Better Bite Detection In Deep Water

Category: press release

 Jan 21st, 2015 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Jan 21st, 2015 at 12:00 AM

How to put more suspended basin crappies on the ice this winter

By Steve Pennaz

One of the best ways to catch crappies during mid-winter is to head for deeper basin areas. Depending on the type of lake, crappies will either suspend in these areas or stay glued to the bottom. The depths we’re talking about can vary from 15 to 50 feet of water. Oxygen and food availability play a huge part.

In the best case scenario, your flasher or graph will light up with crappies cruising the middle of the water column. These fish could be feeding on anything from microscopic organisms to minnows. When they’re eating minnows, nuance isn’t such a big part of the game. Simply drop a jig and one-inch Gulp! Minnow and the fish generally bottle-rocket to your bait!

But what’s more often the case are crappies feeding on critters in the mud or zooplankton somewhere higher up in the water column. Unlike crappie chasing minnows, these fish typically just slide up to whatever they plan to eat and gently suck it in.

Now for the bad news…you miss most of these bites because the take is so gentle that unless the fish moves off you feel nothing in this deep water.

The first time I watched basin crappies on the screen of my Aqua-Vu underwater camera I was stunned at the number of bites I didn’t know I was getting. So I started tweaking my presentation and developed a system that runs counter to what seems like crappie common sense, yet works well. And no, it doesn’t include a strike indicator.

Although a strike indicator works wonders for recognizing bites in shallow water, I don’t like them in deep water. Rather, I find that boosting my sense of feel improves my response time. If my jig is 25 feet down – or more – by the time the strike indicator moves and I set the hook, the game is often already over. 

So I switched to a much stiffer graphite ice rod (very little bend even with hooked fish) and a thin superline, typically Berkley NanoFil in 4-pound test. This combination telegraphs even light bites almost instantaneously allowing for quick hooksets.

I made another important change to my presentation. Now, when the line on my sonar representing the fish and the line representing my lure become a single line, I know the fish is on the bait and assume a bite is imminent or has already happened. Rather than waiting to feel the bite in this situation, I gently lift the rod three or four inches to check and if there is resistance I continue the lift to set the hook. If not, I drop the bait back to the fish and repeat the process until I either catch the fish or it leaves.

The key is to make subtle rod movements to avoid spooking fish, but aggressive enough to find out if you have a bite or not.

With practice, this technique becomes almost magical.  

Although you’d think that the combination of stiff rod and no-stretch line would have the tendency to rip baits out of crappie mouths, but it hasn’t been the case in the deep-water situations I fish. In most cases, the fish are played out (or suffering from the change in water pressure) before they reach the hole. I usually tie direct too, but if that freaks you out, simply add a monofilament of fluorocarbon leader to your presentation. 

About Stone Cold Fishing/Steve Pennaz
Steve Pennaz is the former US National Ice Fishing Champion and competed in two World Ice Fishing Championships as a member of Team USA. He hosts Stone Cold Fishing, a television series devoted to ice fishing.

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