Crank Your Way To Suspended Late Summer Slabs
Bobbers, worms, tiny jigs and hooks, and flies are oftentimes associated with chasing
large panfish. However, summer is the time when big panfish, especially nomadic suspended
slab crappies, become hungry predators. The late summer period can be an especially effective
time to capitalize on their voracious appetites by using small crankbaits for fish suspending just
below the surface down to the thermocline.
When big crappies are suspended within the first 5’ of the water column, the 3DR-X
Shad is a must. The 3DR-X Shad is a new 2 3/8”, 1/4 oz. suspending crankbait that can be
worked just under the surface of the water down to about 5’. It is an exceptionally versatile
small crankbait with an internal scale finish that perfectly mimics the minnows that crappies
feed on near the surface. It can be casted, trolled, or drifted effectively for shallow suspended
fish. Casting when conditions are calm, especially at dawn or dusk, can be a dynamite way to
fish the 3DR-X Shad when a more finesse-based approach is needed. When windier conditions
exist, trolling and drifting the 3DR-X Shad can be great ways to cover as much water as possible
to chase bigger crappies feeding near the surface.
Depending on the conditions and where the forage is located, crappies will sometimes
be found a bit deeper as summer progresses. In these instances, it may be necessary to dig
down a little further in the water column to catch them when they are suspended. The 3DB
Shad is a 2 3/4” and 3/8 oz. lure that works well when chasing crappies that suspend 8-12’
down in the water column. This lure will dive to around 6’, which works great for mid-range
crappies as these fish are notorious for uphitting a lure. Fish over 12” will readily come up 4-6’
in the water column to chase down a larger meal during the late summer period. Trolling is
arguably one of the most effective ways to fish the 3DB Shad for big crappies in late summer. It
is a search bait that allows for covering a lot of water, and it elicits strikes from the most
aggressive bigger fish in a school when trolled quickly above them.
2 1/8” Rattl’N Vibe
The 2 1/8” Rattl’N Vibe is a 3/8 oz. lipless crank that works great for situations where
crappies are suspended from 12’ down to the thermocline. This lure is large enough to sink to
the depths where the fish are located, yet, it is small enough so that larger crappies will still
readily feed on it without hesitation. Experimenting with the movement of the 2 1/8” Rattl’N
Vibe is key feature when fish are stationed more than 12’ down as it is possible to catch big
crappies by casting, trolling, drifting, and jigging. The key is to make sure that the lure is
constantly moving to resemble a struggling baitfish so fish instinctively attack it.
As the heat of summer progresses, choosing crankbaits that cover all areas of the water
column where fish are located can put some solid crappies in your livewell. Gear up with the
3DR-X Shad, 3DB Shad, or 2 1/8” Rattl’N Vibe, and get ready for some late summer slab action!
Stay safe and tight lines!
Watch as Mark Maule shows the guys from Midwest Outdoors how he uses the Rattlin' Vibe Mini on his Kayak for crappie and panfish:
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The first and foremost thing we need to talk about here is safety, and that is NEVER give the ice more credit than what it is due. Make sure to have crazy amounts of caution when fishing the ice, the last thing you want is to break through and risk hypothermia. That being stated, always remember the buddy system: ice fishing is not something I suggest anyone do alone. If you do go somewhere alone, make sure there are other people in the area and you tell people where you are going. It is always a good idea to wear flotation clothing just for ice anglers, or perhaps what I do and wear a life jacket. I know they are big and bulky, but its better safe than sorry. The suggested ice thickness that everyone I know abides by is 4” to walk on, 6” for an ATV or snowmobile, and 12” for vehicles. Always have a spud with you to check the ice thickness.
This is one of my favorite times of year to fish because the best eating fish can be caught. Those include the Panfish, Bluegills, Yellow Perch, Walleye, and Crappie. Yes, I know you will have to brave some crazy elements to make this happen; but it is well worth it when you can get on a good pile of them. This time of year; however, the fish have to eat to generate some sort of heat. So if you drill your hole around them and have a hardbait that is UV with rattles, it’s typically not hard to get them to bite.
What to target:
This is where experience on the lake you are ice fishing really comes into play and so does a good depth finder and mapping system. I typically want to target some piece of structure and weed lines, and fishing the warmer months in open water is really the only way to find this. You can certainly find some solid weed lines and edges in 6-12 feet of water that are holding fish. This is because the chunk rocks in these areas hold healthier vegetation and heat, which the fish will relate to. Structure though, is where I find the better walleye and crappie. So it pays off to know the best areas of structure of transitions off flats.
This is where it gets a little bit tricky to justify when the best times to go are, because it is always cold. As much as I hate to say it for the anglers that do not like the cold, the night time is the best time to get out there. The last few hours of daylight in the day into the dusk/night fall hours have always seemed to be the best for me. I believe this is because the moon and gravity force become less at night allowing the fish to move around a little easier in the cold conditions.
What to take with you:
Flasher/sounder/camera- a combo of a flasher and camera is pretty much all you need. I’ve found that an LCD display sonar is great for larger fish generally, as you have history on the screen which you lose when you use a flasher which provides real-time feedback on fish and lure location, but there is no history.
GPS – ideally you’ve done your homework ‘ground-truthing’ spots during open water with your boat – the GPS is also great for new spots, and finding your way to safety if you’re in whiteout condition.
Gas powered Drill with 24” bit- This is for drilling your hole to drop your flasher/ camera and fishing out of.
Biggest Mistakes by Beginners:
Panfish – line too thick, and lure size too big for the size of the presentation and the species target.
