Carolina's Deep-Water Crappie

If you're waiting until the crappie head shallow to spawn, you're missing out on some of the best early-season fishing in all of South Carolina.

The weather outside is usually "frosty" in February, but crappie are ready and willing to bite for knowledgeable anglers who know where and how to fish for them.

But just where do you find crappie this time of year? Right now, check the edges of creek channels. Crappie spend roughly 10 months out of the year in water 20-plus feet deep.

Most of my fishing on Lake Wylie is done on the main river and Big and Little Allison creeks, where I have over 200 brushpiles to choose from ranging between a few feet under the surface on down to 36 feet.

It was late February last year when crappie at Lake Wylie started biting like "gangbusters." Huge schools of fish were concentrated over deep brush located in 40 feet of water at the mouths of coves where they met the main channel.

The weather had been exceptionally nice for the past three days when I called Ben Smith and his wife, Merwyn, who own and operate The Peach Tree in Filbert, to go fishing with me on Big Allison Creek. There was a slight breeze that made the 60-degree weather feel even cooler than it was. Even though the weather was nice, a warm jacket and a hat made the day more pleasant. It wasn't far to one of my brushpiles that had been "hot" that week. After positioning the boat and putting out anchors fore and aft, we rigged up to fish.

Ben and his wife prefer to use minnows, so I had plenty in the Styrofoam cooler. One-eighth-ounce crappie jigs are my choice during the pre-spawn and I tied on a black head, pink collar with a white tail.

This particular brushpile is a tremendous oak that had been in the water since this past fall. After explaining where the perimeters of the brush were, I instructed the Smiths to cast as far as they could over the brush. "As soon as the bait touches the water, immediately close the bail on your reel. Count at the rate of one count per second (this allows your bait to fall one foot per count) until you reach 26; reel slowly and when you feel a sharp tap, set your hook, and reel your fish in."

Ben was the first to get a strike. As he was reeling in his first crappie of the day, Merwyn had a big smile on her face as her rod bent over with her first fish. Before either fish was boated, my 10-foot rod arched as another crappie struck; we had a triple on our first set of casts! We didn't catch a triple on every set of casts, but doubles were common.

This frantic action continued for the better part of an hour before it subsided. When fishing horizontally, and the bite slacks off, vertical fishing can quite often crank the action back up again. After pulling anchor, we motored over on top of the brush before anchoring again. By using two anchors, you can drastically cut down on the swaying of the boat. It was 24 feet down to the top of the brush. A bait or jig will fall vertically at the rate of 2 feet per second, so I told them to fish straight down beside the boat, and to close the bail on a count of 12.

"Make no attempt to reel upward; just slowly move your rod around until you get a strike. You might want to twitch your rod tip ever so slightly from time to time to encourage sluggish crappie to hit."

Ben caught the first fish again on this stop. Merwyn and I caught our fair share, but Ben hit a "honeyhole" up by the bow, and he wore us out. Our limit of 90 crappie didn't take long in coming. Ben outfished me that day and he won't let me forget it.

To access Big Allison Creek, use either the Allison Creek or the Ebenezer boat landings; to fish the main river, use the Ebenezer Landing.

James Covington of Rock Hill is an ardent crappie fisherman and a little cold weather doesn't keep him at home; he primarily fishes Lake Wylie.

"As long as the water temperature is 48 degrees or cooler, crappie generally can be found 20 to 36 feet below the surface in deep water over structure that is in the river channel. Beside the river channel is another good place to look," Covington said. "This structure can come in the form of brushpiles, stumps, old roadbeds and underwater islands; this is by no means an inclusive list. Where you find baitfish, you will find crappie or they will be nearby. It is that simple."

Vertical fishing with jigs is the way to go for this deep-water situation. Put a marker on the top of your structure as you pass over it in your boat. Use your depth recorder to show you what is below. Let line off your spool until the line goes slack, indicating that your lure has reached the bottom, or the top of a brushpile. Engage your reel, and wind the handle one or two revolutions. Then very slowly move your jig around over the structure.

One trick is to keep a red magic marker lying on the seat beside you. When you get a strike, set the hook, and make no effort to reel the fish in. Take the magic marker, and run it up your line for a foot starting at the face of your reel before starting to reel. On your next drop, engage your reel as soon as the red mark shows in front of the face of the spool. This will be the exact depth you just caught a fish.

A lot of crappie fishermen like to make a long cast instead of dropping a jig straight down after they have marked their line. Close the bail as soon as the lure touches the water after a cast. Reel line in until the red mark is right in front of your reel, and stop reeling; this will allow your jig to fall in an arc before it comes to rest directly under the tip of your rod. Keep a close watch on your line after the cast. If the line stops or twitches at anytime as it falls through the water column, set the hook immediately.

If the lure stops falling before it should, that can only mean one of two things: a strike or an obstacle. Remember that setting the hook is free.

If no fish are caught right above the structure, very slowly reel up through the water column to see if any crappie are suspended above it.

Covington likes to use his 10-foot B 'n M jig pole when fishing for deep-water crappie in Lake Wylie.

Randy Humphries lives in Columbia, but has a place on Colonels Creek in Lake Wateree where he has fished over the past 30 years for crappie. Humphries prefers to troll slider crappie jigs in black and chartreuse colors; June bug and chartreuse are good too. Sometimes he tight-lines minnows.

In February, he likes to start out on the upper end of the lake around the mouth of Wateree Creek in the river channels 20 to 25 feet deep. According to Humphries, "Most crappie w

ill be located on the incline of the river channel. Troll slowly, and keep your eyes glued to your graph to see fish, structure and baitfish."

To fish this area, use the Wateree Creek access on state Highway 55.

As water temperatures warm up above 48 degrees, crappie begin to start migrating up river and creek channels, and stack up at the mouths of creeks on points that taper off into deep water.

Fish structure in 20-plus feet of water. Structure, including strategic brushpiles, will concentrate fish. If we happen to have three pretty days of warm sunshine in a row, crappie usually will go on a feeding binge. Fishing trips made during this time is what memories are made of!

Troll slowly with jigs from 1/32- through 1/8-ounce sizes if you want to cover a lot of water in a short period of time. You might prefer to anchor and fish brushpiles as the water warms up. In this situation, you can fish vertically like described above or you can cast using the count-down method.

As March arrives, crappie will begin to migrate down the creek arms, but will still be in fairly deep water. Use these tips in February. Get off the couch, turn off the TV, and go fishing. Good luck!!!

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