Late-winter crappie fishing: Deep water provides great opportunities
By Zach Norton
There is a common misconception that crappie fishing is for spring and summer only due to the spawning activity and warmer water. However, crappie can be targeted year-round. It just comes down to understanding their patterns according to your location and current climate.
Here are some tips that will help you reel in this popular panfish in late winter — as well as the rest of the year.
How to fish for crappie in late winter
Winter is often considered the black sheep of the fishing seasons. This time of year separates the anglers who have an inherent need to go fishing from the “fair weather” fisherman.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, especially when it comes to crappie fishing. The later winter months can provide unique opportunities not possible in the other seasons. If you’re committed enough to stand on the ice or venture out on the water, the winter sun can be deceptive.
So don’t let your guard down if you’re prone to sunburns like I am.
Fishing for crappie in the winter comes down to understanding a handful of things that will give you the best chance of a successful (but cold) outing.
- How the weather affects the crappie’s patterns
An easy rule of thumb is that the colder the water, the colder the fish. Being cold makes them lethargic and slows their metabolism. They are no longer willing to hunt aggressively for their meals and are often looking for easy prey.
However, it is important to note the changes the later months of winter bring as some warmer days start to appear. Pre-spawning begins putting the larger female species in motion and, most importantly, they are starting to get hungry.
- The time of day and where to find them
Crappie like low-light conditions, so evening is ideal for the late winter months. The light change can often spark a feeding frenzy, and once you find them you may not have to switch spots as they will typically be grouped together.
Look for structures such as boat docks, bridge pilings, or spillways. Work the deeper depths until you find the water column they are in and present them with an easy target. Use the runnin’ and gunnin’ technique — if they aren’t biting they probably just aren’t there.
- Selecting the right rig/bait
For tackle you can stick to a light spinning reel/rod and the lightest line you can get away with. I tend to prep for both live bait and artificial to give myself the best chance of catching dinner.
There are a lot of options for lures, but I tend to stick with 2”-3” paddle tails on a 1/8” oz jig head or suspending jerkbaits. Keep in mind the fish are lethargic and not willing to hunt, so a slow retrieve imitating an injured baitfish is the ticket to creating the illusion of an easy meal.
You want your lures to show a lot of action, so keep that in mind when making your selection.
For live bait you can’t go wrong with minnows. Crappie eat them year-round, so for this style it is more about casting to the right location and depth. A bullet bait rig will get you to the deeper depths quicker and a weedless jig will help you with less breakoffs if you are casting around a lot of structures. It comes down to what your plan is that specific day.
Fishing for crappie the rest of the year
After braving late winter, everything else may sound easy. But there are challenges on the water year-round, and there are ways to improve your odds of success in fishing for crappie no matter what season it is.
A lot of anglers will say this is the time of year to target this species. Both males and females are feeding their eggs and becoming more aggressive by the day.
They are beginning to move into shallower water, which makes them easier to locate. Mid-day, when the sun is starting to warm up the water, is ideal for these types of conditions.
If you prefer to fish only in nicer weather, I encourage you to research spring crappie locations. Beautiful weather and a full cooler can create some awesome memories.
Summer is prime time for crappie fishing. In these months you can get out earlier in the morning and have a great chance of finding them feeding due to the cooler water at sunrise.
If you live in Florida like me, literally everything is too warm this time of year, so I personally gravitate toward night fishing due to my poor relationship with sunburns, as I mentioned earlier. Speaking of, I would highly recommend keeping your bimini top hardware updated if you are dedicated enough to venture out mid-day. (I rarely am.)
There is some simple logic to consider here. Winter is coming and it is time for crappie to bulk up to make it through the colder months.
This means they are eating every chance they get. The weather is nice for the most part and the time of day isn’t quite as critical this time of year, which makes fall perfectly suitable for crappie fishing.
Crappie fishing, or almost any style of fishing, for that matter, will always be less appealing in the winter months. However, just like anything breathing they have to eat year-round.
Successful fishing comes down to finding them and giving them the right presentation. The question is, are you willing to brave the elements and find new techniques to catch fish when it’s cold?
If you understand their habits, invest in the right gear, and find the right spots and depths for the colder months, winter can provide some of the most lucrative fishing days of the year. Tight lines!