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Cold-weather crappie are a challenge

Larry Woody • Jan 31, 2018 at 8:30 AM

A couple of winters ago I went crappie fishing at Percy Priest Lake with Mt. Juliet’s Chuck Campbell and we caught some of the biggest slabs I’ve taken from the lake.

In addition to catching big crappie, I thought we might catch pneumonia.

It’s no secret that crappie bite during cold weather. I caught some giant slabs in the Tennessee River below Watts Bar Dam one February day that was so cold ice formed on my rod guides and the water in my minnow bucket turned to slush.

Fishing buddy Bob Sherborne and I went to Reelfoot Lake one winter to fish for crappie. We had heard that during cold weather the fish congregate in the few deep holes in the relatively-shallow lake.

The crappie were congregated all right –along with the crappie fishermen. There were dozens of boats on each of the holes. Sherborne and I managed to wedge in and caught some fish, but it was cramped and crowded.

That’s not a concern on bigger lakes like Priest, Old Hickory and Kentucky Lake. There’s plenty of room for everyone, and virtually no fishing pressure compared to the peak spring season.

The day Chuck and I fished we were the only boat in sight. I could see why – the conditions were miserable. The temperature was lower than a PETA model’s IQ, and a raw wind swept across the open water.

We sought shelter in a semi-protected cove and began working a rocky bank where the depth gradually dropped from a couple of feet to 20 feet or so.

We immediately began catching crappie.

We were casting small tube jigs in blue-and-silver colors, barely moving them along. That’s one of the keys to cold-weather fishing: fish slow. Crappie and other fish feed during cold weather, but their metabolism (like ours) slows and they are sluggish.

Most hits are felt as slight taps. Sometimes you don’t even feel a tap or tug; there is simply a sudden resistance at the end of the line.

Smaller lures work best, and light line is essential -- either 6- or 4-pound test – both for casting small lures and detecting bites.

Minnows are effective in cold weather because they can be fished slowly, drifting or vertically jigging, or left dangling stationary below the boat or beneath a bobber.

The drawback to minnows is that they are a hassle to dip from an icy bucket and put on a hook in frigid weather. Minnow fishing is tough on frozen fingers.

Dressing warmly is a must, and a face stocking comes in handy if a boat ride is required. Bouncing across a lake in the wintertime means a single-digit wind chill.

A good rule of thumb: put on all the clothing you think you’ll possibly need, then add another layer. If you don’t need it you can always shed it.

Escaping the wind is a necessity. Not only does it improve the temperature, it also makes it easier to cast light baits and detect sensitive bites.

At least that’s the way Chuck and I did it, and we brought home some good crappie.

Granted, it wasn’t as pleasant as sitting in a calm cove on a balmy April morning admiring the blossoming dogwoods and listening to robins chirp. But fishing is fishing, and you have the rest of the winter to thaw out.

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