November 01, 2017
For those hardy souls who can tolerate the cold, wind, rain and snow that often are part of winter fishing, this season provides excellent opportunities for hooking lots of big crappie.
Unfortunately, many cold-weather crappie outings end in failure. Why? Mainly because anglers insist on using the same fishing methods they use during the spring spawning season, and these methods rarely entice ice-water slabs. Success comes only to those anglers who know specific tactics for catching winter’s finicky fish.
Here are tips from some of America’s top crappie anglers that can make your winter catch rate soar. Study them, employ them and enjoy the bounty.
Bernard Williams and Don Terry of Jackson, Mississippi use their wild-cat trolling technique to trigger crappie bites when the water gets cold.
“Using a combination of jigs and minnows, I use my trolling pattern to trigger strikes,” says Williams. “I make large ovals with my boat as I troll. This raises and speeds up the outside baits, while lowering and slowing down the inside baits. I’ve seen this work consistently when other fishermen around me weren’t getting any strikes.”
“Whether spider-rigging or long-lining, I never follow a straight path,” he continues. “This gives me an idea of what speed the crappie want the baits traveling. If that doesn’t work, sometimes I will turn the trolling motor completely off, wait about 10 seconds and then resume at the speed I was moving before I turned the motor off.”
Glowing Jigs for Muddy-Water Slabs
Mississippi fishing partners Brad Chappell and Bo Hudson often find their favorite crappie lakes high and muddy in winter.
“During this time, we like to use a large bait that glows: a 1/8-ounce Bobby Garland Mo’Glo jighead with a Mo’Glo Stroll’R jig tied with a basic loop knot,” says Chappell. “We have a 3/16-ounce bullet weight with two round split shot clamped 18 inches above the jig. We slow troll this rig in upper parts of the water column. The lure’s action and glow help crappie locate and attack it even when visibility is limited.”
Dress for the Weather … and Safety
Tennessee crappie pro Ronnie Capps says it’s important crappie anglers dress appropriately for winter comfort if they want to be successful.
“Always dress with more clothing than you think you will need,” he says. “Chest waders and waterfowl gear are not too extreme. Keep your body warm and dry. I use both extreme chest waders and Army-surplus inflatable flight boots for keeping my feet warm.”
Capps notes that wearing a trustworthy PFD (personal flotation device) also is a must. “An inflatable PFD provides the most comfort while fishing,” he says. “Just be double sure the cartridge and mechanism are in perfect working order. I know it sounds extreme, but to test your ability to survive a fall overboard on a winter crappie trip, hop into a pool wearing the exact clothing and PFD you would be wearing while fishing. A practice session in your cool pool could save your life and even the life of your fishing partner.”
Adapt for Conditions
Capps’ fishing partner, Steve Coleman of Tiptonville, Tenn., agrees that dressing warmly is a key to enjoying winter crappie-fishing success.
“Dress warm, and take a cooler full of hot water in which to warm your hands,” he says. “Then get ready for some fun. Winter crappie are some of the easiest to catch, especially as the water freezes or thaws. Bright, sunny winter days with no wind can be better than good days during the spring spawn. Just be sure to downsize your bait and line, and slow your presentation to a crawl.”
Coleman says a willingness to adapt to differing conditions may make the difference between catching lots of fish or none at all.
“All lakes are a little different,” he says. “On Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake, for example, we often do better in winter when fishing on the bottom in deep water. In Mississippi’s Grenada Lake, on the other hand, we often catch big winter crappie suspended four feet deep over 20 to 30 feet of water. Determining where the crappie are and fishing the proper depth and cover are important for success.”
Crappie-fishing fanatic Hugh Krutz of Brandon, Mississippi, spends most of his winter fishing time on Magnolia State oxbow lakes.
“I like to spider rig out in the middle of these lakes, targeting white crappie,” he says. “On each pole, I use a standard double-minnow rig with 1/2-ounce weights and hooks rigged at least 2 feet apart. I stagger the poles at different depths until I find the exact depth the fish are holding.”
To pinpoint crappie schools, Krutz uses electronics to locate balls of baitfish.
“At times, crappie will be on the bottom in 20-plus feet of water,” he says. “But often as not, they’ll be up feeding on the balls of baitfish. To catch them this season, you have to slow down because the crappie aren’t going to chase the bait like they do in warmer months. It’s also important to match your bait size with the lake’s natural forage. The general rule in winter is slower and smaller.”
Early Winter Creek Fishing
Oklahoma crappie guide Barry Morrow says on sunny days when the water temperature is in the 40s, shad often move shallow, pulling the crappie with them.
“On these days, I do well bobber fishing 2 or 3 feet deep in upper creek areas having 8 to 12 feet of water,” he says. “I don’t jig fish, as some might expect, because many times jigging brush or laydowns will spook the fish. Instead, I pitch or cast to crappie that are shallow in the water column. I use 1/8-ounce Lindy jigs and 2-inch Watsit Jigs or Fuzzy Grubs rigged beneath a Lindy Crappie Cork or Lindy Wobble Bobber. I use 10- to 12-pound Super Silver Thread line and a Huckabee 11-foot Pullin’ Rod to pitch. Most fishermen forget the bobber after the spring spawn is over, but this is a great tactic for catching winter slabs.”