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Tactics For Houston-Area Slabs

Tactics For Houston-Area Slabs

Now's the time to tie into slab crappie on these Houston-area hotspots, and this is where and how you can get in on the action.

By Robert Sloan

A cold and blustery wind buffeted the mouth of the cove as Tim McReynolds and I came in off the main lake and he shifted the throttle of the boat into neutral.

"Man, that was tough," groaned McReynolds as he moved to the front of the 16-foot flat-bottomed boat. "You want to get out of this wind now, or head to the back of the cove where it'll be warm?"

Shaking off the chill of the midmorning air, I opted for the warmth of the back of the cove.

We were on Lake Livingston on a day when most other crappie fishermen were smart enough to stay inside. A cold front had rolled through during the night and dropped temperatures significantly. By dawn, the sky was clear and my fishing partner and I had the option of watching football or slow-trolling tiny jigs for crappie. We opted to try for the crappie and weren't disappointed.

There is a technique of fishing on Livingston that isn't unique to East Texas lakes, but isn't used that often. It's called strolling. And it's a deadly tactic for catching crappie in creeks and the back of coves, on some of the better-known crappie fishing lakes.

Actually, strolling was developed on Toledo Bend a number of years ago. Since that time it's move west to lakes like Livingston, Conroe and Houston County.

Photo by Tom Evans

Strolling is simple: You lower a couple of jigs to the bottom and use your trolling motor to bump them along bottom structure. Slow is the key word when strolling, especially when you are after February crappie.

That day on Livingston we were fishing on White Rock Creek in water that was from 3 to 8 feet deep. The purple and white marabou jigs we had tied on had produced crappie on this creek and others like on the upper end of Livingston in past winters. This day was not the exception; we ended up catching 18 nice slabs. Every one of them hit our tiny 1/32-ounce jigs on the fall.

Livingston is not known as a great crappie-fishing lake, but it's definitely worth fishing, if you know where and how. The creeks on the upper end of the lake load up with crappie during February. In fact, some of my best catches have come on days when ice was forming at the end of my rod tip.

Slab crappie are not as difficult to find and catch during February as you might think. Some of the prime crappie-fishing lakes within a short drive of Houston include Livingston and Conroe. I have fished both of them for many years.

Lake Livingston is located on the Trinity River about 70 miles north of Houston and off Highway 190. It was impounded in 1969, covers 90,000 acres and is 52 miles long. That's a lot of water, but the crappie-fishing hotspots on this lake are easy to find on a map. Simply pinpoint coves and creeks. I'm partial to the upper end of the lake because that's where I have done a lot of crappie fishing. However, the coves and creeks in the lower end of the lake offer good fishing as well.

Lake Conroe is not nearly as big as Livingston, but it's definitely one heck of a crappie lake. It's located on the west fork of the San Jacinto River just west of Interstate 45, off state Highway 105, in Montgomery and Walker counties.

Impounded in 1973, Conroe covers 21,000 acres, is fairly clear, and offers a fair amount of flooded timber and a limited number of coves and creeks.

I first began fishing this lake the day the water began flooding in. Talk about some wild fishing! The bass were practically jumping in the boat. Catfishing was outstanding. And the crappie fishing? Well, it was fabulous.

Conroe is a radically different lake now than it was back in the 1970s. Shortly after the lake became one of the most popular in the state, grass carp were introduced to cut back on hydrilla. Those carp ended up eating everything but the boat docks - and some of those even got nibbled on!

Although the bass fishing isn't nearly what it used to be, or should be, the catfishing is great, and the crappie fishing is still very good.

"February is a time of transition for crappie on this lake," says Debby Watson, a 10-year veteran fulltime guide on Conroe. "During February, crappie will begin migrating from the depths to the shallows. Usually what they will do is move from the deeper areas of the creeks to brushpiles in 12 to 15 feet of water. As we get to the middle and latter parts of February, the brushpile crappie will move up the creeks and coves to shallow water. You can also find them staging along the edge of timber."

Watson says the males will move shallow, prior to the females. As the crappie begin moving to the backs of coves and creeks, Watson moves with them and fishes 1 to 4 feet deep with live minnows under slip-bobbers.

"You can catch them on jigs, but based on a whole lot of experience, I can catch more crappie and faster with live minnows," says Watson. "Don't get me wrong. Jigs will catch a lot of crappie on this lake. In fact, spider-trolling is a good technique for catching them on jigs."

Spider-trolling is an old tactic for catching big crappie - shallow or deep. It's especially good for catching suspended crappie, specifically when high pressure moves in directly after a cold front. Spider-trollers can be found in the deep-water areas of coves during periods of high pressure. What these anglers do is rig up six to eight rods with various colors and sizes of jigs. The rods are placed in rod holders, and the jigs are set at various depths. A trolling motor pulls the boat backwards very, very slowly.

"Spider-trolling is one of the most effective methods of finding suspended crappie that have moved out of the shallows after a cold front," says Watson.

The shallow bite is a pretty stable pattern during February, provided we aren't suffering through a hard winter.

"A slip-bobber rig is the best way to stay on crappie, especially when they are in less than 5 feet of water," says Watson. "The reason the slip-bobber is so effective is because you can select a particular depth without having to re-rig all the time."

Watson says that she likes to use the Cabela's slip-bobber. It's a compact 1 1/2-inch bobber. Once she's got the bobber rigged, she'll attach a No. 5 split shot a few inches above a 1/0 Tru-Turn crappie hook. The split shot is attached to the line a few inches above the hook.

"You want to use just enough weight to keep the line straight," advises Watson. "That Tru-Turn crappie hook is very good. I can't say for sure that it catches more crappie than other hooks, but I place a lot of confidence in that style of hook.

"I like to hook a minnow behind the dorsal fin," says Watson. "I think you get a better presentation that way. Plus, you end up with more solid hookups. Other people like to hook a minnow through the lips or eyes. That's fine too. But I think that you get better movement with a hook placed just behind the dorsal fin.

"With that type of hook placement you have to be careful not to hit the spine of the minnow; otherwise, it'll be paralyzed."

Watson says that with a bobber-stopper rig she can work a live minnow into tight places where shallow crappie might be holding.

"When I'm after shallow crappie in February and March, I'll be using a 5 1/2- to 6-foot medium-action bait-casting rod with a push-button reel," says Watson. "That type of rod and reel is easy to use for my customers, and it allows you to be more accurate when pitching a minnow to shallow structure."

The size of line is a definite factor. Watson says 6- to 8-pound-test line is best in most situations. She also says one thing that'll slow down a good February crappie bite is a cold front.

"A cold front has a big effect on crappie," says Watson. "The high pressure after a front will move crappie out of the shallows and back to brushpiles along creek channels and coves. That's when they will suspend and can be very tough to locate."

Watson feels the best piece of advice she can offer crappie anglers is to keep jigs and minnows a few inches above feeding crappie.

"Crappie feed up, not down," she says. "When you see them on your recorder, be careful not to fish below where they are feeding."

For details on fishing with Debby Watson, call (936) 890-3474, or go to

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