Winter Side Trolling With Brad Whitehead
Phillip Gentry
Pickwick guide Bad Whitehead catches plenty of fish during the winter by side trolling, but his pace is much slower.
While typical winter bites are light, hungry fish may try to jerk the rod out of the boat.
Handmade hair jigs tipped with live minnows provide a daily diet for Whitehead’s crappie fishing.
Adding another foot to the great line up of Difference rods allows Whitehead to cover more water when side trolling.

Question: Brad, What’s the biggest difference between how you side troll during the spring and summer and how it’s done in the winter?


Whitehead: When the water’s cold like it is now, I have to slow way down and almost fish at a dead stop. I’ll troll between pieces of structure, but when the boat is positioned over stumps or brush tops, I actually use the trolling motor to hold the boat at a stand still.


Question: If you’re holding the boat still and fishing vertically, why not just go to a tight line method? How is side trolling better?


Whitehead: As a guide, I’m fishing two, maybe three other people in the boat with me. If we were tight-lining, my clients would be fishing behind me and getting second shot at the fish. I end up catching most of the fish. That tends to make those in the back unhappy.


By side trolling, every one in the boat has an equal shot at the fish. A sideways approach has everyone in the boat covering fresh water and not fishing behind someone else.


Question: Is there anything else different about winter side trolling?


Whitehead: Yea, the bite is rarely first thing in the morning. In fact, I often meet my clients at 8 o’clock in the morning and we fish till dark rather than starting at daylight and fishing till mid afternoon. We’ll catch a few fish during the morning hours but we really don’t get into the fish until after lunch. We catch the most fish starting around 2 o’clock after the sun has warmed the water up.


Question: So with slowing down your presentations and fishing later in the day, do you typically downsize your baits as well?


Whitehead: Believe it or not, no. In fact, I go with bigger baits during the winter. You see, over time I’ve figured out that crappie stay active through the winter but when they feed it may be only once a day. A bigger bait is a one shot meal and they don’t have to eat again. That’s why I use a ¼ oz hair jig tipped with a big live minnow.


I’ve always been a fan of hair jigs and through my association with Lindy Fishing Tackle, I’ve gotten them to send me some of the bare ¼ oz heads with built in eyes. I’m having these tied with fish hair and made into the hair jigs that I use for side pulling.


Question: I know you’ve always been a fan of Roger Gant’s “The Difference” rods made by B’n’M. Are you using these for your winter crappie fishing?


Whitehead: Absolutely. Many times winter fishing means the lightest bites of the year and that’s when the Difference rods really shine. But other times the fish will knock the soup out of the jig. I think that goes along with what I said about crappie eating one time. We’ll get these hard bites. There’s no nibble, no tap, just WHAM! You either catch the fish or you miss him. That’s his one bite of the day.


Since it was first made, the Difference has come in two lengths - 8 feet and 9 feet. B’n’M has now started making this rod in 10 foot lengths. They’ll be available after the first of the year. The reason I’m so excited about a 10 foot rod is that it will give me two more feet of trolling path by switching from a 9 foot to a 10 foot. It’s the same great rod with all the sensitivity and backbone as the other two models, just a little more reach.


To learn more about how B’n’M poles can help with your winter crappie fishing, visit our great lineup of crappie rods at