When Winter comes, it marks the end of the fishing season for most anglers. However, I find it to be extremely fun and rewarding to fish in winter. Sure, it can be a little frustrating at times because of the slow bite. Crappie are not very aggressive during winter, and they sometimes develop what is called “lockjaw”. I get it! It’s not as easy as crappie fishing during the spawn.
However, with the right winter crappie fishing techniques, you can still catch a bunch of them, and many times they will be the bigger ones. Those are the ones we like to call slabs! Nothing beats the sort of validation and feeling of accomplishment you get by accomplishing a difficult challenge like fishing for crappie in winter. The most important thing you need to remember when fishing in winter is that in order to entice the bite, you need to slow things down.
When it gets cold, crappie gather together and school in large groups to keep each other warm. This is great news! It means that once you find that one perfect spot, you can just keep dropping the bait to the same depth and keep catching fish after fish. The challenge is finding them!
If you can brave the cold and follow these easy winter crappie fishing techniques, you will be able to catch your limit every time and make the season your favorite fishing season.
SLOW DOWN THE DESCENT
This is the first important step. As you drop your bait, make sure that is drops down slowly. Use 1/32 oz jig heads and smaller plastics when jigging. This will ensure that the bait drops down very slowly to the bottom. Remember, crappie in winter can be very lethargic. A slow drop will be just their speed.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that as the line drops, it will not be very tight. You, therefore, need to visually watch for any twitches in the line, which are the signs of a bite. It is therefore fundamentally important that you use a high visibility line.
Crappie in winter try as hard as they can to preserve their energy. They will therefore definitely not be exerting themselves chasing too hard after food. This is why they tend to ignore larger prey when it looks like too much energy will need to be spent to catch it. They want something small and very slow or still so that they can preserver as much energy as possible.
I have found that small minnows are much more effective when fishing for crappie in winter months. Just make sure to hook them properly and use a small split shot to get the minnows in front of the crappie.
The cold water in the lake will slow the minnow down as well. This is good because the crappie will find it more attractive. It is also bad because the minnows don’t tend to last as long in the winter because of the cold water. Bring an extra dozen minnows with you and a good insulated minnow bucket! Here is what my well used insulated bucket looks like
During cold winter months, crappie retreat deeper into the water to escape the low temperatures and the weather on the surface. It is, therefore, good practice to start at the bottom and reel up a few turns. Every time you reel up a little, wait at that depth for around five minutes before reeling up a few more turns. Repeat this process, keeping track of the number of cranks you reeled up. Why should you keep track of this number, you ask? Well, that’s because you will need it for this next tip.
KNOW YOUR DEPTH
Crappie gather in very large schools during cold winter months. When you are fishing, locating one usually means that lots of others are somewhere around it. This means that you need to go back to the same depth if you want to catch more crappie.
Keeping track of the number of cranks you reel up is one of the best ways to do this. It will help you find out exactly how deep the crappie school is. If you want a more detailed explanation of how to go about this, check my article on the best way to catch crappie and scroll down to the part titled “find your depth”
KNOW THE TIME OF DAY
This is very important, but most anglers overlook it completely. Time of day can heavily influence water temperatures. This is especially true for very sunny and winter days. If you want to be very efficient in fishing for crappie, you need to keep track of time.
Early morning hours up to early afternoon hours are perfect for fishing deep. On the other hand, fish a little shallower in the late afternoon to early evening, between about 8 to 12 feet of water. This is because, at this time, the water at the top will have been warmed up sufficiently by the sun to entice the crappie to move a little higher up.
Here is an article I wrote on the best time to catch crappie
Experiment with different color combinations of jigs if you are using them. I always start with chartreuse, pink and blue, and use a combination of these. You can also try out one that’s called “Electric Chicken”.
Remember, crappie are very finicky. You cannot rely on past results. What works today might fail spectacularly tomorrow. You cannot guarantee that the colors that were a hit with them the last time you used them will still be a hit today. This is why you need to experiment each time. Just make sure that every time you head out, you have lots of different colors to try out.
More on crappie fishing jigs
Sometimes, you may realize that nothing you do seems to be working. The crappie just do not seem to bite. You have tried using minnows, soft baits, and mixed things up with all the colors of the rainbow. Nothing seems to be working. If you feel pushed to the wall like this, perhaps its time to throw out the rule book and try these two weird techniques:
- The Pinch head: This is where you take the head off a minnow and place the body on a jig head. Fish the rig like you would if you were normally jigging.
- Live minnow on a jig head: Take the soft plastic off the jig head and replace it with a live minnow.
A FEW MORE PRO TIPS
- If using a boat: When fishing in winter over clear waters, cast at an angle over where you think there might be crappie. If you anchor directly over a school, you can easily spook them away. Cast at an angle and be gentle with your drop.
- If you catch one fish at a particular depth, make sure you fish that area thoroughly. In winter, crappie huddle together forming huge schools. Finding one means there is definitely more. Go back to the same depth and make sure you have exhausted it. You can also take this a step further and make sure you fish the area completely at every depth and from all angles. You never know.
- If you find crappie at say 20 feet near one brush pile, it is very likely that they will be at about the same depth near another brush pile on the same lake. You need to do your mental math and keep track of their patterns. If you get bites at a particular area, fish in and around similar areas and you will find that you end up saving yourself a lot of time and having lots of fun while at it.
- If you are absolutely desperate, having tried everything and nothing seems to be working, you can take things up to the next gear by using a double jig. They are a little trickier to set up. You need to put your chartreuse jig as the top jig, then add a yellow or white jig below it. Drop them down and twitch them every 3 minutes or so. You can even add a bobber to the setup if you want to.
- Do not be afraid to experiment. Sure, crappies like minnows, but they can get pretty finicky during winter. Switch things up a bit to entice them and keep them interested. Try different bait and see what works best. Remember, what works today may not necessarily work tomorrow. This is why crappie fishing is so much fun, you never know what to expect!
Just to recap, here are all the winter crappie fishing techniques you will need to have a blast even during the cold months:
- Slow down the descent. Make sure your bait drops down slowly to match with the slowed down speeds of the crappie during winter
- Use small minnows
- Fish deep and keep track of the number of cranks you make every time you reel up.
- When you catch something, know your depth. This is because catching one crappie only means there are many more around it, especially in colder months
- Know the best time of day to fish
- Add color to further attract the crappie
- Get weird and try something different if all these tricks do not work. Try using the pinch head technique or combine a live minnow with your jig head.
Patience is the name of the game when fishing for crappie in the winter. You can’t rush things. I love winter fishing because there is usually no one around. There is no fishing pressure on the crappies and I tend to catch some big slabs during this time.
Here is another article I wrote on how to catch winter crappie
If you are looking for more techniques to fill your stringer each and every time you go crappie fishing, please look through my website for more tips!
Leave me some thoughts and comments below!
Good fishing to ya,