So often we catch crappies right under the ice—high riders as we like to call them. There are several factors to consider that seem to kick in the "scrape the bottom of the ice” pattern in to play.
Classic shallow patterns often happen at late ice as fish push up near the mouths of harbors and weed choked bays. Shallow pencil reeds are a favorite location of mine at late ice.
While these weeds, frozen in the ice, are classic late-ice patterns that shine as the ice begins to thaw, shallow green weeds can hold crappies anytime of the year. Ice heaves or uneven ice can also hold crappie ultra-high in the water column. Heavy snow or low oxygen levels can also cause fish to push up near the bottom of the ice.
What makes these high-and-sly patterns unique is the fact that fish often shuffle or slide away from boot noise. Early clear ice with no snow cover is a situation that is also difficult to overcome. You can sit on good spots, literally without moving a muscle and the fish will slowly start to reappear underneath you.
The other option, especially if you need to remain mobile and hole hop is through the use of long rods. This "purist" technique has origins in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin and was often used with a barbless strait-shank hook with either live or artificial bait. This technique consistently caught crappies, but it also allowed for the fish to be dumped from the hook into a bucket without the angler ever needing to physically handle the fish.
The advantage of the longer rod is the ability to drop a presentation down multiple holes without ever moving your feet and spooking nearby fish.
For sensitive, ultra shallow fish, this isn't just an option but a necessity. We actually built a two-piece rod in our popular Jason Mitchell Meat Stick line that is 48 inches long, designed specifically for this application. Clear ice, clear water and fish directly underfoot necessitate the added reach.
Heavy snow and thick ice can create an entirely different set of circumstances. Even crappies suspended over deep basins that are transitioning to shallow water during late ice will often cruise directly beneath the ice.
Mid-winter and late-ice conditions typically have thicker ice and heavier snow cover, which seems to make the situation more conductive to underwater cameras or sonar. During these conditions, I choose to revert back to the shorter, more traditional ice rods.
No matter how you slice it, crappies that are cruising right under the ice are often more difficult to find when using just your electronics. In today's world where ice anglers won't stop to fish until the Vexilar lights up with targets, some of these ultra-shallow patterns right below the ice are often be overlooked.
Here’s some more great info on catching panfish through the ice.