Game Play with Ice Gadgets Yield Winter Crappies

By Darl Black

 

Dave Lefebre of Erie, PA may be best known for his fishing successes on national bass circuits, but during the tournament off season he is a crappie-fishing phenom.

“When I started in professional bass fishing, I got tagged as an old school angler probably due to my fondness for antiquated flasher sonar units. But that’s really not me. I love keeping up with the new stuff – especially when it comes to ice fishing for panfish. With the continued advances in ice fishing equipment, I’ve evolved into a gadget junkie.”

Many anglers (particularly those in the southern states who never face ice-covered lakes) may wonder just how much equipment is required for ice fishing. Maybe an auger to drill a hole, one short ice pole with some line on it to drop a baited hook into the hole, and an empty 5 gallon can to turn upside down as a seat? Old school for sure!

“Drop the bait below a crappie, and the fish is a goner…”

Think again. The tackle industry keeps pumping out new must-have gadgets for today’s ice fishermen. Lefebre now has so much equipment it requires a cargo van or a pickup truck to haul everything to the frozen lake’s edge. For a day of ice fishing he transports at least two different augers (a manual and a power auger), a flasher sonar, a GPS/digital sonar combo, an underwater viewing camera, MarCum Pan-Cam system (motorized camera which rotates a camera 360 degrees and provides a Wi-Fi signal to his smart phone or tablet so he can see what the camera sees even when he is 100 yards from it), enough batteries to power everything, eight rods, cases of lures, and a sled (which converts to a shelter) to haul it all across the ice.

After arriving at an access point on a particular part of a lake, Lefebre pulls the loaded sled/shelter to a pre-determined site on the ice in order to establish a “base camp.” The site is selected based on a combination of previous fish catches and sonar readings during the open water season – particularly outings just prior to ice-up. With coordinates previously locked in his GPS unit, Lefebre parks his shelter right over a vital underwater crossroads that may include one or more of the following: brushpile, rock pile, stump, log, weed edge, drop-off, etc.

Ice fishing was so simple in the old days. But with all the equipment used today, Lefebre needs a pick-up or cargo van to haul all of it to the lake.

Ice fishing was so simple in the old days. But with all the equipment used today, Lefebre needs a pick-up or cargo van to haul all of it to the lake.

With the pop-up shelter set, fishing holes drilled and an underwater viewing camera positioned in the shelter, the next step is to place the MarCum Pan-Cam panning camera in a separate hole outside the shelter so he can have a 360 degree view of surrounding territory.

If you think he is ready to sit back and wait for fish to show up…well, you don’t know Lefebre!

“Then I grab my MarCum Lithium Shuttle plus a hand auger and head out on my walk-about to search the area for active fish. Underwater cameras have shown us that crappie, yellow perch and bluegill schools are constantly moving under the ice, either following schools of minnows or migrating up and down in the water column to feed on zooplankton. With the Pan-Cam app on my phone and Wi-Fi connection, I can watch the water at home base site while I’m out checking the outer perimeter of the area for fish schools in transit or look for a spot-on-spot I’ve missed.

Because crappies spend so much time suspended in the water column, it is difficult to find them with a camera. Here is a view of a school moving through. The odd color is due to weak lead core battery power after one day use. Lefebre says new lithium batteries are proving to be the ice fisherman’s best friend.

Because crappies spend so much time suspended in the water column, it is difficult to find them with a camera. Here is a view of a school moving through. The odd color is due to weak lead core battery power after one day use. Lefebre says new lithium batteries are proving to be the ice fisherman’s best friend.

“The hand-carried Shuttle is loaded with a sonar unit, three or four rods, and a utility of tackle. The Shuttle houses a 40-hour lithium battery – enough power that I don’t have to worry about charging it for three days. That battery powers the sonar and two UBS ports so I can charge my cell phone or tablet. Plus it has a bright light built in so I don’t have to carry a lantern or a pocket flash to charge my fluorescent baits. Furthermore there are three spots to screw in a flexible arm grip to hold a Go-Pro or Ion Camera when shooting video.”

The Shuttle has optional adapters in order to accept any brand ice-fishing sonar unit. Dave usually opts for his flasher unit when running-and-gunning on the ice, using a hand-held GPS to locate secondary sites he marked.

“When I’m on my walk-about drilling holes and dropping the transducer into the hole, if I don’t see a fish on the screen, I don’t fish. But when I see a fish, I begin to drop a lure down. If I see the fish react to the lure and begin moving to the bait, I feel pretty good that I can catch that fish. But I cannot let the lure drop below the fish because it will immediately lose interest. This is especially true for crappies.”

When asked why he favors a flasher for ice fishing instead of a digital picture on a sonar screen, Lefebre is ready with a response.

Ice fishing success!

Ice fishing success!

“Flashers are presenting information in real time – it is instantaneous. Digital screens cannot provide the amount of detail that a flasher does in real time – period. A flasher also tells you the size of the fish by how thick or thin the colored line appears. And it can tell you the distance the fish is from your position: if the mark is yellow, the fish is some distance from the lure in the edge of the cone signal. When the yellow line turns green, the fish is coming to your bait. And when the mark turns red, the fish is directly under you.”

He returns periodically to his home base for a rest before his next run-n-gun loop or when he sees a fish school migrate into cover at home base via his cell phone camera app.

Lefebre goes on to say the greatest asset to ice fishing recently has been the lithium battery. “Lithium batteries hold a charge so much longer than conventional lead batteries, and are smaller in size. All my electronic devices are powered by lithium batteries.”

Lefebre depends on three unique baits to catch crappies. First is Rapala’s Jigging Shad Rap – a lure that is smaller and wider than the original Jigging Rap. It’s a reaction lure you work by lifting and lowering a short distance, thereby causing it to swim in a circle. Short little snaps send it darting about.

“My next bait is the Slab Rap – a lipless rattle bait – for days when crappies are little tougher to catch. Again, work it vertically by lowering it to just above fish and then lifting and dropping it. The rattles often turn them on. If the rattles don’t do it, then I go stealth mode with a VMC Tungsten Tubby Jig tipped with a Tigger X Nymph body.

“You rarely find crappies hugging the bottom,” continues Lefebre. “Under the ice, they will be suspended mid-depth and typically they are high in the water column. The depth depends on water clarity and depth of preferred baitfish. For example, on Presque Isle Bay, I always find crappies 4 to 6 feet below the surface regardless of water depth.”

Lefebre concludes by stressing this point: “Drop the bait below a crappie, and the fish is a goner – it will not follow the bait down. Once the lure disappears below a crappie, the fish will be spooked and will move on.”