By: Matt Foster
As the temperature drops and the north wind begins to blow, most crappie fisherman have winterized their boat and stored their rods away until Spring. However, this time of year can provide exceptional crappie fishing for those willing to brave the cold. I contacted three crappie fishing guides/tournament fisherman to learn why wintertime crappie fishing was their favorite time of the year and some of the techniques they use to haul in those wintertime slabs.
I contacted Dillon Stocking with Get Outdoors Guide Service. Stocking who is a guide on Truman Lake in Missouri, uses a Jenko 11′ Kevin Rogers Signature Series rod to vertical jig, said his favorite thing about wintertime crappie fishing is, “How the fish are feeding. The water temperature is cold, but the fish are fairly active and ready to eat. Fish will also get schooled up so you don’t have to move around much to catch a bunch of fish.” Stocking also added that, “Locating fish this time of year is pretty simple, find the bait fish (shad) find the fish. Most lakes across the country the fish will stack up along main river channels or mouths of creeks. When I’m at the wheel of my boat I use GPS more than anything. Use your GPS to find those channel ledges, mouths of creeks, or even channel swings. Side imaging or even 2D sonar will let you know if there’s bait and fish around. Livescope will tell you exactly where they are at.”
I asked Stocking if he normally located wintertime crappie in open water or on structure. Stocking replied, “Right now I’m targeting structure along channel ledges. Fish are on stumps, brush piles, and lay downs. There will be some fish roaming, but the majority are on structure.” I asked Stocking if his bait presentation changed much during the winter. Stocking mentioned, “My bait presentation can change daily or even hourly. Some days they might want the bait moving and you can pitch it to them and they will chase it. Other days they may want it dropped vertically right on top of them and not moving at all. Let the fish tell you what they want.” Stocking also noted, “I most generally use smaller baits/hair jigs in the winter. Minnows also work good, but I don’t like sticking my hands in a cold minnow bucket this time of the year. Some days you may get away with a 1/4 ounce head and the next day you might have to go to a 1/32 ounce. Most generally I use a 2” bait but if the bite is aggressive I use a 1/4 ounce head. If they are being finicky then I downsize my bait.”
I also contacted Warren Cotton with Warren Cotton Outdoors. Cotton is a guide on Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid, and Grenada Lakes in Mississippi. Cotton who guides year-round said his favorite thing about wintertime crappie fishing is, “During this time of the year the weather is more stable. In the Spring, you’ve got storms and as a guide you have to be out there in some of the toughest conditions. When we get to the winter, weather is more stable. Fishing is always good here in the winter because they pull these reservoirs so low, the fish don’t have a lot of places they can go.” I asked Cotton what technique he used during the winter to locate and catch fish. Cotton replied, “I do a lot of spider rigging or slow trolling with B’n’M 16′ Buck’s Graphite Jig Poles with 10-pound P-Line in my Driftmaster Rod Holders. I will usually fish right off the main river channel on the flat. I target bait fish and looking for concentrated bait fish. If I can find the bait fish, the crappie will be close by.” Cotton also mentioned that, “Crappie during the winter feed all day and that’s why people love coming to north Mississippi. The crappie eat all the time and they are so big. The shad are plentiful and the crappie have a great food source year-round.”
I also asked Cotton about his wintertime bait presentation. Cotton said, “When the water gets low and murky this time of year I try to go with a bigger profile. Usually instead of running a lot of Big Bite Bait jigs with Road Runner Lures like I do in the Spring. I don’t run as many jigs during the winter. I will use something natural. Your basic hook and minnow will definitely surprise you on how many fish you will catch when the temperature drops. It’s just a natural forage for that fish. Their metabolism is slowing down and they aren’t chasing as hard.”
Tommy Ezell- Texas Crappie Pro with Bonehead Tackle also prefers fishing during the winter months. Ezell said, “During the winter the bite is fast and furious. The females are eating heavy due to needing nutrients to grow their eggs. Males instinctively know it’s time to fatten up because they’ll be stuck fanning beds using lots of energy and little to no time to pursue a meal. Winter is probably my favorite time to catch big crappie.” In the winter, Ezell targets mainly, “Deep main creek or river channels and even secondary channels hold lots of bait during winter. Find the bait and find the fish. Bends and timber areas in these channels are very productive and tend to be the easiest areas to catch them due to their relation to cover. Areas with bait but no cover can be a fun time, as well. We are casting jigs to the crappie that are feeding on bait balls. This casting presentation can yield some very big crappie!”
I asked Ezell if he thought crappie during the winter had a particular feeding time and he responded, “I fish and catch crappie all day. My preference is for the sun to be up for about an hour or so. I’ve always fished lots of submerged timber, and the crappie start relating to it best when there’s light penetrating the water column.” Ezell also said, “Tricking a fish into eating an artificial bait is part of the fishing experience to me and my goals. I primarily used two fishing poles, vertical jigging submerged timber until the new technology came out and swore I’d never fish anything but 7’ and 8’ rods. Now with livescope, I’m fishing many various lengths of rods 5’8” for casting to a 12’ dipping rod. I find myself casting to fish more and more, chasing open water fish and casting to those, as well. We still do the majority of fishing vertical jigging submerged timber though.”
Ezell informed me that he has used the BoneHead Tackle Carbon Fiber Rods for seven years. Ezell said, “They absolutely perform flawlessly for my way of fishing and my goals.” I asked Ezell what type of fishing line he preferred to use and he responded, “Line was a learning process for me like others. Once I found big fish which is my goal, I’d break off too many in trees with mono. I tried braid and quickly found their was a little getting used to, but it was 100% worth it. I started flipping fish rather than loosing them. I’ve used BoneHead Tackle 4X 12# now for 7 years as well.” When it comes to lure selection, Ezell said, “I’ll fish baits depending on what lake I’m fishing and what’s the most abundant prey. For instance, Lake Palestine has lots of ghost minnows, so I prefer to fish the BoneHead Finesse Minnow. If the lake is a big fish lake I’ll start with a big bait like the 3” Slim Stick or the Brush Glider. Rarely do those not get bit. If that’s not getting bit I’ll downsize to a Stump Bug or the Finesse Minnow to get finicky fish feeding. Pitching during pattern change, summer to fall, seems to be the proven presentation for me to produce numbers. That’s about the only time during the year I can say one presentation is dominant. The rest of the year I vertical jig 85% of the time and keep all presentations in mind if I run into finicky fish.”
With fewer boats on the lake this time of year it’s a great time to get on the water and hone your skills at wintertime crappie fishing. The weather may be cold, but the wintertime bite is hot!
I would like to thank Dillon Stocking, Warren Cotton, and Tommy Ezell for taking time out of their schedules to answer my questions. Their contact information is listed below. If you are looking to book a guide trip, please consider contacting Mr. Stocking or Mr. Cotton. To stay up to date on the latest fishing reports in Texas and surrounding states, give Mr. Ezell a follow on his Facebook page.