When crappie are holding on their winter pattern, in most lakes, the crappie will be at 12 to 18 feet deep on the ledges and/or under stumps and will be somewhat dormant because the water’s cold.
Although most crappie fishermen believe these crappie are hard to catch, they aren’t. You do have to fish slower than in the spring and the summer. Many factors will affect your success, including the barometric pressure, the wind, the air and water temperatures, the water’s color and the mood of the fish. But if you locate the crappie, you can make them bite. At some time during the day, those fish will eat. So, stay on top of them and keep that bait in front of them,
I use a lake map to pinpoint creek channels, drop-offs, ledges and old river beds. Then looking at my boat’s depth finder, I’ll drive along the drop-offs to search for crappie. I’ll see them schooled-up or holding around structure.
Equipment and tactics
To catch these dormant crappie, I’ll use light line, small hooks, small minnows and small jigs. When I find a school, I’ll tight line with eight 14-foot poles on the front of my boat to hold the baits well away from the boat to keep the crappie from spotting them in the clear water. These poles are stiff enough and have enough backbone to pull the crappie away from the cover. Then I’ll move very slowly along the edges of drops-offs and ledges.
When you catch a crappie, throw out a buoy marker, because if you catch one winter crappie, you can assume other crappie probably are close by. Once the marker’s out, hover there, watch your depth finder and determine what kind of structure’s there. After catching a few crappie and they stop biting, pick up your marker and continue on down the ledge until you locate another stump, brush pile or school of crappie.
If you fish a very clear lake, don’t be surprised if the winter crappie are down at 25 to 40 feet. In the winter, I fish minnows most of the time on a double hook crappie rig with ½ ounce of lead. On the main line, I’ll tie a three-way swivel. Next I’ll tie about 10 inches of leader to one of the other eyes, tie on my lead and a 12-inch leader and then another Aberdeen hook. Then I can fish two minnows, one on each hook.
The size of the minnow you fish is critical to the number of wintertime crappie you’ll catch. Let the crappie tell you what size minnow is best that day – a 1½- inch or a tiny 1-inch. I like to have a pound of minnows – about 25 dozen – for a day. On a good winter’s day, I expect to catch 50 or 60 crappie and cull back 40 or 50 fish to take home 10 or 20 slabs.
In the winter, you’re lucky if you identify one good school of crappie. So, once you locate that school, stay with it all day. Often a school of crappie will be 25 or 50 yards long. However, if you fish all around that section of a river or a lake, sooner or later you’ll catch some.
My most productive place to fish in the winter generally is on a main lake on a river channel ledge with stumps, logs, trees, trash and bait fish. Winter crappie that will average 1½ to 1¾ pounds still want to be close to deep water.
Hole digging at Santee Cooper
My home lake is Santee Cooper that was impounded from the Congaree River with its numerous creeks that ran through cypress and tupelo hardwood forests, creating what I call the Swamp that today is made up of oxbow lakes. My favorites for winter crappieing include Broadwater, McGirth’s Lake, Otter Flat and all of the swamps attached to the main lake.
The Swamp homes plenty of shallow water – 4 to 12 feet deep covered in grass. Once the grass begins to die in the fall and winter, it gives off heat – just like hay in a hay field does. In the morning, you’ll see fog rising off the water, because the heat the grass gives off is warmer than the air above the water, and the water is warmer, too, The crappie, baitfish, insects and freshwater shrimp will be there.
I dig holes about the size of a soda can’s bottom in the grass to drop jigs through them. Once you catch a crappie, it will fight, making the hole bigger.
You can use various tools to dig the holes, but, I prefer a 10-foot piece of ½-inch shallow wall conduit cable that electricians use. I’ll use a pipe bender to create a 12-inch bend on the end of the conduit, and that size tool works great digging holes in the grass by pulling the grass back and forth, without pulling any of the grass out of the hole. Crappie will attack and eat most anything that drops through a hole in the grass. Some disturbance in the water will cause critters concentrating in the grass to start to fall also.
You never should drive over the holes’ tops. Instead, back out with your big motor, pull around to another section of the grass, then nose the front of your boat right to the front of the grass you want to fish, put the motor in gear, drive right up on top of the grass and then start digging new holes.
I’ve learned if I’m catching fish out of one hole, I usually can catch crappie out of that same hole either the same day or the next week, if I don’t run over the top of that hole and run through the grass.
Since grass is so abrasive and can weaken small diameter line, I prefer to fish with 10-pound Slime Line that has 30% more stretch. But usually I fish 4- to 6-pound line in the winter when not fishing in the grass.
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