By Tim Huffman
Shallow Wood to Deep Open Water. A wide variety of area doesn’t seem much like a seasonal structure to target. The truth is that winter crappie can be in a wide range of places from very shallow water to deep, open areas. Therefore, this seasonal structure is about both structures and a very specific technique for catching them.
Crappie have basic needs. They want to be protected, be as comfortable as possible and, like this outdoor writer, they like to have food close-by. Shallow water areas are often very popular with shad so crappie can be found there too. When the place has wood cover, it becomes an excellent spot.
Cover in the middle depths is ideal for crappie. The fish may hold very tight to the cover or they may be on the outside edge making it easy to grab a mean when it comes by them. This depth allows fish to move up on a flat to feed, move down to deeper water when needed, or stay where they are in the mid-depths.
Electronics are critical for quickly finding good spots. Units like the Humminbird Side Imager makes this job much easier and puts more fish in your livewell.
Tim Blackley and Jackie Vancleave are expert slow trollers. They go a step further by using floats. The slip-floats provide a variety of advantages.
Blackley says, “We push floats all year long. It’s great when fish are around the stumps or suspended in open water. It’s a really versatile technique. We can go 0.2 or 0.3 miles per hour or we can completely stop and still fish.”
The team, sponsored by BnM Poles, Strike King and others, uses 16-foot poles in shallow water but switches to 14-footers in mid-depth or deep water. They use Driftmaster Crappie Stalkers, pole holders mounted on individual poles. “When we get a strike we only see the bite on one pole, not like using a rack where all the poles jump. Even with floats, the Stalkers make pole adjustment so easy.”
The team uses three rigs. One is a straight double-minnow rig. The second is a jig rig similar to the first one except using jigs instead of minnow hooks. The third is the minnow rig with jig bodies slid up onto the hook shanks. They say a Crappie Thunder or Strike King Slab Hammer gives color, leaves room for the minnow, and often draws more strikes than the body on a jighead.
Vancleave says, “Our bait rigs are nothing new but when matched with the float make them great for moving or stopping. The minnow hook rigs are great in stumpy lakes because it will bump around it where jigs will hang up. We tip with minnows, wax worms, Crappie Nibbles, or whatever else it takes.”
Two more advantages of the float is setting depth and seeing strikes. The depth is easy to set with the slip-floats and it stays exactly where you set it. Also, when thing get busy controlling the boat or maybe you’re not paying full attention, it makes seeing bites much easier. There is no guessing with the floats. They’ll raise, go down or sideways.
“The main time they won’t work is in the wind,” says Vancleave. “When the wind is bad I always take the floats off and tightline. Also, the floats are best when fishing 10 feet or less.”
Blackley and Vancleave use the slow troll float technique on Reelfoot but also other lakes like Truman. You can fish for crappie holding to cover or suspended up in the water.
The speed depends upon the structure and cover being fished, and the mood of the fish. Cold water often means slower speeds.
Wind. Wind not only makes winter fishing miserable, but the float technique described above might not work because the waves bounce the float.
Sun. Usually a good thing in the winter. It will usually place the fish closer to the cover.
Clouds. Scatters fish, but they can still be caught.
Current. Fish will be on the backside of stumps. If current is bad they’ll move to a calmer area.
Water Temperature. The key is for water to not get covered with ice. Fish will still bite no matter the temperatures.
Tip of the Month – Add Color to a Minnow Hook
By Tim Blackley
We use whatever bait is working and typically use them on a double-hook rig. We’ll tie our rigs in a variety of ways but one we’ve had good luck using is a minnow rig with plastic added to the hooks. We like using minnow hooks with a Crappie Thunder pushed up on the shank of the hook.
This works because the fish sometimes want just a little bigger bait or a little color. They don’t feel a jighead and they hang on better. They really don’t feel it so they don’t spit it out like they might a jighead.
Tim Blackley’s home lake is Reelfoot, TN. He and his partner won the 2008 Crappie Masters Grenada Reelfoot tournament and finished second in 2013. Sponsors include BnM, Strike King, Vicious, and others.