By Tim Huffman
Winter fishing water that’s not frozen can be a challenge with big rewards. Keying in on the right spots is very important with channel bends and ledges providing much of the action.
What and Where
Channels wind back and forth with each turn creating what is called a bend. Current, water temperatures, cover and other factors determine if crappie like a spot or not. Shad and minnows are another key factor but they can come and go often during the day. Other channel bend characteristics and differences include angle of slope and the sharpness of the bend.
A channel ledge can be a part of a bend but it also may be a 100-yard straight area with covers and steep drops. Ledges are an important structure any time of year with the season and water temperatures determining depth and locations.
Crappie use a ledge for a deep, winter home and they use a ledge for travel. Bends are simply defined spots where crappie often stop and use sometimes making them their homes.
Bends and ledges are easily found using paper and/or electronic maps. The boat can be set to cross a ledge or bend. When the boat crosses the graph will quickly show the drops and channels. Additional searches will pinpoint cover, baitfish and crappie.
Slow trolling is the accepted method on most waters when fishing mid-depth and deeper waters in the winter. A fisherman using this multiple pole technique can cover a ledge with a very slow troll. Or, the boat can be stopped when a fish is caught or good cover is found. It’s a versatile technique that puts baits right into the crappies’ homes.
Another way to fish is a single long pole or two poles hand-held. It’s similar to slow trolling except a fisherman has more control and feel. A bite can be felt and hooksets are immediate. This can be a tiring way to fish but may be the only way to fish when wind is pounding the boat. Wind is an enemy when poles are in the holders. Handheld allows hands and arms to keep baits more stable for more bites.
A third tactic, drop-shotin’, is getting more popular every year. (In reality, it’s the ultra-light version of the bottom bumping Kentucky Lake rig.) This rig allows a minnow to be presented on bottom and down into cover. Although variations are possible, the basic rig is a 3/8-ounce sinker with a minnow hook 18-inches up from the sinker. The leader is kept short because the rig is being dropped into cover. Braided line is good for strength and sensitivity if a monofilament leader is used.
A drop-shot rod can be a long or short pole, but something in the 7- to 8-foot range is good for feel and control. Since most fishing will be relatively deep, having the boat close to being over the cover shouldn’t be a problem.
Your map shows a long, straight ledge and electronics confirms a good drop. Also, cover is scattered along the drop. Slow trolling is chosen for working the ledge.
You position the boat on the downwind end of the ledge and work upwind. Poles are put out, depth adjusted and poles put into holders. The boat is eased up the ledge paying special attention to cover. Water is cold so movements should be s-l-o-w. Baits should be taken into the cover and stopped. Winter crappie move slow and bites may be barely perceptible but at other times they may be aggressive once the bait is in front of their noses.
There is nothing fancy about slow trolling. Using good basics while watching electronics leads to successful presentations.
Drop-Shot fishing is different. Electronics may be even more important because specific cover is targeted. A marker buoy can help keep the cover pinpointed.
The best situation is to catch crappie on top of the cover. But the drop-shot also allows the bait to be dropped to the bottom leaving the bait whatever length the bait is placed above the sinker. A minnow is the ideal bait because the line can be kept tight with the weight on bottom. The minnow does the work. The disadvantage of a minnow is hang-ups and lost rigs.
A weedless jig is better for the rig to get in and out of cover. When fish are aggressive this is the best choice.
Winter fishing can be good on waters where ice doesn’t prevent open water fishing. Bends and ledges offer a great opportunity for catching crappie. Slow trolling and drop-shot tactics are ways to catch these fish.