As the trees lose their colors and fall gives way to winters cold, seasoned crappie anglers know the fishing is going to get hot. Winter can be one of the most productive times of the year for both numbers and size of crappie. Talk to any of the die-hard crappie anglers in your area and they will tell you that cold weather months are the time for slabs.
Where to Look For Winter Crappie
When looking for winter crappie the key to finding fish is structure. Crappie will begin to group up in the coves and deeper water following shad as the water temperature drops in the fall. But once the water cools into the low 50s crappie begin to move to some sort of cover. Whether boat docks, standing timber or brush piles, they will begin to relate to cover and structure at this time.
The body of water you are fishing will determine where the fish will be. In southern and central Missouri where I live there are different types of cover depending on the lake. For example Lake of the Ozarks has no standing timber; while Pomme de Terre, Stockton and Truman, all within 50 miles of Lake of the Ozarks, are loaded with trees and stumps. Despite the difference in cover they are all outstanding crappie fisheries. On Lake of the Ozarks we fish boat docks with a cleaning station and rod holders or we target secondary points with sunken brush piles. On Pomme de Terre, Stockton or Truman the crappie prefer deep standing timber around bluffs or points.
Winter Crappie Bait & Tackle
As most of you know and the rest will find out, there are as many types of crappie baits as there are crappie. A favorite of mine is the Bass Pro Shops two inch “Sparkle Squirt” tube available in colors for clear to muddy water. Another popular and quite effective bait is a Marabou Jig, many old timers call it a Doll Fly, it has been a crappie favorite for decades. Other effective offerings include; shad shaped baits, crappie nibbles, small spinner baits and of course live minnows. There are so many effective lures it can be hard to pick one and stick with it. I have discovered what works for me may not be even close to what someone else is using and we will both catch a limit on the same day on the same lake. It all boils down to what you are confident in, if you feel you can catch fish on it use it. If your need help go to your tackle store, get on line or talk to fishing buddies about how they are catching fish. Most of the time crappie fisherman are pretty honest.
Another issue when selecting crappie baits is jig head weight, I prefer to start with a 1/16 ounce head and make adjustments from there. A 1/16 ounce is heavy enough to cast and light enough to get through brush. Jig heads are available in thousands of color combinations for every conceivable situation but day in and day out I prefer an unpainted jig head. I like unpainted heads for a couple of reasons; first I have never really seen an increase in the number of fish I catch on painted heads and second, unpainted heads are much cheaper. There are a couple of options when rigging a tube on a jig head; you can simply slide the tube up on the hook and leave the head exposed or you can insert the head into the tube covering the head. If you decide to slide the jig head into the tube plan on making a few up before you head out on the lake, it is a lot easier to do at home and you can spend more time fishing than rigging when you’re on the water. Regardless of which bait you use and how you rig it be prepared to lose several baits each trip and remember, if your not losing jigs your not fishing hard enough.
When choosing a rod and reel for crappie fishing I prefer to use a four and a half to five and a half foot spinning rod and ultra light spinning reel combo. Remember the lighter the rod the better. Even a small crappie is fun on a light rod. Personally I prefer six pound test line for crappie, while other anglers will use as light as two pound test and as heavy as eight pound test. As always use whatever you are comfortable with and have confidence in.
Loading the Boat
A key to catching your limit of crappie is fishing an area thoroughly. Whether it is a series of boat docks, brush piles or standing trees it is important to fish each piece of cover from every angle and at every depth. When dock fishing I like to begin on the deep side of the dock and work in shallower. Be sure to fish the boat wells, the sides of the dock and behind the dock in shallow water. When fishing timber, I like to drop my bait to the bottom and work the bait slowly to the top. When you get a bite remember how deep the fish was and what area it was in, crappie are schooling fish and if there is one there is likely a dozen.
Just like bass, crappie can be patterned all over a lake. If the fish are in the back of one cove, there is a good chance they will be in the back of similar coves. If they are schooled up 12 feet down on a standing hardwood tree on a bluff end, they are probably 12 feet deep on another Hardwood on another bluff end. There may not be fish on every tree or on every dock, that would make it too easy, but when you do find which tree, dock or brush pile they are on, hang on to your hat!!
Lastly, remember while you can expect the fishing to be hot, the weather is probably not. Dress in layers and make sure to have adequate insulation in you boots, gloves and hat to keep warm. A little preparation and perseverance can be rewarded with a big mess of crappie this winter so get out there and catch!
Steve Boillot is Vice President of K.A.S.T. - Kids Are Special Too. He is also a member of the Bass Pro Fishing team and a licensed guide on Tablerock Lake. Steve is sponsored by Tracker Marine, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Bass Pro Shops, Springfield Marine, Artic Cat, PB Blaster, Mothers Wax, Keelguard, Ozark Tire and Greased Lightening.