TJ Todd says super-slow presentations are critical if a fisherman wants
to catch cold water crappie. (Photo: Tim Huffman)
Cold Water Crappie Action
by Tim Huffman
“I have to drop it down on them and hold it for 30 seconds before they’ll hit it.”
“February is the best time to get out and fish to catch some of the biggest, healthiest fish of the year,” says TJ Todd, 2017 Crappie USA National Champ and 2022 Kentucky Lake runner-up. “I use two methods – spider rigging and LiveScoping. I still enjoy spider rigging for fun but I scope when tournament fishing and for some of my recreational fishing.”
Todd says spider rigging has the advantage of putting multiple baits in the water. However, the biggest advantage is a lot of fish-catching action because you’ll catch small, medium, and large fish in several different species, like crappie, bass, and catfish. It’s a good technique when taking a young fisherman.
“We’ll put our poles out,” says Todd. “I like getting out on a flat with structure but I will be moving slow in the winter. I’ll be putting the baits in stake mats or brush piles. I’m usually on Kentucky Lake, but this method can be used on any lake in the winter.
“The key to having a great fishing day is to catch a sunny day with light wind and around 50 degrees. The bite gets good and sometimes you might can speed up to about 0.2 or 0.3 mph. That’s when the crappie are getting out in the warmer water chasing shad.”
His rigs are double-hook rigs with a minnow hook on top and a jig on bottom. A 1/2-ounce egg sinker is placed between the baits. He prefers to go as light as possible, down to 1/4-ounce, but will go up to 3/4-ounce when wind or current requires. The 1/2-ounce is best all-around.
Poles are 16-foot-long Lew’s. The longer-length poles add a few extra fish when compared to shorter poles. His line is 8- to 10-pound test, but he will go up to 20-pound braid on Grenada Lake.
Live Imaging Sonar Tactics
“LiveScoping has advantages,” said Todd. “After learning and getting use to what you are seeing and doing, you eliminate a lot of wasted time. You only put a bait in front of the fish you want to catch.
“Another advantage is seeing how a fish reacts to a bait. That allows me to adjust my presentation to what the crappie wants. After learning, a fisherman can go after the size fish he wants because he will know the difference between a small crappie, keeper, and big slab. You know exactly where to drop your bait.”
Todd says a couple disadvantages of live imaging sonar are important for someone considering buying. First, there is a learning curve that can be tough for some. It takes time on the water to learn it. Also, a fisherman needs to be good with the trolling motor because boat control is critical for the technique to work.
“LiveScoping is good for recreational or tournament fishing no matter what time of the year. When fishing for fun, we just take turns catching fish. Two or more putting jigs to one fish usually spooks the fish. So, we take turns, and everyone has a good time. When tournament fishing, I operate the trolling motor and my partner catches the fish.
“Baits are important in fishing, but I’ve learned it’s more about their size than color. I tie my own hair jigs. They are not pretty but they work. I also fish a Grenada Lake Tackle jig head with a Strike King plastic body.
“Presentations are important. Some days I can pitch a jig out, run it by the fish and they’ll come out and eat it. Other days, I must drop it down on them and hold it for 30 seconds before they’ll hit it. But the good thing about LiveScope, it’s easy to see how the fish react and adjust to what the fish want.”
Cold Water Fish
“Fish movements in the winter? I’m not a deep water fisherman,” says Todd, “so I’m sticking to water 8- to 12-feet deep. Some days the fish will be holding tight to bottom, but some days they may be halfway up the structure or roaming. When it has been cold for a while, a 45- to 50-degree day with bright sunshine will move the fish up toward the top, maybe 3 or 4 feet deep. They like warmer water.
“Most of the time I’ll start on a secondary channel. I’ll look for a drop because fish will be hanging out around a little bit deeper water. That’s good because it allows them to pull up on a flat to feed and then go back down again. When you find one of these spots, it’s likely the fish will be there all winter on the same pattern. They won’t move much so that’s a big advantage.
“Presentations need to be super slow, usually a crawl or stop in the winter. The water is so cold they are not chasing something very far to eat it.”
Cold Water Factors
“Barometric pressure changes do bother fish. The worse thing is to get a cold front with a lot of rain that muddies the water. Cold, muddy water will shut the fish down for several days.
“Sun versus clouds? The bluebird days following a front can be bad. However, in general, sun is good because it warms the water and fish like that. Fish often sink down on an overcast day.
“An ideal day? A 50-degree day with little wind. A change in water temperature from 40 to 42 or 43 degrees can bring big swing in shad and fish activity, so you’ll likely have good luck triggering more bites.”
Cold Water Fishing
February is an excellent month to take advantage of great crappie fishing. Minnows, minnow/jig combos, standard jigs, and tiny jigs like a 1/32-ounce feather Grizzly Jig, all have a place in winter fishing. Stick to good fundamentals for cold water success and enjoy catching some big slabs.
Tim Huffman is CrappieNOW co-founder and senior writer. Check out his crappie fishing books at his website, www.monstercrappie.com