By Vic Attardo
The interior light is eerie, like a poison fog, and supernatural. This bright “digital” green seen on electronic devices and in science-fiction movies is surrounded by a dense black that swallows all features, all dimensions – making night in an ice tent an eerie experience.
In this void the ice angler operates as much on tactile sense as on vision. If you can’t see the rod tip clearly then you rely on the telegraph key in your hand, and the fast rod tip.
Here’s where it pays to keep your index finger under the line along your reel hand. You’ll feel a tick, nothing more, and if you’re lucky and snap the rod to attention, you may feel the weight of a crappie some 15 feet down.
That’s the core of it in the world of ice fishing for crappies at night, in a tent with the gleam of a Hydro Glow light.
But the light is not for special effects; its penetrating gleam brings fish to the hole. The light attracts plankton, which attracts minnows, and minnows bring in the schooling crappies – hungry as kids at a birthday party.
It’s cold outside the pop-up tent, 15 F, at best, with no heat from the sun, but when the action gets going with a strong crappie bite, neither the void nor the cold is of any concern.
Before the catching
The first thing to conquer when night fishing for crappies on ice is the night itself. It can get downright spooky. If the ice is groaning, the rumble raises the hair on the back of your neck when a crack stretches across the lake like a phonograph needle scratched across a vinyl record.
As many burgeoning cracks as I’ve experienced, I can’t help my legs from tensing until the sound fades away and my mental “all safe” signal is sounded.
As for other considerations, the methods and equipment for ice fishing for crappies at night is little different from daylight ice crappie fishing. You use jigs, jigs with either larva bait or soft plastics, and you bounce the jigs with different rhythms.
Or you try a thin spoon or a concave spoon depending on the crappie’s willingness to pursue. This choice is between a tight-holding bait such as the narrow, straight spoon or the wide wobbler, more erratic concave spoon. A really active school of crappies will take the latter; slower individuals the former.
This is the also the time to use a glow bait, either jig or spoon. The dull colors of a glow bait that aren’t so eye appealing when encased in packaging on a tackle shop shelf now come to life underwater – if properly charged.
Glow baits are available in a range of colors including green, red, blue (white), and orange glows. They all work, but I think crappies prefer the brighter green, sometimes red. If you recall your chemistry it’s the same shade green produced by burning boric acid with an open flame.
Perhaps this boron-green mimics a bio-fluorescent item that interests crappies. Heck, scientists at the University of Georgia recently discovered that pocket gophers are bio-fluorescent. Yep, pocket gophers!
When I plan on night fishing, I leave a tray of glow baits in the sunlight (or under an incandescent light) for many hours so the light activates the particles in the glow paint, causing them to jostle and irradiate.
In a pinch I’ll charge them with a UV bulb but I’ve found these battery-induced charges don’t last as long as good old sunlight. Of course, there are better-quality glow paints so make test comparisons and chose the best. At night it makes a difference.
Finding the fish
Something that is slightly different for night ice is the need to find and establish a good location, and stay there. Sometimes I’ll drag around the tent to work different spots but this gets tiring and frustrating. Better to know your location, and know it’s a crappie hangout.
Electronics are important so is a good knowledge of the lake you’re fishing. I don’t think I’ve ever ice fished a lake at night that I didn’t have daylight experience on, or was with a friend with that familiarity. And I prefer lakes under 100 acres, or much smaller bays and features where the crappies can be tracked.
Also, I avoid lakes with a low-density crappie population. It’s hard enough getting on a bite with a good crappie population; it’s just not worth the one or two fish I might catch at night if the overall numbers aren’t there. I’d rather concentrate on the bluegills in shallower water if that is the case.
It seems unnecessary or redundant to talk about setting the hook but that is the difference between a good fisherman and a poor fisherman. It’s all in the arms and wrists and the immediate recognition of what is a strike. The strike is usually only a tiny tap.
At night you must tune into your “spidey senses.” Many an angler waits to feel the rod pull down hard. This isn’t going to happen a lot. Also, sometimes crappies strike while swimming up and the line goes slack. Strike at that, too!
The beauty of night ice is that it feels like a mystery solved when you reel hard and a 14-inch crappie comes to the surface, erasing all questions of what was on your sonar and on the line.
And it’s all about the green.