Winter has been here for several weeks now but warmer than normal temperatures and heavier than normal rains have created problems for anglers trying to figure out the best pattern for catching crappie on these two lakes.
At Lake Oconee, the first winter cold snap moved the crappie out of the underwater trees and into the main lake. At Lake Sinclair, that first cold snap also pushed the crappie into the main lake. Winter fishing for crappie has been better at Lake Oconee than it has at Lake Sinclair so far this winter.
The recent rains have turned the entire waters of Lake Sinclair almost entirely a chocolate brown color as it has the uppermost reaches of Lake Oconee. At Lake Oconee, the water from the Highway 16 bridge to the Wallace Dam is only stained to clear. The water temperature has dangled around the 59-degree mark now for the last several weeks at both lakes but this week’s first really cold weather will drop it several degrees to where it should be for this time of year.
In a more normal winter, the water temperature would continue receding into the mid- to upper-40s over the remainder of the winter. But as we all know this winter has been anything but normal.
Assuming we now have a period of fairly normal winter weather, the best winter angling will consist of fishing in front of the winter high-pressure fronts that normally drive air temperatures low and barometer readings high. That combination generally adversely impacts the fishing by shutting down the crappie bite. The better time to crappie fish in winter is ahead of weather fronts or after a period of relatively warm stable weather.
Having said all that, the question becomes where can anglers find wintertime crappie and what lures are best to use? During the winter, the crappie become, for the most part, a creature of deeper water with only occasional forays to shallower water on warm days. Crappie will move deeper and deeper as winter progresses and as the water temperature drops.
The crappie will usually be located close to some type of underwater structure and/or cover. This might be rocks, bridge pilings, rip-rap, underwater trees, man-made brushpiles, creek channels, ledges or deepwater stumps. At times, they will hold really tight to the structure/cover or hugging the bottom and at other times they will be found suspended off the bottom several feet.
The best locations to find crappie during the winter are locations where the crappie can move vertically up and down the underwater structure/cover several feet. The crappie will move up and down the structure/cover depending on temperature, water conditions and the weather. The crappie might be found at 14 feet one day and 30 feet the very next day.
The standard crappie jig is a good wintertime lure for crappie, just as it is during the spring. Some anglers desire topping off their jig with a lively minnow. Trolling is a favorite technique for wintertime anglers but winter crappie can be caught using other techniques including shooting docks, jigging a jig or minnow up and down over structure or by using the drop-shot technique using jigs and/or minnows.
Anglers who shoot docks can at times catch good winter crappie around deeper docks that contain brushpiles. Crappie will move to those areas after a few warm and stable days but will not take up permanent residence. However, very large crappie will make a move to the docks much sooner than what is considered to be the spring crappie spawn. I catch some of my biggest crappie of the season in early February shooting docks.
Bottom jigging with crappie jigs and small spoons will take a good number of winter crappie. A small tube jig on a small jig head can be deadly when you find a good school of bottom dwelling crappie. Small silver and gold spoons like a Hopkins or The Little Cleo have been my choice since they seem to catch bigger fish. I often catch large winter crappie when fishing for largemouth bass with a larger jigging spoon.
The drop-shot rig has become an excellent technique for catching winter crappie. The rig allows you to fish a standard crappie jig or minnow at any depth the crappie may be holding by varying the distance between the sinker and crappie jig. The drop-shot rig can be fished by not moving the jig at all or by occasionally shaking the jig. This is an extremely deadly technique when you find a school of crappie bunched up on or near the bottom.
Trolling will remain a good technique during the coldest weather but locating the crappie that will be constantly moving will take patience. Remember the crappie will move deeper and be near or on the bottom during winter so adjust your trolling accordingly.
The No. 1 adjustment that most anglers fail to make in winter is the speed of their lure presentation. All fish are affected by cold water that slows their metabolism. Regardless of what lure you use during the winter season, you must S-L-O-W down the speed with which you move the lure. The crappie will bite but they will not chase a lure aggressively.
The crappie bite during cold weather can be almost undetectable. Using the lightest line possible and super sensitive rods will help detect the crappie’s light bite. For some good winter crappie fishing bundle up, use some of the techniques I have mentioned and be patient.
Good fishing and see you next week.
Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org