January 24, 2017
Withwintertime in full command, there aren't many fish species for anglers toreadily – and successfully – target during the height of the cold-weather andcold-water season.
Butthere is one species that seems almost tailor made to catch when the musicaltune of Baby It's Cold Outside is playing in a fisherman's head.
Andthat species is crappie, one of the best options an angler has when Old ManWinter and his cold weather and water are in full command.
Whyis that? Because wintertime crappie are typically bunched up in big schools,meaning if you catch one, you probably can load up the boat.
Tocatch a limit of wintertime slabs, there are two things you've got toconsistently do, the first being to actually find a school of crappie to targeton the lake, reservoir or good-size pond you’re fishing.
"WhenI'm fishing private waters with friends – and we target coldwater crappie – thefirst thing we do is try to find the fish," said Bob Lusk, a Texas-basedprivate-waters fisheries biologist known across the country as The Pond Boss.
"Incold water, crappie are almost always clustered in tight schools," headded. "They'll generally hold close to the bottom near brush or otherstructure."
Thesame idea holds true in big reservoirs and vast lakes, fishing spots whereBassmaster Elite Series pro Randy Howell likes to target the occasionalwintertime crappie.
"Findthe crappie schooled up with your Lowrance electronics by looking on bluffs inmajor creeks around fallen trees," said Howell, a Major League Fishing pro and the 2013Bassmaster Classic champion who lives on Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
PetePonds, an MLF pro and a member of the FLW Tour – and Howell's Mississippi neighbor– has his own idea for finding wintertime crappie.
"Ilook hard at my Lowrance units, starting with the side imaging to try and finda stump or some other type of cover right on the edge of the main riverchannel," said Ponds.
"OnceI find something like that with my side imaging, I'll drop a waypoint and getright on top of the spot and start looking with my down imaging for schools offish," he added.
"ThenI'll drop a crappie jig down in there and make sure that what I'm seeing arecrappie."
Overin the Ozark Mountains region of middle America, Bassmaster Elite Series proCasey Scanlon has his own ideas as to where to find a group of wintertimecrappie.
"Ilike deep docks around main-lake points and bluffs," said Scanlon, theKansas-based pro. "Specifically, I'm looking for big docks with lots ofshade.
"Wealso fish deep brush piles around points, bluffs and 45-degree banks," headded.
"Basically,I'm just looking for (schools of) shad and crappies on my Garmin side-view anddown-view. The crappies will be pretty bunched up so you can tell what theyare."
Iffinding crappie is one part of this story idea – two-stepping your way to alimit of wintertime crappie –`then the second part is to actually get a jigand/or minnow to the depth crappie are actually holding.
Whichwill usually get them to bite.
"Ona depth finder, we look for those tight-knit schools," said Lusk."Then when we find them, my favorite way to catch them is to tie on a 1/32-ouncechartreuse Roadrunner jig-head and tip it either with a hunk of night crawleror a meal worm.
"Thatalmost always works, if the fish are in the mood to bite," he added."The biggest key is to go way slower than you normally would. Present thebait, don't move it and wait.
"Ifyou can keep the bait a few inches off the bottom, or inside of or next to theschool, which is admittedly hard to do in a boat, that's best."
Abig key to getting crappie to bite in this situation is to find the magic depthfor the bait.
"Evenin cold water, crappie still like to bite looking upward," said Lusk."If that doesn't work, I'll put a small minnow on and try it again.
"Andif that doesn't work ... well, we'll try it again and fish even slower yet,hoping we can sense a gentle bite."
InMidwestern lakes where Scanlon fishes, he has his own method for getting a baitto the right depth.
"Ona warming trend, I'll fish a jig under a slip bobber on the last deep bank inbigger creeks," said Scanlon. "I'll use a 1/16-ounce jig most of the timewith a Bass Pro Shops shad-shaped bait in shad colors or a tube lure from Luck-E-Strike."
WhenScanlon finds the right spot and the right depth, the hardest work is usuallydone, unless you count the forthcoming kitchen prep to turn a limit ofcoldwater slabs into a fine wintertime meal.
Becausethe bottom line here is that once an angler ventures outdoors and finds a groupof crappie bunched up at a certain depth at a nearby water body, the catchingis usually not too difficult.
Somethingthat is all but guaranteed to warm up the heart and soul of an angler, even inthe depths of wintertime on the chilliest of days.