By Cole Karsky | November 28, 2022
Early Ice is almost upon us! early ice can provide some of the best fishing opportunities of the year. One of my favorite places to go look for early ice crappies is the backwater bays of river systems. These bays are often the first thing to freeze up with walkable ice. They are also very rich in food and cover due to their shallow nature.
When I go out on my early ice backwater missions, I have four presentations I will bring along, a bobber rod, a tungsten jig, a spoon, and an aggressive rattle bait. Each of these plays an important role in triggering the bites.
# Presentation 1
For my bobber rod I use a Della Bay Tip Dip. This is a fiberglass rod with a very light tip. This allows me to keep crappies pinned when the hook goes into the paper thin mouths. I use a Piscifun ICX-5 as my reel on this presentation. The first reason is, the built in folding handle. Having this allows me to travel compact to my destination. The drag on the ICX-5 is very smooth and strong allowing me to handle any bigger predator fish I may encounter. Another important feature of this reel is the spool design. When you appropriately fill the spool, the line will roll off smoothly with an open bail. This is important because when a crappie takes the bobber down, they cannot feel any sort of resistance. For lures on this presentation, I like to go with either a plain hook or a small jig such as the Glitter Glow from JB Lures.
# Presentation 2
The second presentation is a tungsten jig rigged with a plastic fished on a Della Bay Pan Sizzler. This is another fiberglass rod with a lightweight tip. My reel of choice to pair on this rod is the Piscifun ICX Carbon. This reel has a freespool design that allows me to drop my bait down and be sure that it will not be spinning due to line twist. This is perhaps the most important feature you can have when presenting a tungsten jig. For the jig and plastic, there are two variances I like to choose, horizontal and vertical jigs. One of my favorite horizontal hanging tungsten jigs is the ESR from Eurotackle. This jig is designed, to have a nice strong signal back on your fish finder unit. The shape also allows for some great action when jigged. I like to pair this jig with an Eurotackle EPF minnow as the plastic. Because I am trying to imitate a baitfish, I generally will select gold as my jig color to imitate the flash of a scale. For the vertical presentation, I will reach for a Tungsten Spindrop from JB Lures. This jig has propellers on it that can be bent and tuned to give off a different type of action or fall. I like to pair my vertical hanging jig with an Eurotackle Gamma Scud for a nice compact presentation. With both options, I will dip the plastic in BillyRub for some extra scent and flavor. I find myself going for the freshwater shrimp most often.
# Presentation 3
The third presentation is a spoon rigged on a Della Bay Parenteau Pup. This is a 30” light carbon rod. I pair this with a Piscifun Viper X reel. This reel is lightweight and has a 5:2:1 gear ratio which is a moderate speed. I find having that moderate speed allows me to keep the fish pinned and not reel so fast as to pull out a treble hooked lure from the paper thin mouths. My favorite jig size for panfish is a 1/16th oz. I have two jigs that I tend the fish the most in that size category. The first is an Eurotackle T-Flasher. This jig is tungsten so I can fish a 1/16th oz size but have a very compact presentation. This jig also includes a feathered treble so I can fish it without bait and just some BillyRub scent added. The second spoon I like is the Big Bad Bo from JB lures. I like this spoon because it has a blade built in for extra attraction. That blade adds noise and flash.
# Presentation 4
The final presentation is the most aggressive. The Eurotackle Z-Viber is a 1/16th ounce micro rattle bait. I will fish this on the Della Bay OG. The OG is a longer, light action rod at 34”. I like having a bit more length for aggressively working the bait. The reel I pair with this rod is the Piscifun Carbon X. The Carbon X is incredibly lightweight yet has a super powerful drag. I can aggressively work the bait and not get fatigued because of how lightweight the reel is. The silky smooth operation of the Carbon X makes it a very comfortable reel to fish all day long. I will add some BeaverTail Bait to the hook of the Z-Viber for some added color, scent, and action.
Having these four presentations dialed in and ready to go is important for early ice backwater fishing. Because these backwater bays are generally very shallow, the fish can hear you moving around on the ice. I like to set up on the edge of weeds or find a change in the bottom makeup such as a 1ft drop or hump. I will then do a sit and wait approach. If I hole hop, I am going to be pushing the fish around because they can hear all the activity on the surface. By having a variety of bait options for them, I can call them over to me and finesse them into biting by jigging lure or taking the live minnow under the bobber.
So next time you are planning your trip, consider a backwater bay. Get yourself set up with the right gear to put the odds in your favor of landing your next bite through the ice!