Bundle up because winter is the best time for crappie fishing.
During the colder months, schools of crappie gather together into larger groups, so once you find that perfect spot, you can literally sit back and catch one fish after another.
If you’re ready to brave the frigid temperatures to catch your limit in crappie, there’s some tried and true tips that the best anglers follow. Here’s our top 10 list:
1. Find the Slabs
Crappie feed heavily in cold waters, and once you locate their preferred spot, you can anchor and easily fill your livewell—the trick is finding it. Once water temperature falls to the low 50s, crappie seek cover. They can usually be found grouped together near boat docks, trees, stumps and brush piles.
Crappie also generally stay in deeper waters during the winter than those at which they are found in the warmer months, although they often move to shallower water if there is a string of warm days. If you’re using a depth finder, concentrate on the deepest areas.
2. Cast at an Angle
Anchoring directly over the brush in clear waters can spook crappie, so anglers are inclined to cast rather than vertical jig. Because crappie are usually gathered in one particular spot, you’ll want to cast frequently as you test the waters.
3. Vertical Jig
If the water is murky, vertical jigging up and down around brush piles, trees and stumps can help you locate crappie at various depths with fewer snags than casting. Avoid spooking the fish by using a 10- to 12-foot rod.
4. Fish Areas Thoroughly
It’s hard to catch your limit of crappie without thoroughly fishing an area. Once you’ve chosen a brush pile, tree or boat dock to fish for crappie, make sure you fish the entire structure at every depth and from every angle. You might not get a single bite on one side of a brush pile before hooking a fish for every cast on the other side. Once you get a bite, your best bet is to go right back to the same spot and at the same depth to find more fish.
5. Take Note of Patterns
If crappie are schooled at 15 feet in one brush pile, it’s likely they will be at the same depth near another brush pile in the lake. Take note of where you’re getting bites, and fish in similar areas for the best chance of finding more fish.
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6. Practice Patience
Crappie will generally not chase a fast-moving lure in cold waters, so it’s important to use a slow retrieve. Crappie prefer a slow or still meal so they can preserve energy in the wintertime. You might spend as long as two minutes on a single cast.
7. Fish in the Afternoon
Water temperatures reach their highest in the afternoon, and crappie will swim into shallower waters to feed. Areas with a southern exposure will usually contain the most fish.
8. Slow Your Presentation
Because everything below the surface of the water moves slower in the wintertime, choose jigs that also move slowly. A lightweight jig will not sink as fast as a heavier one, so most anglers stick to the small ones in the winter. Heavier line will also slow your approach by causing more resistance in the water, and even a bobber will slow a jig.
Float rigs are great for allowing the jig to be suspended underwater so you can work it at any pace. If fishing crappie at depths below six feet, a slip cork might be more practical than a traditional float rig.
9. Follow the Shad
Although you’ll catch more crappie near underwater structures such as brush piles and standing timber, the trophy catches, the kind weighing more than two pounds, follow schools of shad into open water. Try fishing near underwater ledges, riprap banks or even near the bottom of the lake to catch bigger crappie. If you’re using a depth finder, watch for the dark horizontal bands that indicate a school of shad and then fish at that depth.
10. Try New Bait
Although most crappie anglers stick to jigs and minnows, wintertime crappie can be the finicky sort. Don’t be afraid to try different bait, including bladebaits, tailspinners, soft plastic grubs, shad bodies and even small bass spinnerbaits.
Good luck out there and stay warm!