Deep Winter Crappie Tactics

Lake experts tell how to catch Georgia crappie in January.

GON Staff | January 14, 2005

Jeff Key says the mistake many wintertime crappie fishermen make is that they don’t fish deep enough.

Even when the water is January cold, you can catch a mess of crappie. According to our three experts, who catch crappie with three different techniques in January, you just have to fish a little deeper, and a little slower.

When the surface temperatures of Georgia reservoirs drop during the winter, the fish move into the deep depths. According to WRD Fisheries biologist Scott Robinson, in January you can expect to find fish in the 15- to 25-foot depth range.

“When the surface temperature cools off, the deeper water will be a little bit warmer,” said Scott. “It is a little more comfortable for the fish, and that’s where the shad are going to be, too.”

The fish will tend to school up around deep cover, so when you find them around brush or timber, you can expect good numbers. Getting them to bite can be another story.

“They will feed at times,” said Scott, “but certainly their metabolism is going to be slowed down quite a bit. They are cold-blooded, so their body temperature is going to be what the water is. Slow-moving baits or even stationary baits do better than anything fast moving. When you are fishing in the winter, you just about have to hit them in the head with it.”

Scott says to look for schools of fish in the mouths of the creeks during January.

“They will have moved out of the backs of the creeks,” said Scott. “Sandy Creek at Lake Oconee is a big spawning area in the spring. In January, the fish will move out to the mouth of Sandy Creek. I would check around the area where it meets Richland Creek. The mouths of Lick Creek, Sugar Creek and Towns Creek are all good locations to check on Oconee.”

(Right) BAB Fly owner James Gore of Baxley and his grandson Kyle Gore with a string of big wintertime slabs. James says he catches fish in January by trolling tandem jigs.

Here’s a look at cold-water tactics that work on three popular crappie lakes:

• Lake Oconee

Crappie-catching expert James Gore of Baxley agrees that the areas Scott mentioned on Oconee are good places to fish during the winter, and James has a long history of catching slabs year round at Oconee and other Southeastern lakes to back his reputation.

James is the owner of BAB Fly, a crappie-jig manufacturer. James and his family have been catching crappie and fishing the crappie-tournament circuit successfully since the mid 1980s.

“The area between Towns Creek and the Indian Mounds is a good area on the upper end of Lake Oconee, and that area is always good early in the season,” said James. “Richland Creek, Sandy Creek and Rocky Creek are down the lake, and they are good, too.”

James is primarily a troller, and he says he doesn’t vary his style much during the winter.

“I am pretty much a long-line troller,” said James. “During the winter, I will put out a little more line or use tandem jigs to get them to run a little deeper. It depends on the depth of the fish. Sometimes they will be 10- or 12-feet deep. Other times they will be 15- to 25-feet deep.”

Typically, James will fish four to six rods out of the front of the boat and four to six rods out of the back of the boat. He fishes 1/16-oz. jigs almost exclusively when he is trolling, but when the crappie are more than 15-feet deep, he may run tandem jigs. He ties one jig to the end of the line, then about two feet up the line ties in another jig on a loop knot. Like most crappie anglers, James will vary the color of jigs that he uses, but he says that the fish will usually hit the jig on the end of the line, and that is where he ties on the more predominant color jig. At Oconee, that usually means some combination of blue.

“We have a lot of customers who fish Oconee a good bit, and it seems like blues are one of the favorite colors on that lake,” he said.

James said he has had good fishing success with black/blue-white; black/blue-black/white; white/blue/white, or red/blackgreen color combinations (head/body/tail).

“Black/green is also a good color at Oconee,” said James. “And green/black/green, that’s a real popular color, too.”

• Lake Weiss

Kevin Randall and Chuck Provost of Rome catch Weiss crappie in cold water by “pushin”’ minnows on small-scale downlines in front of their boat.

