Winter Crappie Tips from Professional Angler Brent Chapman
The Major League Fishing pro shares his six-step plan on how to catch big (and tasty) crappie during the wintertime
For Brent Chapman, bass fishing is all about catch-and-release.
So too is his wintertime crappie fishing activities on his home water of Lake Quivira near Kansas City, Kansas.
It's just that when it comes to the big sided sac au lait slabs from fat and prime wintertime crappie, the catch-and-release is into a bowl of fishing fry coating and on into a fryer bubbling with hot peanut oil!
Winter is great time to catch a mess of prime-time crappie destined for the skillet according to Chapman.
"Yeah, it's a great time to fish for them," said the 2012 BASS Angler of the Year. "In fact, it's one of the best times of the year since the fish tend to school up in the winter months better than any other time of the year.
"When the bass fishing starts to slow down - and the deer hunting is over for the year - the crappie seem to bite really, really well."
And that's why Chapman puts a six-step plan into place as he searches for big crappie to fill up the family freezer.
What are those six steps?
"The first is that I use bigger baits in order to try and catch bigger fish," said Chapman. "The second is that I use braid with a fluorocarbon leader so they can't see my line.
"Third, I'll mark my line with a marker when I find the right depth since depth is critical. Fourth, I'll rely on good electronics to help me find them, a good sonar unit with GPS, side and down view options, and even a pan option.
"Fifth, while I love to use jigs, I most often use minnows," he added. "In fact, I'll have one rod rigged with each and I find that I catch a lot more fish by using these two-rod set up with these baits.
"And finally, I make sure I dress warmly since you can't really catch fish too effectively if you're cold."
Ok, there's the six-steps that Chapman employs in his wintertime search for crappie slabs. But where does he put that plan into practice on a body of water?
"My target areas are usually around creek channels, wherever the bait is, it's the key," said Chapman, a multiple winner of GEICO Select Major League Fishing events along with four BASS events.
"Typically, what that entails is that the bait gravitates into the creek channels, especially in the bigger creeks and that's most often where you'll find the crappie, is on the edge of the creek channels," he added.
While that's the generalized location where Chapman will start his wintertime crappie search, he'll rely on his electronics to fine tune the location of brush piles, submerged timber and such, all that will tend to hold fish.
"In the wintertime, crappie don't associate with brush as much on some lakes as they do on others," he cautioned. "Here, they get in the creek channels and follow the shad around."
Which is why his electronic sonar is of such great importance.
"They are so important, especially in the wintertime since they are literally your eyes under the water," said Chapman. "With the technology available today, you can put your boat in the creek channel, follow it around with the mapping on your sonar, and with a side-view screen, you can even find schools of fish off to the sides of where you are traveling."
"When I see a school of fish, I'll idle over, verify that it's crappie with my Garmin sonar and then start fishing," he added. "With Garmin's Pan-Optics feature, I can even see them out in front and that can be huge."
Why is that? Because if you don't see crappie - below you, to the side or out in front - Chapman says to keep going and keep searching until you do.
"If your electronics are not showing fish, then keep going," he laughed. "When you do find fish, you can easily save the waypoint, which saves so much time in finding them again."
And since a pile of slab-sized crappie is valuable Intel - like a Morel mushroom hunting ground in the spring or a big buck hangout in the fall - such modern gadgetry helps an angler keep such a little secret tucked away and hidden from the view of other anglers.
"Back in the old days, we'd throw a marker buoy out and hope that someone else didn't find it," laughed Chapman. "About 20 years ago, I think we often found crappie holes by seeing these floating marker buoys. You would see them, idle over them, and sometimes, hammer the crappie since someone was nice enough to share the spot with everyone."
However a school of crappie is discovered during the cold months of winter, the good news is that when you catch one big slab, they all tend to be that size.
"While it seems like a lot of our lakes around here will cycle - meaning that some years, the crappie are bigger, other years they are smaller - when you locate a school and catch one, then most of the rest tend to be the same size," said Chapman.
"And in the summertime, a lot of times, you'll have to weed through a lot of fish to find keepers, but not in the wintertime. If you catch a good, fat pan-size crappie, odds are, you'll usually catch plenty more close to that size."
All of which makes for some fast-paced action on big slab-sized crappie.
"Honestly, we're spoiled," said Chapman. "If we don't get a limit within a couple of hours, that's a tough trip."
And those aren't very plentiful for Chapman, a dedicated bass angler who loves to catch-and-release his wintertime crappie into a deep fryer ready to turn the fillets golden brown.
"I love to fish and I love to eat crappie," laughed Chapman.
Which is why you'll probably find him all bundled up this winter, looking to pull a pile of good eating slabs from the water that lies virtually outside his backdoor, Lake Quivira.