While northern anglers scramble to continue their pursuit of crappies shielded by a cloak of ice, southern enthusiasts are shifting gears, eager to motor forward into a winter of open water opportunities.
Oklahoma-based crappie guide Todd Huckabee eagerly awaits the early winter bite on waters such as Lake Eufaula.
“Basically, there are two good patterns once winter sets in,” explained Huckabee. “One is a great clear water pattern, while the other produces in dirty water.”
Huckabee’s clear water approach involves finding standing timber in depths ranging from 12 to 30 feet.
“Crappies will suspend along the sides of standing trees,” he noted. “But they’re usually so tight – that with sonar – it’s hard to see them.”
Using a quarter-ounce Lindy X-Change leadhead jig, dressed with a Yum Wooly Beavertail or Wooly Bee, Huckabee pitches the combo tight to tree trunk, allowing it to flutter down on a semi-tight line.
“The jigs drops quickly due to the weight of the jig, so the bites you get are reaction strikes,” he said. “The idea is to move quickly from tree to tree, catching the active fish. Don’t spend more than a few minutes on a tree.”
If he doesn’t get bit on the initial fall, Huckabee works the bait up the water column, yo-yoing it every few feet.
In dirty water situations, Huckabee runs up creek arms, traveling anywhere from half to two-thirds back into the bay from the main lake.
“Once I’m in that area, I look for the break into the secondary creek channel,” he said. “You’ll see a sharp drop as you back away from the bank, as opposed to the gradual slope of the flat leading to the break.”
Sitting on the area he wants to fish, Huckabee sets up rods rigged with tandem jigs. The bottom jig is a quarter ounce, and serves also as a sinker in what amounts to a drop shot rig. Sixteen inches or so above the bottom jig is an eighth-ounce jig, tied in with a palomar knot. He sticks with X-Change leadheads and Wooly Beavertails and Bees for this method.
“We fish both sides of the boat, targeting both the deep and shallow zones of the break” he explained. “I slowly move the boat along the edge, going back and forth over areas that are producing fish.”
Interestingly, Huckabee finds it most fruitful to fish a wide variety of bait colors in the spread, but not so much in a search for the best particular one. In this dirty water scenario he’s found that certain fish respond best to a particular color, and it’s not the same for all of them. Showing them a wide range of hues ups the chances of triggering more color-selective slabs.
Alabama’s Joe Duncan enjoys some of his best crappie fishing in the fall, where he finds fish in the shallows. When winter arrives, and the fish drop deeper, he stays on them by targeting ledges (along creek/river channels) that typically run from 15- to 30-feet deep.
“The best areas tend to have some sort of cover on them, either natural or man-made,” he noted.
“Often I can find the cover, and see fish, by using the side imaging feature of my Humminbird electronics. It doesn’t have to be large cover, either. Often I’ll catch some of my biggest crappies off a ledge that only has a couple stumps on it.”
Duncan spider rigs poles (four if he’s by himself, up to eight with a partner) off his boat’s bow. Rods are rigged with Northland Thumper Crappie King jigs, usually in patterns such as firetiger and perch.
Employing an egg sinker as the main weight of the system, he ties in a three-way swivel. An eighth-ounce Thumper goes on one 12-inch dropper, a sixteenth-ounce version on the second dropper. The egg sinker goes through the main line, and can vary in weight up to one ounce, depending on the depths being fished.
Pulling the boat along at .3 to .6 mph, Duncan vertically presents his web of jigs at a variety of depths until biting crappies tell him what depth is holding the biters, at which time he zeros in on that zone.
Fellow Alabamain Kendall Pate also likes targeting wood that’s located alongside channels. Often the areas he seeks are bank related, where shoreline laydowns break current.
Pate pitches Northland Gumball jigs dressed with Northland Slurpies bodies to the areas below the current (formed by wind or power generation).
“I have my best success in the cold water by holding the jig motionless,” noted Pate. “I work my way up the water column, holding every couple of feet. When conditions are tough, such as following a cold front, I expect crappies to be tight to cover. When I hear the birds singing, and feel that wildlife is more active, I often catch fish suspended out away from the cover.”