by Tim Huffman
#1 Target shallow stumps. It’s not the first spot you expect to see winter crappie but different lakes offer different opportunities with shallow stumps being one of them.
#2 Finding stumps isn’t difficult. Look for them on big flats, in coves and other typical spots. A contour map might guide you by showing stump fields and standing timber areas.
#3 Finding a good food source within the stumps can equal big fishing success. Always be on the lookout for schools of baitfish. You may see them flickering but more likely you’ll see them down in the water. Remember, you are not in deep water so your standard depthfinder probably won’t show them.
#4 Jigging is a great way to catch crappie around the stumps. Using one pole is both fun and productive. It allows a fisherman to probe specific spots, hold the bait in front of a crappie’s nose for a period of time, and get into thicker cover than other techniques allow.
Top tools for vertical jigging stumps starts with a 12-foot pole. It needs to be lightweight, have a sensitive tip and medium to strong backbone. A rear reel seat is good for balancing the pole but whatever your favorite reel position is will work fine. Use a lightweight reel to keep the overall weight down.
Line is a matter of personal preference. There are two groups of fishermen, one who like monofilament and the other preferring non-stretch line, usually braid. Monofilament is a good all-around line and works well for jigging. In stumpy water an 8-pound text is popular; 6-pound in very clear water. High visibility is good for seeing light bites.
Braid is popular for two primary reasons. First, it is much stronger so it’s less likely a fish will break the line. Braid in a 15-pound test is about the same size as 4-pound mono. The second reason is sensitivity. No stretch means bites are transmitted much better than with monofilament. The negative on braid is line wrapping easily. Also, the no-stretch of the line can make it difficult to land a fish because of the hook tearing out.
#5 Jigs are important, can vary greatly and are fun to use. A standard ball-head jig is most popular and the most economical. A #1 or #2 hook is good compared to smaller ones often used with lightweight heads. A 1/16-ounce head has long been the standard for jigging but during the last decade a move to heavier jigs has proven productive in many situations. A heavy jig, like a 1/8- or 3/16-ounce, helps maintain good contact so limbs, bottom and bites are easier to feel. When the wind is blowing it also keeps your line more vertical so it doesn’t have a big bow in the line. Slow fall is not a characteristic of the heavy jig so you have to control it with your rod tip or by holding the line in your off-hand.
#6 Add noise or bling to the jig. A Rockport Rattle has a built-in rattle. Bobby Garland has added a new push-in rattle in its big line-up of crappie products. An under-body jighead is a good way to add flash. Only by trying noise and flash will you know what the fish want on a particular day.
Cold water jig bodies should usually be kept small in size. In most bodies of water the crappie are much more likely to hit a smaller bait.
The last option is to add a small minnow to the jig. Tipping enhances smell, natural look and action.
#7 Slow troll. Shallow water requires you to be quiet and use stealth tactics. Longer 14- and 16-foot long poles are helpful to keep baits further away from the boat. Use a good, multiple-pole setup including a rack and pole holders. Tite-Lok and Driftmaster are the leaders in quality and options.
Jigs, minnows and combinations are good for slow trolling in the winter. Minnows are good for getting fish to hang on longer to give you more time to grab the pole and set the hook.
#8 Wind is a factor. Boat control for any method is critical. So are super-slow presentations. Therefore, keeping the boat under control is important and wind can be a big enemy.
#9 Do you want sun or clouds? A bright day is great on dingy waters because the crappie can see the baits. On a clear water lake, a cloudy day helps to break up the silhouette of the fisherman and boat. In general, sun moves fish tight to cover while clouds cause fish to scatter.
#10 Fishing pressure can be a problem. Years ago it was unusual to see more than a handful of fishermen on a lake during the winter. However, today we have more knowledge of winter fishing and better clothes to handle the cold. On lakes with reduced water levels, fishing spots are reduced so fishing pressure can be a problem on some waters.
This is the second Advanced Seasonal Structure discussing shallow water for winter crappie. It doesn’t work in every body of water. However, when areas exist in a lake they should be test-fished occasionally to make sure excellent fishing is not being missed.