A few things to remember when getting on the ice for the first time, always make sure you know how much ice you are about to venture out on. Bring safety picks and a floating ice suit or life jacket. It is also a good idea to check your rods, reels and line from the year before. Does your reel drag work right, does your line have too much memory, are your hooks sharp?
One your gear is ready, it is time to start thinking about where to head out fishing. At this early ice period, the fish will usually be where you left them in the fall. All Panfish, but especially Crappies, will be found in large schools. Usually suspended over deep water, typically 15-20 feet below the ice, depending on the body of water. Use your ice electronics to locate their schools and move fast, drilling multiple holes so you can hop back and forth to fresh holes. Tungsten jigs on light line can make it a lot easier to cover lots of water, fast. Drop your jig down, tipping them with plastics works great, and when the fish on your electronics disappear, it’s time to move to a new hole.
In shallow lakes, use the same movements but look to weed lines for groups of fish. Many times in the early ice period, you can easily see the weeds though the ice. Use this to your advantage and note the location of pockets in the weeds as well as the weed edge. Mark these spots on a handheld GPS and when you come back with snow cover on the ice, you will still be able to find these spots. On clean ice, make sure to move slowly. Use a flip-over ice house to help conceal your movements if you find a lot of fish in one spot. If you are forced to move from hole to hole quickly, do so carefully and try not to make too much noise, as the fish may be right below you.