Fishing for Crappie in the Winter: Everything You Need to Know

Winter is the perfect time to fish for Crappie, as the cold weather makes schools gather into larger groups. This means that if you can locate the ideal fishing spot, it’s possible to reel in bite after bite. Cold weather presents anglers with additional challenges of dealing with ice, snow, and frozen fingers, but there’s an upside to the downturn in temperature. Crappie fishing is one of the best ways to spend your winter weekends, and Top Fishing Deals is here to help you do it. 

First, we’ll take you through the annual movements of Crappie fish. Every serious angler needs to know the different movements of fish throughout the year, as you’ll never catch a winter fish in your favorite summer spot. We’re going to share some of our top tips so you reel in as many as possible, as well as shedding light on some common mistakes that you need to avoid!

Yearly Crappie Movement

The most popular time to catch Crappie is April to June, during the spawning season. So many anglers fish only in this time of year, but of course, the fish are still there year-around! There’s no reason why you can’t reel in a whole lot of Crappie no matter the season, you only need to know where to find them. If you’re aiming to catch more Crappie this winter, it’s pointless not to understand Crappie the whole year-round. Every Crappie angler needs to know this important information, no matter what season you’re aiming to fish. Read on to find out the annual movements of Crappie, so you’ll have a more rounded understanding of this marvelous fish. 

Spring

Most Crappie anglers favor spring over any other season, the weather is beautiful and it’s a wonderful time to be out on the water or enjoying the lake. In Spring, water temperatures creep towards 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and at this point, Crappie begin moving away from their Winter grounds, towards the wood covered flats that will be their home when the fish spawn. It depends on the depth of the particular lake you’re fishing in, but for the most part, Crappie will make these early moves from late March until the end of April. 

A lot of the time, Crappie will actually stay around point and drop-offs near to their spawning grounds until the water temperatures reach 58 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, they will suddenly storm the lake banks and begin to spawn. During this spawning period, the majority of Crappie fish will spawn on hard, bottom-wood covered flats, in water between 6 and 8 feet deep. 

Spring Crappie fishing tip: Use a small 1/32 oz jig, 6 to 18 inches under a small float. Cast with this setup around piles of brush, twitching the line slowly back towards you. 

Summer may not be the number one season for crappie fishing but you can definitely find it out there.

Summer

Once spawning season is over and summer hits, only the smallest Crappie remain in spawning areas. Many anglers give up on Crappie this at this time of year because when fishing spots that were brimming with large fish only weeks before, most bites will be small and disappointing. This is because when the spawn is finished, the majority of large Crappie abandon these areas in favor of deeper water. The smaller Crappie will be enjoying bugs and small baitfish, meanwhile, the larger fish have moved to further depths in pursuit of much better forage. 

In the Summer, Crappie can be found in deeper points of the lake, around humps, rock reefs, and drop-offs. These are the same grounds crappie will have help before the spawn in Spring. Any angler looking to catch summertime Crappie should prioritize targeting these areas. 

Summer Crappie fishing tip: Try a spot of nighttime fishing during the hottest months of the year, this is when you can catch the largest Crappie in the lake! 

Fall

Fall is without a doubt the number one season for Crappie anglers. Out of the entire year, Fall months offer any fisherman the best chance of catching large and numerous Crappie. In late September, water temperatures begin to gently cool. When the fish detect this, Crappie emerge from the depths and school together in huge numbers. They become more active searching for food, aiming to fatten up for the winter, so this is the prime time of year for Crappie anglers. 

Fall is another great season for nighttime fishing when you have excellent chances of reeling in a lot of large fish. Crappie love rock structures at this time of year, especially ones with forage. If you can locate a spot such as a rockpile, or the deep edge of a rocky reef, or perhaps under a bridge with a reasonable amount of baitfish; you’ve struck gold. The best places to look will have easy access to a feeding flat, and at least 15 feet underwater. 

Fall Crappie fishing tip: Cast within 2 feet of the lake bottom, so you target the largest Crappie in the schools. 

