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Changing Your Approach...

Matt Johnson

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Extremely light biting fish call for a very light/finesse action rod. Spring bobbers and noodle rods are what I have in mind here. We need to go below the concept of ultralite rods and approach the realm of the "noodle". I hit the ice in search of crappies, and mainly just the opportunity of catching maybe only one fish, but that fish would hopefully be big. Early ice is prime for these situations, and big crappies are more eager to approach what you drop below an ice hole, but on the flip-side, they are also very picky once they reach the strike zone. Having a very sensitive rod and a well balance jig are key. I'm big on horizontal jigs, and the JR's Tackle Ice Minnow or Pumkinseed are two of my top choices. The Ice Minnow immitates a lot what crappies are feeding on right now, let alone much of the year. Tipped with a maggot or two and you're armed with a deadly fish catching weapon.

There is more to the outfit though, you also need a rod that will detect the most minute/non-existent bites, and the Power Noodle or Finesse Plus rigged with a spring bobber by Thorne Bros is the rod for the job. The Power Noodle is light enough to fish without a spring bobber, and that's what I was equipped with today. Now, ultralite rods like the 24 incher from JR's Tackle or the Sweetheart Plus from Thorne Bros are both great rods and have a place in my asernal, no doubt about it, but certain times call for finesse approaches, and today was just one of those days.

The weight of the jig was enough to put a slight dip in the rod tip, and when the crappie inhaled the bait, all that happened was that the rod tip returned to normal position. Now, I'm talking a movement of about a half a centimeter by the rod tip. That's all there was, once that happened I set the hook...the battle begun and soon after a fish in my hand.

I managed three fish using this approach. And I'm confident it can work for you in the right conditions. Here's one the fish...

It measured in at 16.25 inches...


It was caught on a JR's Tackle size 10 Green/White glow Ice Minnow just after sunrise. I was also was lucky enough to catch two 14 inchers along with this one within 45 minutes of each other. The fish were relating to shallower water, I'm talking about 8 feet and off the initial break. These fish are roaming and circling structure insearch of forage.


JR's Tackle Ice Minnow

These fish are not holding where smaller fish are. Schools of smaller crappies will turn these bigger fish away, but you can often times find these bigger fish close by. Small moves is all it takes to locate these bigger fish. I was about 400 yards from a prime early ice crappie spot, a spot where you can catch more 7-9 inch crappies than a person knew what to do with. I had the first ice jonz in my bonz, and I wanted to catch fish, but I forced myself to tread somewhat new water and move away from where I knew I could catch smaller fish all day. Instead, I found an isolated hump just off the first break and I punched a series of holes and worked the area.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is don't be afraid to try new water. Look at a map and search out areas that you think might produce. I know it's tough to pass up prime early ice spots where y ou know the crappies congregate, but you never know if those slabs are right around the corner holding in a spot where there isn't a person in sight. I'm not saying that this is a for sure thing, but the possibility is always there. Do I catch slab crappies everytime I hit the ice? Definitely not, actually I stumble across a true slab crappie bite maybe a couple times per winter on a good year, but its worth it and I like to go out of my way to try and catch them.

So, I encourage you to try "new approaches" to targeting crappies. Try new areas and don't be afraid to explore. And, having a finesse rod that detects very light bites is important too. I honestly don't believe I would have caught those fish without a finesse rod. The bites were virtually undetectable.

Have fun on the ice, but be very cautious and safe, the ice conditions are still very poor.

Good Fishin,

Matt Johnson

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Matt, Thats a great looking crappie it must have put up a great fight.

It's exciting when your ice fishing and the spring bobber or float twitches a little bit indicating you have a bite and you get the hook set and you get to reel in a nice size crappie like that one in your picture thats exciting.Congratulations that a Nice Crappie Matt.


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That is a nice fish Matt! The one thing in addition to what Matt has described for terminal tackle and how to apply is the need to use high quality, very limp, memory-free line. 1 to three pound lines are sufficient to land fish of this quality, but you have got to play them, not horse them. I have fished with lines that supposedly disappear under water and those which are gin-clear and the later lines have served me the best as long as they hold no memory.

P-line has shown favor for some people, vanish is my favorite in 2 pound. When trout or walleyes get into the picture I go to 4 pound. Never anything heavier than that. And the super braids I have used just brought frustration to me.

I have fished with Matt on a couple occasions and one thing I have noted about him....he is a very intense line watcher. Very little will get past him visually, even while fishing electronics. I thought he had iguana eyes for a while...one looking at me and the other his line and we were feet apart. The point is that you have to fishing to get fish like this! If you are cozying a brew or plugging the pie hole, you will miss more than you will catch. Matt would rather go out and fish 4 hours to get two fish like the one shown than to go out for an hour and get thwenty mediocre fish and have a meal and some suds. He knows he can't do both at the same time.

Again, Matt. Great looking fish....you dog you. lol

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You guys might cringe at this but my favorite line for light biters is 2 lb hi-vis gold. That in conjunction with the vexilar is hard to beat for finesse fishing, when I mark a fish that shows interest in my bait, and if it won't take, alot of times I raise the bait a foot or so above the fish and ever so slowly lower the bait back through the zone, with that color line it is very easy to detect even the slightest of pick-ups, I pair this with a noodle rod and even with 2lb test can land any size sunfish or crappie, last year landed a 6lb bass and even a few northerns. Some might think the gold line might turn off some fish, but let me tell you, everyone that I have fished with that wasn't using it, is now using it. I think that I can detect strikes that I might otherwise miss with low-vis line. Like I said, some might disagree with this but this is my favorite and best producing set-up.

Oh, yeah, nice crappy Matt! whew!

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Everyone has a line prference. No bucking that and you'll most likely not see anyone try to "un-convince" you. More importantly you have hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head by stating that 2# line is all you need for sunfish and crappies. Today's lines and reels are hand in hand complimnets to one another. For years people had to spend an arm and a leg to get a reel with a quality drag to handle lighter lines. Today 20 dollars will get you that. And today's lines have a much greater tensile strength/ diameter/ limpness correlation. All one has to do is snoop the market and try things out. And many of the lines we see today are very affordable, making that aspect less a burden. I have seen some lines work nicely at early ice, in a shack, or late ice, but perform almost miserably when used in the cold outside.

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