How to make the most of cold-weather crappie trips
This month’s cold weather might have you thinking about leaving the boat in the shed and staying in the warmth of your den, sipping coffee and snuggling with your wife on the couch while she watches HGTV.
But what you should do is promise your wife an evening at your favorite restaurant, pour the coffee in a thermos, hit the water and fill an ice chest with crappie.
And there’s no better way to do that than to push a spider rig of rods around your favorite lake.
The tactic is a year-round means of catching fish, but Yamaha crappie pro Jarad Roper said the ability to cover a lot of water with a number of baits really comes into play when fish are cold and less likely to feed aggressively.
“Because crappie are lethargic during this time of year, the chances of catching a limit of crappie quicker (with a spider rig) goes up — not because you have multiple rods out, but because your rods are covering a wide spread of water,” Roper explained. “Instead of one jig or two jigs bouncing off the bottom or near the bottom with a great chance to be 6 feet from that crappie and miss that crappie because it’s cold and will come and attack that jig.
“Spider Rigging gives you a greater chance to put a bait right in a fish’s face.”
But there are some factors that must be taken into consideration when water temperatures are bottomed out. Here are Roper’s tips for wintertime spider-rigging:
1. Slow down — Bears hibernate for a reason: It’s cold. While crappie don’t go to sleep, they’re not doing a lot of chasing. So Roper said it’s easy to move your bait array too fast for the fish to grab.
“In the wintertime, as the water is in the 40s, crappie are not as active as the would be in the spring, summer or fall,” he explained. “Normally when spider rigging you want to go .3 to .4 mph, but in the winter months I slow down to .1 to .2 mph.”
2. Bump the bottom — Also related to cold water temperatures is the depth at which crappie normally hold in search of warmer environs.
So you have to put baits down there with them.
“During the winter majority of crappie will go deep. It’s not uncommon to find crappie sitting on the bottom of the lake or a foot or 2 off the bottom,” Roper said. “When you find crappie are on or near the bottom, the best rig to use is called a Kentucky Lake rig, also known as a bottom-bouncing rig.”
This rig consists of a 3/4- or 1-ounce bell sinker at the terminal end of your line, with two 4- to 6-inch leaders spaced 2 to 3 feet apart starting about 2 feet above the weight. A No. 1 or 1/0 light-wire hook should be attached to each leader.
“If there is a bunch of snags at the bottom and you would like to just use a single rig, you can do that also,” Roper said. “You can use a three-way swivel.”
3. The right jig — Roper said he will add some color to this bottom-bouncing rig, and switches jigs to ensure he’s getting as much action as possible at slow trolling speeds.
“I will add a hair jig to the bottom leader or to both,” he said. “A hair jig is great to use in cold water, especially when moving slowly — the slightest movement will make the tail looks like it’s alive.”
4. Size matters — There are times to beef up your offering, but the heart of the winter generally isn’t it.
“‘Big baits catch big fish’ is not the case in this season,” Roper explained. “During the spring and fall you can use large minnows, but during the winter months I use medium minnows.
“It’s a lot easier for the crappie to inhale. A lot of times when crappie are lethargic they will start short-striking. You will find the tail of the minnow might be (bitten) off or the scales of the minnow bottom half might be off. When this happens go a little bit smaller in your presentation.”
5. Location — Sure, some fish might wander around anywhere on a lake, but there are some areas where an angler can just expect to find congregations of crappie.
“I want to look for deep ledges, river channel edges, creek channels, riprap or bridge columns,” Roper said. “When I say deep, I’m looking at 15 to 20 feet of water — and in some lakes even deeper.
“My tournament partner (who is also my father) and I were fishing Toledo Bend in February, and we were in 40 feet of water catching crappie 39 feet deep.