John's Journal...


Crappie after the New Year

Editor’s Note: Although many crappie fishermen don’t fish in the colder months, I’ve met a number of crappiers who are very successful at this time of the year. This week I’ve asked different fishermen how they catch crappie in cold weather. Today I’ve talked with Stokes McClelland of Huntersville, North Carolina, where and how to find crappie after New Year’s Day football ends, and the weather turns cold. McClelland, who has fished tournaments since 1986, gave up all other forms of fishing except crappie fishing in 1980.

Question: How will you be fishing during this time of the year?
McClelland: At this time of year, I am fast trolling over river channels and underwater river ledges. I use the 12-, 14- and 16-foot B’n’M Pro Staff rods. I fish with 4-pound-test line on the rods and with 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jigs. The fish will be suspended over the river channel, and I will catch them as shallow as 4 feet, and as deep as 10. In January and February, most crappie fishermen believe that the only crappie you can catch are in extremely-deep water, holding on structure. But I’ve learned that I catch the most and the biggest crappie out in the middle of the lake in open water when the fish are suspended. I think there’s a tremendous number of crappie fishermen fishing under the crappie. I once did that myself. But I’ve learned that even in cold weather, there are still plenty of shallow-water fish suspended out in the lake.

Click to enlargeQuestion: How do you find the crappie in open water?
McClelland: Ninety-five percent of my fishing-year round is fast-trolling in open water. Now this is not to say that I don’t tight-line fish when I locate the crappie stuck to the bottom, because I do. But most of the time, you’ll find me fast-trolling out in the middle of the lake. Most people don’t understand that crappie feed on shad out in the middle of a lake during the winter months. The real secret to catching crappie at this time of the year is to find the balls of shad out in the middle of the creek on which the crappie are feeding. However, if we discover a school of shad that’s more in a flat, long pattern than they are in a ball, we stay away from those crappie. My fishing buddies and I have learned that when shad are in tight balls, and these tight balls of schooled shad are scattered, we can catch more crappie than we can when the schools of shad are in a long line. Perhaps when the shad are in a ball, this formation is an indication that there are predator fish around the school of shad, and they’re huddling together closer with a ball effect. When a predator fish isn’t around a school of shad, they seem to be more in a long line at a certain water depth. On my depth finder, I’ll often will see crappie holding around the ball of shad.

Question: How fast do you troll over the water?
McClelland: We troll at a speed of 0.8 mph to as fast as 1.5 mph. I use my hand-held GPS (Global positioning system) receiver to determine the speed at which my boat is moving. I’ve found that the GPS receiver consistently gives me the most-accurate speed of any device I can use. I particularly like the Garmin GPSMAP 76. I also have a Humminbird Matrix 67 on-board. During the winter months, I usually troll faster than I do in the summer months because the water is cold and the plastic jigs we use don’t get as much action when they’re trolled slow as they do when they’re trolled fast. If I think I need to be fishing a little bit deeper rather than slowing the boat down, I’ll fish with either a heavier jig head or I’ll let out a little more line. I use a Minn Kota Auto Pilot trolling motor to keep me at the right speeds and trolling over the schools of shad.

Click to enlargeQuestion: What has helped you catch more crappie?
McClelland: I put a rod holder than can hold 12 poles on the back of the boat, and most of the time we fish out of the back of the boat. Another trick that I’ve learned is that you can bet on the Color Selector. This old device isn’t even on the market anymore, but I have one, and I bought a second one off eBay. I really believe color is the number-one ingredient required to get a crappie to bite. Crappie just can’t see certain colors, depending on the light penetration and the water color. So for a crappie to bite a bait, it must be able to see it. That is why I’m such a strong believer in the Color Selector.

I’ve noticed when fishing for crappie that when I can see crappie on the depth finder and I’m catching crappie, and then for some reason, the crappie quit biting, that generally the sun has been in a position so the crappie can see the jig I’m fishing when the crappie are biting. But then as the sun gets higher in the sky and penetrates deeper in the water, the crappie may not be able to see that color, or they may just prefer a different color. As I’ve experimented with color, I’ve learned that when the crappie quit biting, if I use the Color Selector to determine what color jig I should fish, I’ll get the crappie to start biting again.

Question: How did you first discover how helpful the Color Selector was?
McClelland: Here’s a story that’s made me a believer in just how deadly the Color Selector is. My son Adam and I were fishing on a lake in South Carolina near Greenwood in February one year. We’d marked the crappie at 10 feet. I dropped the Color Selector down, and it said we should fish green, We put dark-green baits on our B’n’M poles and drug those baits for four hours. We didn’t catch a crappie, but we knew the fish were there. A couple other crappie fishermen were on the lake practicing for a tournament. They said they’d win that tournament, because they were catching fish left and right. There was another fellow we met in the snack bar. When we left to go out to our boat, he followed us out. As we started to get in the boat, he asked, “Have you tried any blue-color jigs?” I answered, “No.” He smiled at me and said to try blue. Now remember, the Color Selector had told us that green was the color we needed to be fishing.

Click to enlargeWe went back to the place where we’d pinpointed the crappie, and we drug those blue jigs around until the color just about came off them. I thought the fisherman had lied to us. I put the Color Selector back in the water and dropped it down to 10 feet. It still said we should be fishing green. But I noticed when I pulled the Color Selector up, it said blue. When I looked at the wire holding the Color Selector, I saw that the Color Selector was at 4 feet it recommended we fish blue jigs. So I looked at Adam and asked him if he thought the fish were really that shallow. It was February, and the water was very cold. Although we had marked crappie at 10 feet, the man said we ought to fishing blue jigs. The Color Selector told us that blue jigs would catch fish at 4 feet. I couldn’t believe that at this time of year with the water this cold, those crappie would be only 4 feet deep but started putting on 1/32-ounce blue jigs and pitching them out of the boat. We didn’t get the bait on our eight rods out before we started catching crappie. In an hour, we had caught 20 to 25 fish. Apparently, the crappie we spotted at 10 feet weren’t biting, but the crappie at 4 feet were. We hadn’t seen those fish at 4 feet on the depth finder because of surface clutter.

That day, I learned that if a fellow will tell me the color he’s fishing or the depth he’s fishing, I can figure out with my Color Selector the thing he doesn’t tell me. If you know the depth the fish are holding at and you know the color of jig they want to take, nine times out of 10, you can catch them. I know you think I’m nuts, but if you want to catch crappie this month, look for those suspended fish out in the middle of the lake and make sure you fish shallow. If you can find one, get a Color Selector to tell you what color jig you need to fish at a certain depth. One of the big advantages you’ll also find with this technique is that rarely will you ever have competition for the crappie. Another thing we have learned from fishing in the middle of the lake is that the fish we catch out there always seem to be bigger fish. I believe that the bigger a crappie is, the more of a loner it is. I love fishing in the coldest part of the year.

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Check back each day this week for more about CATCHING CRAPPIE IN COLD WEATHER...

Day 1 - Crappie after the New Year
Day 2 - How to Catch Cold-Water Crappie
Day 3 - Catch Crappie Now in the Winter
Day 4 - Ice Fishing
Day 5 - Mistakes Crappie Fishermen Make in the Winter



Entry 285, Day 1