that contains his flasher, a couple of rods, a skimmer, and a few little tackle boxes or packets. Add safety picks around his neck and a few odds accessories in pockets, and he is fully equipped to fish.
When crappie are his primary targets, Sikora focuses on the ends of points, the mouths of coves and the edges of flats – all places where that offer relatively shallow structure that drops into deeper water. He drills several holes at a range of depths upon arrival and works them methodically to find active fish. Sometimes he “peeks” into several holes with his flasher before he ever drops a line just to get an idea of the depths that are holding the most fish.
Sikora ice fishes whenever he can, and sometimes other aspects of life dictate fishing times. When possible, though, he gets on the ice well before daylight and has his holed drilled and has started fishing by the time it starts to get light. For afternoon outings, he almost always stays on the ice until it is completely dark because the best afternoon crappie bite often occurs just as it is getting dark. For morning outings, Sikora normally finds the best early success in his shallowest holes and then follows the fish down the slope as the sun climbs in the sky. The opposite is true in the afternoon.
Once Sikora starts fishing, he could just a well be jigging from his boat. He drops the same bait and works them with the same range of presentations. And just like he does when he fishes from his boat, Sikora typically catches a lot of crappie with his big approach.
Although Sikora mostly fishes with baits that are big by ice crappie standards, if the fish won’t quite commit or they are hitting and missing, he’s willing to believe them that they want something different. When Sikora wants to mix things up by down-sizing, his crappie bait of choice is a Bobby Garland Itty Bit Swim’R, which, as the name suggests, is simply a miniature version of one of the lures that Sikora likes best for open water and hard water alike.
Bobbly Garland – bobbygarlandcrappie.com