Tips for Catching Crappie in the Cold

When the water temperature drops, look for winter crappie in deep cover or structure

The air was icy when we left the ramp, but when we arrived at our fishing hole, calm air and warm sun made the morning pleasant despite the 25-degree temperature. My son Josh and I, bundled up like Eskimos, basked like turtles while waiting for a bite.

We didn’t wait long.

“One on red!” our friend Jerry Blake snapped.

Each of us was watching “color-coded” bobbers above our minnow baits. Josh had a red bobber and a white bobber. I had green and yellow. Jerry had black and blue. Josh’s red bobber had sunk slowly out of sight, indicating a bite.

“Dadgummit!” Josh exclaimed as he snapped his pole upward without hooking a fish.

“One on green!” Jerry said.

Red was back under, too, and Jerry had a hit on the black bobber. Fortunately, we managed to land three fish.

“They feel like ice,” I said, feeling the sides of the crappie I caught. “I don’t know how they can be so lively and so cold.”

Lively they were, though. Although most crappie we caught barely wiggled our bobbers, each fought hard when hooked. And plenty were hooked.

Catching winter crappie can be challenging. If the water temperature falls extremely low, crappie become lethargic. Those feeding may bite so gingerly they are almost undetectable. Nevertheless, crappie are commonly caught in winter by those who know tips for success.

Most winter crappie hold on deep cover and structure, but they can be pinpointed on brushpiles, fish attractors, creek channel edges and other hotspots using a fish-finder.

The depth at which the crappie are holding may vary from one location to another. Some crappie may be 15 feet deep, others 25 feet. But if you use the rigs we use, adjustments are easy.

Each rig consists of a live minnow fished on a No. 6 Tru-Turn bronze Aberdeen panfish hook beneath a Thill pencil-style slip float. On the line above the float is a bobber stop. Moving the bobber stop up or down is all it takes to change the bait’s depth. A split shot to sink the bait completes each rig.

Many winter crappie anglers also fish with jigs. Each should be tied so it hangs perpendicular to the line. The lure then is lowered to the depth crappie are holding and is held almost motionless until a fish strikes. Tipping the jig hook with a live minnow or a small piece of minnow increases the lure’s attractiveness to crappie.

Although in frigid water, the crappie we caught that day were hungry and hitting hard. I usually miss as many as I hook, but that day, lots of crappie were hooking themselves. Before lunch, Josh, Jerry and I had put 53 in the livewell, including a few that exceeded 2 pounds.

Winter fishing isn’t for everybody. For most of us, a warm fireplace is much more attractive than a frigid outing on a cold lake.

If the fishing itch gets too intense to bear, though, give winter crappie a try. Fishing for these sassy panfish is a sure remedy for what ails you.

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