B’n’M pro staffer Joey Mines of LaGrange, Georgia has a hard time deciding when his favorite time to catch crappie is on his home Lake of West Point, Georgia. The long time fishing guide, TV show host, and noted columnist spends over 275 days a year fishing on West Point.
As a guide, Mines said one thing for sure you don’t want to do when fishing for wintertime crappie is over-complicate the process.
“When the water temperatures drop below 50 degrees, crappie become very lethargic,” said Mines. “The fish are simply not going to chase down bait, but that doesn’t mean they’re hard to catch. You just have to fish at the right level.”
According to Mines, many times during the winter, that level is right on the bottom. Mines said it’s very common to find crappie staging on brush piles and structure in what is known by many as the “winter pattern”, but in his many years of experience, once the first of the year rolls in, crappie are already preparing for the spring spawn that will take place in March and April.
“Not all crappie are going to do the same thing at the same time,” said Mines. “They’re not all going to be at the same depth but I have found that if you know where the fish are going to spawn come spring, you can find them right now within 500 yards or so of those locations if you’ve got the right water depth.”
To find wintertime crappie, Mines will move his Angler Quest pontoon boat into the back of a major tributary starting in 20 feet of water. He has three Lowrance sonar units mounted on his boat and he is searching the lake floor for “lumps” on the bottom.
“Finding fish is most of the battle in the winter,” he said. “I use highly sophisticated units that show down imaging, side images, and high definition. Those lumps, which may show up as arches right on the bottom are crappie.”
Why the fish are laying on the bottom is a matter for debate. Some say the females, which constitute a majority of the catch rate on this pattern, are generating or nourishing eggs and sink to the bottom while the eggs are being produced in their bodies. Others say the fish are laying in the mud to keep warm. Either way, Mines said it’s very common to catch roe-laden females with mud stains on their bellies.
To catch these fish, he uses a setup of 12 foot B’n’M Buck’s Graphite Jig Poles rigged with a drop shot rig. The rig consists of a ½ ounce weight on the bottom with a loop knot tied 18 inches above the weight. On occasion, Mines may add another dropper 18 inches to 2 feet above the first. The droppers contain a #2 light wire hook baited with a live minnow.
“Crappie aren’t going to eat a big bait, so the smallest minnows you can find are what you want to use,” he said.
The guide places the rods in Driftmaster rod holders and drops the rig to the bottom, then tightens the line until there’s a bend in the rod.
“When I’m confident I’ve marked crappie, I throw out a marker buoy just off to the side, then I want to put the boat right over those fish,” he said. “This is not trolling. You don’t want the boat to move at all and if there’s wind that’s going to bounce the rods in the holder, you need to either move to a more sheltered location or come back when there’s no wind.”
Mines said paying attention to some finer details that will insure you catch fish. The bait has to be small and lively, so the crappie can find it on the bottom. Slight adjustments in your depth will help catch fish that are suspended slightly off the bottom as will the addition of the second dropper. Using B’n’M Poles also provide incredible sensitivity to light biting winter crappie.“If I’m fishing 4 or 5 clients on the boat, there’s always one rod catching more fish than the others,” said Mines. “Chances are it’s some slight difference that angler is doing that spells the difference, so I do my best to help the others duplicate what he’s doing.”
With the onset of winter, crappie anglers need to adjust their thinking in order to find large concentrations of fish as water temperatures cool down for the year. In order to successfully accomplish this, it helps to think of spring patterns in reverse.
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