How to Target Black Crappies (Part 2)

Ontario's elite angler Pete Garnier explains why crappie ice fishing is his favourite "Video Game" - and how anyone can do it, with a little practice.

I know what you're thinking.

Ontario black crappie guru Pete Garnier's previous article (Part 1) promised to share more of his ice fishing secrets. Especially Pete's 'classic winter pattern.' So, c'mon  share."

Okay, I am cool with that.

"During the low light period, for the first hour or two in the morning," says Garnier, who was the 2012 Canadian Sport Fishing League (CSFL) Classic Champion, "you may have been catching crappies using an active presentation. You were working your lure with a fair amount of movement, you saw the fish come in on the sonar screen, watched them charged up to your bait and whammo  fish on!

"But, then, typically around mid-morning they still show up, but they don't charge your bait. Instead, they hover below it, move up slowly, and don't bite. They're telling you that they've changed their activity level and that you need to become creative in order to trigger the ''lookers' into biters."

Ontario crappie expert Pete Garnier says to match your presentation to the fish's activity levels.

Garnier says the key adjustment now is matching your presentation to the fish's activity levels. Move your bait and lure ever so slowly and impart painfully long pauses. Matter of fact, he says no movement at all, dead-sticking your bait in front of the fishes' faces, typically seals the deal.

"One of the most overlooked components of pan fishing in the wintertime is determining the size of the 'strike window'", says Garnier, who every year also nabs some of the biggest and most beautiful bluegills. "By 'strike window,'  I am referring to the vertical and horizontal distances a fish will swim to eat your bait.

"Sorting this out tells me how many fish I can expect to catch from a hole before I need to move on to the next one. It also tells me how close together I should drill my holes. Inactive panfish won't swim very far, so I'll often drill my holes surprisingly close to one another and expect only to catch three or four fish from each hole. On the other hand, if the activity level increases and the fish start moving around more, I'll space my holes much further apart and hole jumps much less frequently."

When the bite slows down, Gord Pyzer, will move his lure ever so slowly and impart long pauses.

Listening to Garnier talk about coaxing out extra bites reminds me that I often trick moody crappies by changing the colour of my jig and soft plastic dressing. He nods his head in agreement and chuckles, "I'll typically have several rods rigged with the same bait but in different colours. And I'll swap rods after catching a few fish to 'keep them guessing' and the bite going on for as long as possible.

"The Angler's Choice Crappie Wiggler is my go-to bait of choice because it is super soft, yet surprisingly tough. It is shad-shaped with a flattened tail that tapers out to a diminutive thread at the end. The bait comes alive in the water with the slightest movement.

"I'll let you in on another trick," says the personable Garnier, who holds eight Canadian Live Release Records: "when you rig the soft plastic on a heavier than normal jig head, the tail quivers on the way down as if it is swimming. When you use a lighter head, on the other hand, it produces a meandering glide."

Using the same presentation he makes for crappies in the winter, Pete Garnier also catches some magnificent Ontario bluegills and pumpkin seeds.

Watching Garnier shake his rod incessantly, you quickly get the impression that he drank far too much coffee at breakfast. But there is a method to his madness. The rat-a-tat-tatting produces a tight, rapid tail vibration that makes his plastic dressing look like a minnow finning in one spot.

"My typical presentation begins with tiny, rapid jiggles of the rod tip," Garnier explains. "I'll couple this movement with a slow gradual lift when I find crappies in an active to neutral feeding mode. When they are less aggressive, I'll still impart the jiggling motion but I'll slow it down a bit and separate the 'finning' look with longer and longer pauses, holding the bait motionless for increasingly longer periods of time.

"I love playing cat-and-mouse with the fish, paying attention to how quickly or slowly they follow the bait when I lift it up. Sometimes during a moderate lift when you suddenly stop, they smash into your lure. The only choice they have is to inhale it.

"Other times, a single flick of the rod tip, followed by a pause will let your bait glide back to a still position. It almost wakes them up. As I see them start moving toward my bait, I slowly start the jiggling motion, but if the fish stops, so do I. It is so much fun that just talking about it makes me want to get out on the ice.

"It's without question my favourite 'video game' and with a little practice, it will work for anyone willing to play the game in Northern Ontario."

About Gord Pyzer

Gord Pyzer is the fishing editor of Outdoor Canada magazine and field editor of In-Fisherman magazine. He is the co-host of the Real Fishing Radio Show and host of Fish Talk With The Doc.

Recommended Articles

5 Deadliest Fishing Lures

Use these lures when ice fishing for lake trout in Northern Ontario.

3 Great Ontario Walleye Destinations

Karl of Extreme Angler recommends must do walleye lakes in Ontario.

Top 10 Ice Fishing Lakes

Every kind of fish and experience—Ontario ice fishing is some of the best in the world.

Ontario Brook Trout

Fish these 10 sweet spots.

Top 5 Musky Destinations in Ontario

The Musky Hunter shows you where to land the best musky in Ontario waters.

Top 5 Flies for Smallmouth Bass

The inside scoop on bass flies from the hosts of The New Fly Fisher.

5 Places to Shore Fish

Fish’n Canada shows you where to go shore fishing in Ontario.

Terrestrial Flies for Brook Trout

These fish feed like crazy and look for opportunities for a big protein meal.

Spring Perch Fishing

Use These Tips on Your Next Ontario Fishing Trip

Top Three Ontario Musky Waters

Where to catch the fish of 10,000 casts.

Wag Your Tail For More Walleye, Bass and Trout

Fishing with friends brings camaraderie and a lesson, or two.

Four Seasons of Bass in Ontario

Northern Ontario is home to year-round bass.

Five Brook Trout Flies

What flies to bring when fishing for brook trout.

Top 10 Streamers for Ontario Brook Trout

Big Brook Trout get that way by eating lots of smaller fish which is why streamers work well.

Eating Northern Pike

The Best Recipe to Cook This Fish

Top 5 Baits for Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass

What baits do you use to target bass? Find out why these 5 are the best!

Big Lake Abitibi

Ice Fishing With Dunn Right Outfitters

Top Ranked Flies For Catching Brown Trout

How to set up a fly rod, pick streamers, and catch some trout.

Fishing and Foraging

Add some fresh foods and forage to your fishing adventures!

Balsam Lake Walleye

How to Use Snap Jigging to Catch Walleye