Story & photos by John E. Phillips
Cold weather can be a nightmare for crappiers to fish. However, if you’re like me, you have to fish when you have a chance. You can’t change the fishing conditions. I recently fished with Chris Duraji of Lebanon, Tenn., a 42-year crappie veteran, who told me, “The crappie in Center Hill and Dale Hollow reservoirs can be caught all year long. The water is deep and clear.”
The month of December is Duraji’s favorite time to fish Dale Hollow for big crappie. He rarely fishes Dale Hollow in the summer, because there’s so much boat traffic. During the winter months, when most fishermen aren’t fishing, he goes to Dale Hollow and catches big slabs. “Since I’ve been fishing Dale Hollow and Center Hill, I’ve learned a lot more about how to fish deep for crappie in cold weather,” Duraji reports.
Some of the advantages that Duraji has when he fishes deep for crappie are:
* Very little if any competition is present for the deep-water crappie;
* The crappie he catches seem to be the older, bigger fish; and
* Most crappie fishermen never will find the spots where Duraji fishes.
Duraji also has learned to fish brush piles in 25-35 foot deep water. He says, “When you find a brush pile at that depth, most of the time, crappie will be holding on it.”
Fish Jigs, Light Line and Limber Rods
Duraji is not a minnow fisherman and prefers to only fish jigs. His favorite jig is a 1/8-ounce Bobby Garland Crappie Pro with a pink jig head and glow. He also fishes white, chartreuse, pink and pearl blue and blue bodies with chartreuse tail jigs. Duraji primarily fishes 4-pound-test line, since he’s experimented with it and discovered he gets more bites and catches more crappie with that size line.
“I use a very limber rod too,” Duraji explains. “I like my ESP rod, which also has a light drag. Most of the crappie that I keep will weigh about 2 pounds.”
I learned another secret about catching big crappie on deep, clear lakes like Center Hill and Dale Hollow from Duraji, who says, “I always tip my jigs with Berkley’s PowerBait Crappie Nibbles. I totally believe in the effectiveness of Crappie Nibbles.
“In years past, when I could see the crappie holding in 15-20 foot deep water, I’d cast to them and swim the jig by them, and the crappie wouldn’t bite. But when I used that same jig and tipped it with a Berkley’s Crappie Nibbles, I would see the crappie take my jig. That made a believer of me. There’s no doubt in my mind that fishing with Crappie Nibbles gets me more bites than fishing without Crappie Nibbles. There are a lot of different colors of Crappie Nibbles, but I’ve been the most-successful with the white ones.”
Go Deep and Use a Depth Finder
“When I fish at Dale Hollow, I catch my crappie at between 20-50 feet deep, and I’ve never seen anybody else fishing that deep there,” Duraji reports. “I just stumbled on to this technique of fishing deep for crappie when I was fishing deep for bass. I was fishing a shaky head worm and caught deep crappie instead of bass. I was using a fluorescent pearl shaky head jig and a 4-inch Berkley PowerBait Power Worm. At Dale Hollow, I always paid close attention to my depth finder, and I found a hump out in the middle of the lake with a really-sharp, deep drop-off on its backside. I thought if I could get that shaky head to come down that hump and jump off that ledge, I could catch some bass. But to my surprise, I started catching 3-pound crappie.”
By fishing with a 1/8-ounce crappie jig and 4-pound-test line, Duraji knows that his bait falls about 1 foot per second. He counts his bait down, and for instance, when he reaches the number 35, he knows that jig is in about 35 feet of water. Then he starts swimming it by the brush and back to the boat. “Sometimes in the cold weather, I’ll back my jig size down to 1/32-ounce,” Duraji says. “However, when I’m using a jig that small, I can’t fish it if there’s any wind at all on the lake. The wind will catch my line and not let that little jig fall vertically.
“I mainly catch crappie around deep structure I can’t see. I use a Humminbird side-scanning depth finder to locate structure and crappie on Tennessee’s deep, clear lakes. The deepest I’ve ever caught crappie was somewhat more than 50-feet deep when I was fishing on Dale Hollow in December one year. The crappie bite there seems to really turn on in the middle of December.
Generally, I can catch big crappie as fast as I can get my jig down to that 50-foot water depth. On Dale Hollow, I’ll use a 1/16-ounce jig and count it down. When I count to 50, I stop the jig and hold it very still. If I don’t get a bite, I’ll drop the jig another 3 feet and hold it still. If I don’t get a bite there, I’ll drop it another 3 feet. This way, I can tell the depth where the crappie are holding.
“Once I catch a crappie, I remember the depth where the crappie have been concentrating. From then on, I’ll count my jig down until I reach that depth. Sometimes I have to locate those crappie using my jig instead of my depth finder, because the crappie are holding so close to the drop-off, the depth finder can’t separate them out. I’ll bounce my jig off the bottom until it comes to the lip of the break. Then I’ll let the jig fall off the ledge to drop vertically right up against the wall of the drop-off. If crappie are on top to that ledge, I can pinpoint them with the depth finder. I’m sure anyone who has found this ledge hasn’t seen any crappie there before and hasn’t fished for them.”
To learn more about wintertime crappie fishing on Tennessee lakes, call Chris Duraji at 615- 519-5904, or email him at email@example.com.
Bobby Garland: www.bobbygarlandcrappie.com