Cold Weather Crappie
by Ed Mashburn
A fishing guide who makes his living putting anglers on crappie can’t pick the kind of weather. His knowledge of the fish and the waters makes cold weather success possible.
Even though I’m fishing on a sunny January morning in Alabama, I am freezing. Last night a serious cold front blew down from the frozen north, and Weiss Lake in eastern Alabama has become a seriously cold place. I have on every piece of clothing I brought with me, and I even borrowed a jacket from my buddy Lee Pitts, who also happens to be one of the best crappie guides on this famous crappie lake.
And even though my nose is cold, my fingers are cold, my feet are cold and my…well, just about everything is cold, we are finding and catching crappie. After all, the crappie can’t migrate south when it gets cold, and they still have to eat, so they can still be caught- if we go about it the right way.
Where to find Cold Water Crappie
Captain Pitts says, “The most productive locations to find crappie in winter are creek swings, long sloping points, and deeper submerged brush. This is where my Humminbird electronics come in to play in my locating wintertime crappie. With the technology today, my Humminbird allows me not only down imaging, but side-imaging as well. I can cruise the areas quicker and still get a great reading.”
Capt. Pitts adds, “Usually in the dead of winter crappie will hold in the deepest part of the impoundment, reservoir, or river they live in. More or less, the crappie will be following and staying close to bait such as threadfin shad, small minnows, or insects.”
Cold Water Rigs and Techniques
Once crappie are located in their cold water homes, getting them to bite is usually not too difficult. Since the crappie will be holding in deeper water, vertical jigging with either small grubs and jigs or live minnows works very well. Wintertime water tends to be very clear in many lakes, and this may require crappie anglers to downsize their line. Line as light as four or even two-pound test may be required. Landing a big winter slab on two-pound test can be a challenge, but with patience and easy handling, some really big crappie can be caught on the very light line.
Quite often the jigs will need to be downsized, even to 1/32 oz jig head and mini-grub bodies, and when this is the case, putting two or even three jigs on a single line with perhaps a foot of separation between the jigs provides weight enough to sink the bait to the holding crappie quickly. Then, very slowly and gently raising and lowering the jig or jigs will attract the cold crappie bites. And don’t expect sharp, strong bites. Most of the time, the winter crappie bite will be signaled by the line loading up and feeling heavy.
Sometimes tipping the tiny jigs with live minnows is a very good technique for tempting lethargic cold water crappie.
Captain Pitts said, “The most productive techniques for catching winter crappie are determined by the type of structure and location. If I am fishing a brush pile off a point, casting toward the structure and counting the bait down may be a good technique. Deeper breaks and deeper brush piles are often easier to sit right on top of them and use the vertical tight lining jigs or live bait.”
One favorite cold water crappie techniques is to use the breeze to slowly drift the boat along a creek channel or sharp drop off, keeping jigs or bait in contact with the bottom. You might hang up from time to time and lose some lures and hooks, but it’s also a good way to catch some really big and delicious cold water crappie with this slow, wind-assisted drifting.
When it comes to finding and catching cold weather/cold water crappie, a few things stand out. First, dress warm and stay dry. As long as we keep ourselves dry, we’ll probably be warm. Next, go light and go deep when fishing for winter crappie. Light lines and small lures and bait will work much better than heavier gear.
When asked for his best cold water crappie fishing advice, Capt. Pitts he laughed and said, “The best advice is to not let the weather keep you in the house. Get out and get with it!”
(Ed Mashburn is a retired public school teacher, outdoor writer and photographer. He lives in southern Alabama, but he fishes for anything – carp and trout in Arizona, smallmouth bass and crappie in Wisconsin to snook and snapper in the Florida Keys.)