Winter

After the Fall, Crappie angling hits a sort of lull. Don’t take this as a reason not to fish for Crappie in winter however, if you do you’ll be missing out on some of the year’s best opportunities! Sure, the excitement of Fall has diminished, and the whole process slows down. But all you need to do is change your technique, and follow the Crappie to their new areas. Crappie have finished fattening up for the colder season and will move back out to open water. This is a more difficult time for Crappie anglers, but make no mistake; the fish are still there, so those bites are still possible. Crappie forms very tight schools at this time and hit the deepest parts of the lake. They sit around little to no structure, mainly feeding on plankton. Read on to find out about our best tips for fishing winter Crappie. 

Winter Crappie Fishing Tips

Like all other fish, Crappie change their behavior with the seasons, so as an angler you’ll need to change your approach. Don’t worry though, with our top tips you’ll find hooking a Crappie this winter a breeze! Let’s jump in and discover some of the ways you can optimize your cast and jig, and get the most out of your wintertime Crappie fishing trip. 

1. Keep Your Distance

If the water is murky, then you can get away with being a little closer to your target fish. However, water tends to have more clarity in the winter, and in this case, getting too close to a school of Crappie can easily spook them and ruin your chances of a bite. Instead, adopting a technique where you can fish from afar will be much more rewarding in the wintertime, if you keep your distance you’ll be able to catch more fish without even changing your spot. It’s incredibly helpful to use a longer rod in this scenario, like this 10-foot Jenko Kevin Rogers Jigging Rod. 

2. Take it Slow

Everything beneath the water’s surface moves slower in the wintertime, so you’ll need to ensure your bait does the same. Make sure you’re using a jig that moves slowly, or even better; make use of a float. A slip cork like the Krazywolf Balsa is ideal when fishing for Crappie at depths below 6 feet. Although you might prefer a traditional float rig, it’s better to go for the depths as we’ll explain in our next tip. 

3. Fish Deeper Waters

Once water temperatures settle in the low 50’s, Crappie move to deeper waters than the summer months. If there are a few warmer days of respite then you might have luck in shallower areas (while you enjoy the slightly raised temperatures from your boat), but for the most part, it’s best to fish the deeper water for winter Crabbie. The fish much prefer the shelter provided by deep parts of the lake when temperatures are cold, so don’t waste your time in the shallows. 

4. Try some Bigger Baits

While most anglers go for a smaller bait in the winter, you might want to try out using a larger one. Colder water usually means using a smaller lure, but using larger tackle can be to your advantage in the winter, as it limits movement. This relates back to our advice about taking it slow; a larger bait will move less in the water, limiting the chances that you’ll spook the fish. When angling for Crabbie in the winter, we love using the Mr. Crabbie Slab Slanger, as it’s fatter body makes it much slower-moving in the water, and this will earn you considerably more bites. 

5. Fish around Cover

When the temperatures drop, there’s nothing Crabbie like more than a nice sheltered spot. Structures like boat docks provide the perfect shelter for a group of Crappie, while the concrete pillars of bridge pilings warm up in the sun, increasing the temperature of the surrounding water too. This entices forage for Crappie, while the pillars also provide cover from which they can strike. If you manage to scout out one of these sweet sheltered Crappie spots, try hitting it with new and different bait. Most anglers don’t offer many variations from jigs and minnows, but Crappie can be especially finicky in the winter. Try out something new, like a tailspinner or bladebait. 

6. Look for Ledges

Deep ledges are the perfect location for Crappie in winter, it gives the fish easy access to deeper water. You can use a fishfinder like the Humminbird Helix to locate underwater structures and use the images to target the right areas. The very best winter Crappie spots are ledges close to creek or river intersections, along sharp drop-offs, and especially near any sunken brush. If you can locate fallen trees or underwater brush along a deep ledge, it’s almost certain to be a prime fishing spot. 

With the right amount of practice you’ll be fishing crappie like a pro in no time.

Common Mistakes when Fishing for Crappie in Winter

So many anglers simply give up on Crappie fishing once Winter comes, and resolve to pick up their rods again when the weather is nicer. However, it’s easy to be discouraged when you aren’t fishing the right way! If you don’t use Crappie movement matters to your advantage, then winter Crappie fishing will be no fun at all. Let’s take a look at some of the most easily made mistakes of winter anglers that you’ll definitely need to avoid, and the improvements you can make to catch a lot more fish. 

