Outdoors: Secrets to catching crappie during cold winter months
by Charles Johnson
Feb 08, 2014 | 2080 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Crappie are catchable during cold weather. (Photo by Charles Johnson/The Anniston Star)
Crappie are catchable during cold weather. (Photo by Charles Johnson/The Anniston Star)
Winter weather in Alabama can be a little fickle at times. Snow, ice and cold temperatures are at home in the regular forecast. Still it can be a good time to catch some crappie. During what most consider colder months, crappie fishing can actually be hot.

There are several different methods to catch crappie during colder temps. Crappie are a cold water fish so water temperatures in the 40- to 50- degree range are not a problem. In the winter months, white crappie will be around some kind of structure, while black crappie will hang out a little deeper in the creek channels. Both sub-species can be easily caught, knowing a few secrets.

Warm up with electronics

Most boats rigged for crappie fishing have at least one or more liquid crystal display fish locators or color graphs. These units can also incorporate a global positioning system in the same unit. Even a simple sonar or graph can be used to locate creek channels and ledges.

The LCD sonar with GPS capabilities assists anglers in locating specific spots on a lake that hold schools of winter crappie. When some fish are caught, the boat position can be marked in the GPS unit and the angler can return to that same spot the next day, next week or month to fish it again.

“A few degrees change in water temperature can make a difference in the crappie bite,” said T.J. Stallings, Director of Marketing for TTI-Blakemore Fishing Group. “Find where the water temp is on the rise, the crappie will begin to bite.”

Most of the sonar / LCD units have water temperature readouts directly on the screen. Water temp is the driving factor for crappie moving shallower during the transition for the upcoming spawn.

Hangouts for winter crappie

Reservoirs all across Alabama offer a multitude of areas that will hold crappie during the winter months before the spawn. River channels, creeks and ditches are used by crappie like highways to move from deep water to spawning flats. They will generally hold near deeper water while waiting on the water temperature to reach the prime range for spawning.

Crappie anglers new to a lake should start at the mouth of a creek and fish their way up the creek. Schools of crappie will be in about 10 -12 feet of water near the channel ledges and can move up in the creek to a depth of around 4- 6 feet on warmer winter days. Sometimes smaller batches of fish will hold around underwater flats with sparse cover.

Topographical lake maps can save a lot of cruising time when searching for crappie. A quality lake map will have contour lines indicating the water depth. The map will also show flats and channel bends where crappie will stage during the colder months before moving up shallower for the spawning process to begin.

On later editions of certain lake maps, GPS coordinates will be listed for specific underwater structures, creek and river intersections and maybe even some community holes known to hold fish in years past.

Pier pressure

Anglers searching for winter time crappie may not give much thought to fishing around piers. However, crappie like to hang around wood and piers near deep water, hugging the pilings and cross-members. Also, dock owners may plant some brush or other structure around the boat docks for attracting other species of fish, and crappie will join with them.

“I look for boat docks in water about 8-15 feet deep,” said Stallings. “Start at the front of the dock and work your way back.”

Stallings fishes regularly for crappie on the Coosa and Tallapoosa River reservoirs. Many of lakes along these two river systems have an abundance of piers, docks and boat houses that few anglers target. Not every dock will hold crappie and certain docks are more likely to produce some slab action.

“Docks on or near the main river channel is where I will start in February,” Stallings said. “Some dock owners will place brushtops out in front of the pier.”

Over the years Stallings and his fishing partners have learned where to target the fish holding on dock pilings. He prefers to shoot a small jig, like a Road Runner, as far up under a pier as he can. Larger posts or pilings and where cross braces tie in are the first choice for presenting the jig.

“Once you catch a few crappie from a certain spot, you can come back to that same pier later and catch more,” said Stallings.

Lures for docking

Two generations ago crappie anglers owned at least two minnow buckets and there was no question as to what the bait of choice would be for crappie fishing. A few anglers might have chunked a jig or two, but die-hard crappie anglers baited up with minnows. If you want to start a healthy debate to a downright squabble try to mention which bait or lure is the best to take crappie.

For dock fishing for crappie, Stallings uses a small jig tied to an ultra-light spinning rig. A 1/16- ounce pro series head with a small willow shaped blade. The hook is rigged with a Bang Shad. He skips the jig as far back as he can under the dock. When fishing shallow water he switches to a 1/32- ounce Road Runner with an Indiana style blade.

Winter time crappie are not real aggressive but will strike a slow moving bait. Stallings suggests using a slow retrieve when using a Road Runner under and around docks. After the cast he will allow the jig to settle with a six to eight count before starting the retrieve. The strike will be a subtle bump or tap.

“Sometimes you have to let the jig go down a little deeper before starting the retrieve,” said Stallings. “Some days we catch them near the top and other days they may be right on the bottom.”

Stallings uses an ultra-light spinning reel attached to a 6- feet long light action rod. The reel is spooled with 4- to 6-pound test monofilament line. This set up allows more accurate casts under docks to specific points. Heavy line kills the action of the jig. The lighter line allows the Road runner/grub combo to be more life-like.

Don’t wait until the spring rush to try your luck at crappie catching. Get the New Year started out on the right track by putting some slabs in you freezer this winter.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoors editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com
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