Larger predators – for walleyes – fishing the wrong times of the day or targeting them in water considered to be less than optimal in depth, there are always exceptions to the rule here if you have some history to go off of. Very common today for people to use a braid and fluorocarbon leader – often the fluorocarbon will be added to a swivel if you’re using a rotating presentation. Because of dropping strait down, this will create line twists. Braid can be problematic in very cold temps – if you’re in a hut, you’re in business. Larger fluorocarbon requires a larger size spool to manage the stiffness of the line.
Yo-Zuri Product to Take:
-Hybrid line in 4lb test, this is definitely a style of fishing that you want the smallest diameter line you can get away with.
-8lb TopKnot Leader, this is something I like to use when fishing for bigger walleyes. I also think it helps the bait sink faster when I see a fish on my camera or flasher.
-NEW Rattl’N Vibe Mini, this is a bait designed specifically for ice fishing anglers. I definitely love the UV colors since I fish so much at night, but also my favorites are Firetiger, Gold with Black Back, and Hot Perch
-3DS Vibe, this is a bait I catch a lot of bigger walleyes on and it seems to have a great falling action through the water column. Usually the fish eat this bait on the initial drop.
As the ice thickens, snow accumulates on top of it, and fish have seen just about every bait imaginable offered by ice anglers in northern states, catching walleyes and northern pike can become a bit more of a task in mid-winter than at first ice. By the middle of January through early February fish have become more lethargic, and in many cases are reluctant to chase down bait than they were earlier in the year. However, this is no reason to put away your noisemakers that have worked throughout the open water and early winter ice fishing season! The 3DB Vibe can be a great lure which creates a disturbance in the water that can be used in more way than one catch walleyes and northern pike in mid-winter.
The Yo-Zuri 3DB Prism Fire Tiger Vibe is probably my most versatile lure that I use on lakes where perch is the forage species for northern pike and walleyes. Like in open water, it can be used effectively throughout the ice season to catch fish. The first way that I employ the 3DB Vibe is to rip it through the water column, making as much noise as possible and trying to get a reaction strike. This approach with the Vibe through the ice is great in mid-winter wherever the first big drop-off is in the lake. Usually, I look for quick transitions from 12 feet down to 18 feet or more and set up right in the middle of the transition. In this scenario, the goal is to catch fish that are moving up breaks and transitions before they get to the flats at dusk to feed on forage species.
While rapidly ripping, jigging, and swimming the 3DB Vibe can be a great way to catch some northern pike and walleyes in mid-winter that are cruising drop-offs, there are time when I simply use it as a decoy to draw fish in from a long way off. Even the most finicky of fish can be drawn into the area to investigate all of the commotion caused by the 3DB Vibe. When fish approach while pulling the Vibe through the water, but will not strike it directly in mid-winter, I employ a second Yo-Zuri product, the Snap Bean tipped with a fathead minnow only a few feet away under a slip bobber at the same depth that I am jigging the 3DB Vibe. What happens is that northern pike and walleyes will come cruising right up to the Yo-Zuri 3DB Vibe to investigate, see the Snap Bean setup, and will leave the Vibe to catch the easier smaller meal with the Snap Bean and minnow. In this case, the Vibe is used just to get the fish’s attention, and the Snap Bean tipped with a minnow is what seals the deal. In this scenario, I move to the top of the flats in 8-11 feet of water as the focus is less on reaction and more on catering to feeding fish after dusk.
Whether you are using the Yo-Zuri 3DB Vibe to get fish to bite it directly, or you are using it as a decoy to draw in finicky fish from a distance so that they bite a Yo-Zuri Snap Bean tipped with a fathead minnow, the Yo-Zuri 3DB Vibe is a top-notch choice that can keep catching fish for you throughout the mid-winter ice season.
With old man winter quickly approaching and the temperatures are dropping, the last chance to fish open water is coming to a close. There are still good quality walleye to be caught and the last chance to stock your freezer before having to drag out the snow mobile and ice drill. With water temperatures hitting the mid-forties, it’s just a matter of time before the first sheet of ice hits the water.
When it comes to catching walleye, I have two favorite Yo-Zuri baits. The first choice is the Duel Hardcore Shad. This bait excels in spring, summer, and fall – especially deadly around this time of year near weed edges in 4-6 foot. The Hardcore Shad has a tight wobble upon retrieve, and the suspending capability makes this a great choice for triggering feeding walleye with a twitch-and-pause retrieve. Lastly the magnetic weight transfer system allows effortless long casting necessary in more clear bodies of water such as the St. Lawrence River.
My second choice is the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe. These lipless crankbaits excels in all seasons for covering various depths. These baits shimmy and rattle vertically on the drop and are equally as effective employing a straight retrieve, or the secret weapon, a yo-yo retrieve. When you contact bottom or a weed bed, a firm snap makes the bait dart and really triggers walleye to crush it. The Vibe works equally well ice fishing for winter ‘eye. So even when the dreadful ice happens, make sure you keep your 3/8oz sizes handy.
For fishing both these lures I prefer to use a 2500 series spinning reel loaded with 20lb Yo-Zuri Superbraid Blue with a four foot leader of 12lb Natural Clear Yo-Zuri TopKnot leader The blue colored braid for helping to detect bites. I rely on a 7ft medium action rod with a fast tip for making long accurate casts, and for keeping fish pinned after the hookset.
Up around the north where I am from it is hard to find a tackle shop that isn’t fully stocked of Yo-Zuri products. Be sure to pick up a few extra of these baits because sometimes the walleye will surprise you in how strong they are. Another rule of thumb is to always rely on your shine/ chrome colors on sunny days and more natural colors on darker days. I always try to hit the water when the weather seems the worth, although fishing in the snow and wind affects the angler, it can produce some of the best days to catch a good stringer of fish.
Lastly, don’t forget the hushpuppies and fries!!!