December is typically not considered a top crappie fishing month, but after boating 90 slabs in a total of three hours over two days, my annual angling calendar is from now on going to include a few Christmas-time crappie trips. With giant snowflakes falling all around, we wore them out over sunk brush.
Kris Nelson is an outfitter and lodge owner on Stockton Lake in Missouri. However, the tactics we employed to fill his boat with big, cold water crappies could be used on any lake or reservoir with adequate brush. Patoka Lake would be my first choice of Hoosier waters.
I’m pretty old school in my outdoor pursuits. I’ve bought and sold a couple of handheld GPS units over the years, because it was just too much work figuring out how to use them. Paper maps have never failed me. As technology continues to encroach on fishing and hunting, I usually find myself drawing away from those advancements. But when it comes to electronics on boats, what we used to call fish finders, flashers or graphs, the incredible advantages the newer computer like units provide are great enough to even convince a guy like me that learning how to use them is worth the time, effort and cost.
Nelson, and other professional guides like him, make their living based on knowing where the fish are and how to catch them. Modern electronics make the job easier. Nelson has over 800 waypoints saved on his unit that mark sunken brush piles. With years of experience, he has learned when the crappie will be on certain areas, responding to certain tactics. It couldn’t have been much easier on this trip.
With the temperature outside below freezing, none of us were up for a long boat ride. Thankfully, one wasn’t necessary. We didn’t motor more than a few hundred yards from the boat ramp before Nelson put the trolling motor down and began checking brush for fish. Almost immediately, he found them hanging out in 15 feet of water surrounding a giant brush pile.
The fishing couldn’t have been any simpler. We were using basic medium light spinning rods with 6-lb test line, dropping a 1/16th ounce jig head with a plastic body down to the top of the brush and very, very slowly raising it up. Not jigging. Just raising it as slowly as you possibly could. The fish are somewhat lethargic in 44-degree water, but they’ll eat.
We could have caught all our fish off one pile, but Nelson likes to spread out the harvest. We moved from brush to brush until we found ourselves in a position with piles on all sides. I found a sweet spot, where I’d cast my jig 20-yards towards the shore into shallower water and let it free fall back to the boat. The bite was so lite you couldn’t feel it, but by watching your line, you could see a twitch indicating a fish bit. I caught seven slab crappie in seven casts. That was nearly half of my 15 fish limit in less than five minutes.
December is usually reserved for duck hunting, late season deer and chasing rabbits. It’s the tail end of hunting season. I’m guilty of overlooking the fishing opportunities winter provide. But as a guy who loves fish frys as much as anything else on Earth, I was giddy to fill my freezer with cold water crappie filets. Come summer, when were sitting on the porch enjoying these filets, I’ll be thinking ahead to a few winter crappie fishing trips.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler writes an outdoors column for The Republic. Send comments to [email protected]. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected].