Winter Crappie Fishing Isn’t Always A Numbers Game

Upstate Outdoors
November 16, 2018 - 10:40 am

Phillip Gentry

Over the years, crappie fishermen have become spoiled with catching crappie by the numbers. Although trolling for the feisty panfish has been around in one form or another for years, it’s only in the last 10 years or so that crappie anglers have really upped their game using bigger, specially designed trolling boat rigs dialed in to specific patterns, depths, speeds, and baits that really target crappie and target a lot of crappie.

With the revolution of crappie fishing, a lot of anglers still prefer to use just one pole. Call it single pole, jig fishing, jigging, or whatever suits your taste, fishing for crappie with one pole in hand is a lot of fun and especially during fall and winter conditions can also produce a lot of quality fish.

Professional crappie fisherman John Harrison has fished for crappie all over the country and said the differences between trolling for crappie and single pole or jigging for crappie goes way beyond just the fishing rod. 

With a fishing seat set on the front deck and another on the rear deck, Harrison’s jig fishing crappie boat is much smaller and more maneuverable than his crappie trolling boat. The idea is to fish in tighter places.

Another big difference is the trolling motor, not used for trolling at all, but to position the boat around structure. He prefers an electric hand controlled motor with a variable speed control tiller.

While he’s not knocking the high tech electronics he uses on his trolling boat, he relies more on a bottom reading graph and his eyes than anything else. He will motor into an area of the lake that has vertical structure and start fishing. He said it doesn’t particularly matter what lake he is fishing.

“Any lake that holds crappie will hold crappie on vertical structure, whether that’s boat docks, brush piles, stake beds, or just natural stuff sticking up out of the water,” he said. “I have found that the clearer the lake, generally the deeper the water the fish will hold in, but on muddy water lakes, it’s not unusual to catch crappie in 8 – 10 feet of water all through the winter.”

Harrison said the key to catching crappie in cooling and in many cases falling water through the winter is to keep that jig in the water next to vertical structure. He opts for a 1/16 oz jighead on 6 pound monofilament line. He uses an 11 foot ultra light action jig pole to fish the jig. 

In water that gets deeper than the length of the jig pole, or in windy conditions, he’ll up the jig head to a 1/8 oz version. He pairs the jig head with a rubber tube or shad body and will switch colors until he find what color he’s catching the most fish on, but it seems each lake has it’s favorite “go-to” color and he may ask around at a local bait shop if he isn’t familiar with the starting color.

“Don’t overlook anything,” he said. “You may not see that little stick that no bigger round than your thumb and only sticks up 5 or 6 inches, but it’s usually the tip of the iceberg, especially if it’s in 8 – 15 feet of water and off by itself.”

Harrison said the cooler the water, the slower the presentation. He said jigging is not the proper word for it because he’s simply lowering the jig in the water to the bottom and lifting the jig and holding it still. Then he’ll lift it a little higher and hold again.

“You’ll figure out pretty quick where they’re oriented to,” he said. “Most times it’s right off the bottom. Then it’s just a matter of waiting on that little thump.”


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WORD 106.3 FM. The show can be streamed live online at or via podcast anytime.


Crappie angler John Harrison loves crappie fishing during the late fall and winter when he can target them by fishing a simple crappie jig. 


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