So many anglers fish too fast in the winter, you have to slow down if you want a cold-season bite. When temperatures drop, the metabolism of Crappie slows down in order to preserve energy and make it through the months where feeding is more scarce. 

Fish are less likely to give chase to your bait and don’t really move a lot in general. You’ll need to slow down your fishing for Crappie in winter, don’t expect the same frequency of cast and reel in the winter or you’ll be sorely disappointed. Anglers need to slow down to the pace of the Crappie, it’s not going to be as quick and easy as in Spring, Summer, and Fall. However, don’t let this deter you. Enjoy the more relaxed fishing time, there’s still plenty of chances to catch a large Crappie. 

You need a slightly different angling setup when fishing for Crappie in winter; you can’t use the same line and bait all-year-around. Perception underwater is improved when it’s cold, and fish moving more slowly are more likely to be suspicious. Use a finer line when winter Crappie fishing, many anglers make this mistake and wonder why they don’t get a single bite. The same principle applies to bait; a large summertime Crappie bait doesn’t mimic the fish’s food at this time of year, as the Crappie aren’t eating anywhere near as much due to their decreased metabolism. A smaller bait is much more likely to tempt a Crappie to bite when it’s cold, such as a small-sized minnow lure. 

Persevere when fishing in the winter, and that goes for any fish too. So many anglers give up too easily in the winter, and to be fair it’s not surprising that after a few unsuccessful hours in the cold, most fishermen pack up and go home. However, the most dedicated anglers are always the most successful. Crappie don’t bite all day in the winter months, so you need to be in the right place at the right time. If you want a winter bite, you’ll have to fish for Crappie all day. Don’t worry, the fish will feed at some point, and you just need to offer up your bait when it happens. If you put in the hours and dedicate yourself to an entire day of winter Crappie fishing, then you’re much more likely to get a bite.  

Remember that Crappie move throughout the year, so don’t make the all-too-common mistake of fishing the same spots of the lake year-around. Bitter cold weather and icy winds make sheltered fishing spots very attractive in winter, but you’ll better your chances of a bite if you brave the conditions. Many anglers stick to creek mouths, avoiding rougher water, but this can be to the fisherman’s detriment. It’s much more lucrative to get out into the main lake, where the waves are rough and the winds are biting. You’ll need to wrap up warm with plenty of weather protection, but hitting the main body of the lake might earn you a few more bites. If you locate a good spot in the main lake during winter, particularly around old river channels, the benefits are twofold. You’ll have very little competition from other anglers, so you can likely return to the spot for several days and reap your rewards! 

You need to make use of the wonderful modern amenities that anglers have access to nowadays. This goes for your electronics, and your lake map! Both are often ignored by anglers, but in winter this is a huge mistake. Put some time into mastering the use of your depth finder, and interpreting the information it provides. In winter more than ever, this valuable tool can be the difference between a successful fishing trip or a cold and disappointing day out. For example, if you learn to accurately locate schools of Crappie on your depth finder, then this skill will catch you many fish in the winter. 

Your lake map allows you to find the rivers, channels, and other structural features that Crappie love in wintertime. So many anglers ignore this low-tech option, but a good lake map will tell you so much! It’s impossible to catch Crappie without locating the structures that hold them. Let’s outline an example; if you find a great Crappie spot, for example, a 15-foot drop-off, and then the fish stop biting, what do you do? Using your lake map, you can find a second location with the same or similar conditions, maybe even another 15-foot drop off, which is a great place to look for another school of fish. Winter Crappie follow fairly predictable patterns, so use your lake map to turn this information to your advantage. 

Crappie Fishing in the Winter is Alive and Well

Unlike other popular North American freshwater fish, winter is a great time of year to fish for Crappie. These fish gather into large groups in cold temperatures, so all you have to do is locate them and then start reeling ‘em in! We’ve shared a wealth of information on how to optimize your technique in the winter, so those Crappie shouldn’t know what’s hit them. 

Bonus tip: Check out this useful video on some additional crappie fishing techniques!

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