For a handful, maybe just a small handful, of fishermen in our area, the arrival of winter and the approach of a new year means crappie action.
Yep, winter crappie fishing is something of a specialty, and it can be productive for anglers with determination.
A few days before Christmas in a casual conversation, a Greenbrier fellow commented, “My mother caught some nice crappie at Overcup yesterday.”
All right, it started this writer’s thinking. It was an incentive, a spur to get out and do something. A crappie trip of some years back came to mind along with the thought that we’ve got a bunch of good crappie areas close at hand or within a short drive.
There is no real secret to fishing for crappie in winter. The fish do not migrate like ducks. They stay close to the same areas where they were last April or July or September. The crappie may be a little deeper — or they could be even more shallow than in warm weather. They may be hanging close to the stumps or stickups, or they could be a dozen, 20 or more feet away.
A veteran crappie fishermen once passed along this strategy.
“Go to the last place where you caught some good crappie. Put your bait right in the same spot. If nothing hits it, slowly move the bait around, all the way around in a circle. Go a little deeper. Go a little shallower.”
More than one experienced fisherman will also tell you, “Slow down in winter. When you think you are fishing slowly, slow down some more.”
Fish metabolisms, and this is for all fish, slow in cold water, meaning the fish will not respond as quickly to your bait or lure. They may not chase it at all. But if it drops right in front of their noses, there is a good chance you’ll get a strike.
Something else to keep in mind is that water temperatures do not respond to changes nearly as rapidly as air temperatures do.
When a sunshiny day follows several days of cloudy skies and chilly mercury readings, the fisherman’s anxiety kicks in. But the water temperature hasn’t changed more than a degree or two, if that much. Fish are still sluggish.
A memory that evokes a smile for this writer goes back some years to a holiday deer hunt. It was two days after Christmas. I phoned a boat dock operator to wish a belated Merry Christmas. The answer was, “When you get through with deer hunting tomorrow, come over here, and we’ll go catch some crappie.”
Invitations like this are strong magnets.
I deer hunted until late morning, put the rifle in its case and drove to the Lake Conway boat dock. The day was cold enough for insulated coveralls but not frigid. After a cup of coffee, we loaded long poles and a supply of crappie jigs — white, chartreuse and yellow — into a flatbottom boat and trolled, not motored, a hundred yards or so to my host’s known crappie spot.
No, we did not load the boat with slab crappie. But we caught enough fish in the three-quarters of a pound to one-pound range to make it a successful three hours. The host said the fish were about two feet deeper and four or five feet farther out from stumps than they had been in the warm weather of early fall.
Another winter crappie fisherman’s tip. “If you have brush piles out or if you know where brush piles are, that should be your starting point for winter crappie fishing. The crappie use brush piles all through the year, not just in spawning season.”