Miller and Lusher are feeling the spirit of Christmas after a cold day of catching Christmas Tree Crappie
Christmas Tree Crappie
by Keith Lusher
For most crappie anglers, Christmas fishing invokes thoughts of deep jigging crappie that are bunched up in tight formations. For the crappie anglers willing to brave frosty mornings and cold daytime temperatures, easy limits often await. This may, in fact, be one of the easiest times of the year to pattern crappie.
For Ray Miller of Madisonville LA, the coming holiday season is easily his favorite crappie time. Miller fishes the Tchefuncte River in Covington, LA, just north of Interstate 12. He says he can always tell when Christmas is coming – not because of the frosty temperatures or Christmas cards in the mailbox. Miller said he knows Christmas is right around the corner when he starts seeing signs of Christmas on his fish-finder screen.
“When those water temperatures start to dip down into the 50’s, I start seeing those sac-a-lait stack up in what can be best described as a tree — a Christmas Tree to be exact,” Miller said.
The 73-year-old crappie veteran has been fishing the river for well over a decade and said it is something that is unique to deep rivers like the Tchefuncte River.
Picking out a Tree
I was able to join Miller on his latest trip where he was able to show me exactly what he is talking about. It was a cold morning with the forecasted daytime high to reach 49. (That’s cold for Louisiana standards). As we idled past the no-wake zone, Miller started pointing out new spots that he recently marked on his live imaging sonar. The river has an incredible past and was heavily trafficked by steamboats and barges in the 1800s. Miller’s electronics lit up with sunken structure that was on the bottom.
Our first stop was one of these old sunken vessels. It was resting in 20 feet of water and was clearly visible on the live imaging screen. Miller turned his transducer left, then right and then shrugged, saying, “Nope, they ain’t here today.”
Miller cranked up the engine and we continued further down the river, stopping at an intersection of the main river and a bayou. As we eased up to the canopy of a fallen tree that was in 25 feet of water Miller pointed out a group of sac-a-lait and said, “Oh yeah…they’re all over that tree top!”
The fish were grouped tightly around the deep, submerged treetop. Miller and I put eight fish in the cooler before blowing up the school.
We stopped at numerous other marked spots repeating the process at every stop.
The highlight of the trip came at our last stop. It was a large root ball that was in only 11 feet of water. Miller lowered the live imaging transducer and turned to the right. The screen lit up with fish.
“Keith, Keith… come see,” he called out. I softly stepped up to the bow and looked at the screen to see exactly what can only be described as a perfect Christmas Tree.
“There’s the Christmas Tree right there,” he said, his finger pointing out the perfect triangle-shaped group of fish hovering just over a root ball on the bottom.
“Let’s pick it apart starting from the top,” he said.
Using ten-foot jig poles, we gently lowered our jigs down, stopping just above the very top of the Christmas tree. On live imaging we could see the first fish ease up and engulf Miller’s jig. We continued to work our way down the tree, ultimately catching 14 fish before they got wise to us.
Miller said he has no idea what the significance of the triangle shape is or how it benefits the fish but it’s something that he only sees in the winter for some reason. He said generally, the larger fish are located at the top of the “tree”.
“I’m not sure why,” he said. “The first thing that comes to mind is security. Maybe the smaller fish feel the need to stay at the bottom close to the structure while the bigger ones are more bold and remain on top,” he said.
When tight-lining jigs down into the sac-a-lait, Miller uses a 10-foot jig pole with 10-pound fluorocarbon. His lure of choice is a Lil’ Hustler Scale Head tube jig threaded on a 1/16 oz. jig head. Miller loves to fish with plastic baits but he is not too proud to admit that he brings along a bucket of shiners just in case the sac-a-lait are jig-shy. When using shiners he ties on a 1/0 hook with two No. 7 split-shot set a foot above the hook. Like most rivers on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the Tchefuncte is affected by tides. If the tide is moving fast, Miller adds a third split-shot to hold the line taught against the current.
While Miller primarily fishes the Tchefuncte River, he said the Christmas Tree-shaped schools of fish show up everywhere across the south during the winter months. And with the first “tree” showing up on our trip in early November, Miller adds that this year is shaping up to be one of the best when it comes to fishing these holding formations.
“If you take a top-down approach when fishing these formations, you can maximize your catch by taking advantage of the vertical position of these fish. From now until February, you can bet I’ll be looking for Christmas Trees,” Miller said.
Keith Lusher is an award-winning outdoor journalist from Covington, Louisiana. He owns and operates NorthshoreFishingReport.com and other outlets. He serves on the board of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association. Lusher contributes to numerous publications both online and in print and prides himself on promoting South Louisiana’s unique fishery.