At Lake Weiss, Kevin Randall and Chuck Provost, both of Rome, use a popular deep-trolling technique from the front of the boat to move their baits very slowly in front of deep crappie. The technique is called pushin’. You can use jigs or minnows, or minnow-tipped jigs, but during the winter Kevin opts for minnows.

“I would use all live bait,” said Kevin. “The fish are finicky in the cold water.”

Kevin first ties a 3/4-oz. bell sinker to the end of his line. He then comes up the line 18 inches above the weight and ties in a four- to six-inch dropper with a crappie hook. Another 18 inches up the line, he ties in a second dropper. Each hook is baited with a lively minnow.

At Weiss, Kevin and Chuck fish humps and river ledges for crappie in January. The number of rods at Weiss is limited to three per angler. They fish all six lines in a spider-rig array out of the front of the boat, and they ease along very slowly so that the lines are hanging straight under the boat and usually just off the bottom.

“You have to go very slowly this time of year. It can be slow fishing,” said Kevin. “But when you get on them, it can be good. The crappie are going to be ganged up this time of year.”

Kevin recommends trying the mouths of creeks from Cowan Creek to the mouth of Little River, and the area around the causeway bridge. The mouth of any creek run that has flowing water can be good, he said.

“If we see fish on the graph, we can put our baits right on them,” he said.

A trick many cold-water trollers use is to add a live minnow to their jigs. The flash and wiggle of the minnow can encourage cold crappie to hit.

• West Point

Jeff Key of McDonough has caught a boat-load of crappie out of Lake West Point over the past 10 years. He concentrates his crappie-fishing activity mostly in Yellowjacket, and the mouths of Jackson and Beech creeks, which feed into Yellowjacket, but he says the way he fishes can be applied anywhere on the lake.

Jeff is a troller. “I know you can catch them ‘pushin,’” he said, “But I like to see a bend in my rod, and I like to feel them fight on the way to the boat.”

The problem most cold-water anglers have is that they don’t fish deep enough, says Jeff.

If you are flat-line trolling 1/16-oz. jigs, your jigs will only be six- or seven-feet deep,” said Jeff. “You have got to get down to where they are, and this time of year they are down 12 to 14 feet.”

Jeff gets his jigs down to the deeper water in one of two ways: either switching from 1/16-oz. jigs to 1/8-oz. jigs, or by fishing two 1/16-oz. jigs.

“I actually like the single 1/8-oz. jig better than the tandem rig, because if you get hung, you only have to re-tie one jig,” he said.

The downside to fishing only one jig, he says, is that you only catch one fish at a time. On a recent December trip to West Point, Jeff was fishing tandem jigs and caught four doubles.

Jeff usually opts for darker shades of jig colors at West Point.

“Yellowjacket has always got a stain,” he said. “I love to fish stained water, and I use darker-colored jigs. I am not likely to use whites or bright yellows. Chartreuse is good, black or black/brown is a good color — so is solid brown. But when the fish are really hitting, they will hit just about anything.”

Jeff pulls eight lines, and he finds fish by working the edge of the creek- channel ledges. He also keeps an eye on his electronics, hoping to locate schools of fish.

“The fish aren’t going to chase a jig much,” he said. “You pretty much have to put it right in front of them.”

Jeff reports that the fish have begun to bunch up on West Point. He was on Yellowjacket Creek on December 7 when the water temperature was 56 degrees. He caught 80 crappie in about two hours.

Jeff caught most of those fish after finding them with another deep rig.

“I took a 1/4-oz. rubber-core lead weight and put it on the line ahead of my tandem rig. Then I dropped the jigs into about 25 feet of water and slow-trolled them just off the bottom until we found fish. We caught about 16 fish that way, then we switched over to 1/8- and tandem 1/16-oz. jigs and just killed them.”

If you have been thinking about getting a jump on crappie season this year, James, Kevin and Jeff all agree that one thing is for certain: crappie will definitely bite in January — if you can just get your bait down to them.

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