Wintertime Crappie in North Alabama
by John E. Phillips
How to Catch a Limit of Alabama Crappie in Cold Weather
Carter mainly fishes Lake Guntersville in North Alabama. Unlike folks to the far north, ice fishing is unheard of here. However, winter temperatures can still be brutal. Fortunately, the crappie don’t mind.
Carter concentrates on current eddies (breaks) on the main river or the deeper, underwater grass lines in Guntersville’s creeks during cold weather. He only fishes 1/32- or 1/24-ounce jigs, depending on the current and the wind, on 4-pound Vicious High-Vis line.
“I like this line, since you can see a strike better than on other lines,” Carter says. “Often you may not even feel a crappie bite. Set the hook when the line jumps. If the lake doesn’t have much current or wind, my customers and I will fish with the 1/32-ounce jig, but we’ll use the 1/24-ounce jig in current and wind.”
If you want to catch numbers of big crappie like these, then bet on the bad weather days at Guntersville and Pickwick. (Photo: John Phillips)
Guntersville Lake is better known for big bass. But Mike Carter, a North Alabama guide, routinely capitalizes on putting his clients on winter crappie fishing Guntersville. (Photo courtesy Mike Carter)If you want to catch numbers of big crappie like these, then bet on the bad weather days at Guntersville and Pickwick. (Photo: John Phillips)Carter doesn’t fish with a float but simply casts and retrieves. He prefers tiny jigs and small line because crappie favor slow-falling jigs in cold weather. When Carter’s fishing underwater grass lines, he may have his boat in 20-foot-deep water with the edge of the grass line 3 feet deep.
“I want my jig to fall slowly on those edges,” Carter explains. “I like the Bobby Garland soft plastics and use lead heads that my friend pours. My favorite winter colors include Pink Phantom, Blue Ice, Purple Haze, and you never can go wrong with Monkey Milk.
“Once the crappie get stacked up in very cold weather, we often catch 100-plus crappie each day but only keep a limit (30 per person in Alabama) of the biggest crappie. Two-pounders are common in the cold weather. Our average winter catch is 50-100 crappie per day for two anglers. At the end of November, 2019, two of my clients caught 60 crappie in 3 hours, 15 minutes. We spent the rest of the day catching and releasing crappie.” To learn more, visit www.anglingadventures.info, or call 423-802-1362.
“There’s a wide variety of tactics anglers use to catch crappie at Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee/Mississippi/Alabama border in cold weather,” Roger Gant a 40-plus year guide, explains. “I put my trolling motor in the middle of the boat, so it pulls the boat sideways, instead of pushing it from the bow or the stern. Then I can move the entire side of the boat down the edge of a drop-off or a ledge. Both my fishermen will have baits trolling just above that bottom break.
“With their lines in front of the boat, instead of being pulled along the side, the fishermen can see strikes better and have better chances of setting their hooks on crappie. I also can regulate the speed of my boat much easier with this technique. The wind doesn’t blow the boat and move it nearly as fast when the boat’s sideways to the wind as it does when the wind’s at the back of the boat. If we have no wind, I can use the trolling motor to pull the boat slowly along the drop of the break. If the wind’s blowing too fast, I can slow our progress by using a trolling motor in the center of the boat to push against the wind.”
Gant likes to fish on the tops of creek channels and ledges 15 – 20 feet deep with a sharp bottom break down to 30 feet or more. These flats are productive, because of the stumps along the edges. The flats are in 15 to 20+ foot water.
“I slow-pull the creek bends using 1/4-ounce lime and chartreuse hair jigs,” Gant states. “Pickwick has plenty of deep water, and the heavier jigs are easier to get down quicker and hold in the strike zone of the crappie than the lighter jigs. I set-up my jigs, so they’ll swim as closely to the tops of those stumps as possible. I’ll move the boat slowly, so those jigs pass within the strike zone of the crappie slowly enough for the crappie to see them and move up in the water column to eat. January’s a big-crappie month at Pickwick.” To fish with Roger Gant call (731) 689-5666 or (662) 287-2017.
Brad Whitehead: Shooting Docks and Trolling
Whitehead of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a crappie guide, says, “In cold weather, we’ll shoot docks. But sometimes in very-cold weather, dock shooting won’t be productive. One time I noticed a creek channel about 30 yards out from the docks on my depth finder and used my trolling motor. My fishing buddy cast a 1/32-ounce jig out and caught a nice crappie in 46-degree water. Then I caught a crappie in 9 feet of water. So, I trolled the area between the boat docks and the creek channel by longlining 1/32-ounce white with silver flake YUM tube jigs and caught plenty of crappie.”
(John Phillips holds an array of awards including the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award from the American Sportfishing Association and the 2007 Legendary Communicator inducted into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame. He has written more than 6,000 magazine articles and served as Outdoor Editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald for 24 years. Phillips is a founding member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and an active member of the Southeastern Outdoors Press Association. The author of more than 100 books, you can learn more from his book, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall and Winter.)