Ice slabs: Winter crappie can offer exciting challenge

Kevin Tate | Daily Journal Crappie that were this size in spring will have gained significant mass by now.

Kevin Tate | Daily Journal
Crappie that were this size in spring will have gained significant mass by now.

By Kevin Tate

Outdoors Writer

The major spring crappie rush is still several weeks away, but some of the biggest and best can be caught right now.

Before the late winter sun angles higher above the horizon and the water begins to warm, crappie will remain stacked and suspended over deep structure, a fishing scenario that calls for persistence and finesse but stands to pay excellent rewards for those who succeed.

“You’ll have to use your electronics and look for them to find them,” Clay Coleman, of Clay’s Bait and Tackle, in Tupelo, said, “but when you find them, man, you’ve found them. They’ll be big ones and they’re really good to eat right now, very clean.”

Coleman said current conditions call for fishing the smallest jigs you can stand to work, either sixteenth-ounce or thirty-second-ounce micro-jigs.

Small time

“Something like the Bobby Garland Baby Shad is just right,” Coleman said, “something with just the tiniest amount of wiggle. You don’t want much action in your crappie jigs with conditions like they are right now. The water’s cold and the fish are lethargic. They don’t want to see something with a lot of action right now. It’s too much for them.

“You have to match the mood of the bait to the mood of the fish. When it’s cold and they’re slow and you’re having to talk them into it, you want to use a bait that’s subtle and slow. You don’t want something with a lot of moving and popping and tails flapping. When they’re aggressive, though, they want a bait that’s aggressive. When they’re active, they want action. Using the tiny jigs puts a different action on the bait and makes it subtle and slow. The lighter the jig head the more subtle the action.

“Next, water clarity dictates the color of your bait. As the color of the water moves from clear to stained, you want your bait to become more colorful as well. In clear water like Bay Springs, you’ll want to use shad-like colors: whites, light blues, pale pinks, pale blues, jigs with very little color to them, pale pearls or even clear, see-through baits with a little sparkle in them. In water whose color is at the other extreme, you’ll want to use jigs that are black and chartreuse, black and pink, dark, bright colors they can see.”

Fishing small baits at depths of as much as 30 feet calls for specific gear as well.

“When you drop the jig weights you have to drop the line weights too or they won’t work the right way,” Coleman said. “If you’re dropping jigs vertically, fishing those sixteenth- and thirty-second-ounce jigs with eight pound line 30 feet deep, it’ll take four days for the jig to get down there, and then it won’t have the right action on it when it does anyway. With jigs that light, even six pound line is almost too much. Four pound test is about right.”

Added weight

In addition to the lighter, smaller-diameter line, getting the tiny jigs where they need to go can be helped along with a split shot added above the bait. Coleman said about two feet above the jig is the right place.

“Just out of sight above it is fine,” he said.

Speaking of fishing from above, Coleman says his personal rule for fishing above suspended crappie calls for a 15-foot limit.

“My rule for me is, if the fish are over 15 feet deep you can sit right over the top of them and fish,” he said. “If they’re less than 15 feet deep you’d need to back off a little bit and cast to them.”

Cruising around

In some places, though, trolling for crappie works better.

“In places like Davis Lake where there’s not a lot of structure, they’ll suspend just out in the middle of nowhere,” Coleman said, “so you have to troll for them.”

Trolling in the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway has worked well for some fishermen lately.

“They’re catching them by trolling eight to 14 feet deep in 12 to 17 feet of water,” Coleman said, “which means the fish are suspended three or four feet off the bottom.”

He added that, historically, crappie can be caught in the spillways at Sardis and Grenada at this time of year, though no recent reports of such have yet come his way.