Winter crappie fishermen are deep thinkers; but don’t be intimidated if your name doesn’t include a PhD, MBA or some other evidence of academic ascension. Truth be told, all you really need to know is this: Where’s the deep water?

On his Toledo Bend home waters, crappie guide Jerry Thompson looks for his best winter action in creek channels. On natural lakes without a river, Thompson points anglers to the deepest water they can find. But in reservoirs like Lake D’Arbonne and Toledo, your major creeks are the deal.

“The crappie go to those creek channels because they’re following the shad,” Thompson said. “The baitfish go to the deepest water available to them and the crappie follow them. So, if you’ll concentrate on the creek channels — not the river channel — that’s where the majority of fish are going to be.”

As Thompson noted, any hard structures in the channel are definitely worth investigating, but day in and day out, it’s all about the food. Same as bass, crappie want to keep the baitfish buffet in front of their noses.

“It’s mostly to do with shad, but crappie like cover, so any logs or stumps are good,” Thompson said. “Sometimes you can catch them on just an old sand bar. When they’re on something open like that, I think it has to do with the shad.”

On Toledo, Thompson spends a lot of his winter crappie time at the Chicken Coop — a mile stretch of river running against an east-facing mid-lake bank. The spot holds some of the lake’s coolest water, but crappie gather there in massive numbers — again, because of the voluminous shad schools.