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Pineywoods Pros Talk Crappie
Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend are hard to beat as crappie hotspots in February. Here's what our pros have to say about where and how to find the slabs there this month.

Even though the air outside might be frosty, that's by no means an indication of a cold crappie bite. Conversely, even though February might be one of the coldest months of the year for East Texas anglers, it's one of the hottest for catching crappie -- big crappie in many locations.

Of the many great crappie lakes abounding in East Texas, two of the best have always been Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. Within the past couple of decades these huge reservoirs have really proved to be outstanding crappie venues. Even though they're aging impoundments, recent years' catches would suggest that their ability to produce crappie numbers isn't diminishing.

What's interesting is how anglers go about catching crappie during February on these lakes. It all has to do with river-running crappie. Rayburn is a classic example of what I'm talking about. Anglers on the upper end of Rayburn will be concentrating on fishing the Angelina River channel. At the lower end you'll more than likely find anglers fishing the deep creek channels.

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At Toledo Bend, there's no doubt as to where you'll find crappie in February: in the "Chicken Coop" area just above the Pendleton Bridge. There you're sure to find boats anchored in the old Sabine River channel, as that's been the No. 1 area for finding and catching crappie for years on Toledo Bend.

The key to tapping into a hot crappie bite during a cold February is to find the shad. Locate them, and you'll more likely than not find crappie. Crappie feed on shad just about year 'round, so as the baitfish migrate, so do the crappie.

Usually during the coldest weeks of February you'll find big schools of shad in the river channels of the big lakes. You can bet the tractor and the barn that crappie aren't going to be too far from the shad.

That's definitely the case on Toledo Bend in the Sabine River channel. And on the upper section of Sam Rayburn, too.

Lonnie Stanley, who's best known for his bass-catching tactics, is a crappie fishing fool, especially during February. "I love to catch crappie," he said. "I like to catch bass, too. But when it comes to having a good time with friends and family, you can't beat a good day of crappie fishing."

Lonnie does almost all of his fishing on Rayburn. His Stanley Jigs lure company is based in nearby Huntington, which almost within rock-throwing distance of Rayburn. And that explains why he likes to fish Rayburn. Another reason, of course, is the fantastic crappie fishing.

"During the first couple of weeks of February we'll be fishing the Angelina River channel on the upper end of the lake," offered Stanley. "On the middle and upper areas of Rayburn the crappie will move into the river channel to feed on shad. Most of the shad will be in the river channel south of the Highway 103 bridge during January. But in February they will begin to move up the river channel, above the 103 bridge. Once you find the shad and crappie you can pretty much plan on a gradual movement up the river channel."

Stanley says that Rayburn's crappie fishing during February is fantastic. Once you get on the fish, you stand a good chance of catching 50 to 100 of the tasty panfish. And the size is great. We're talking about solid crappie: fish in the 12- to 14-inch class. That size of crappie -- one that's been gorging on shad -- will weigh from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds. In my book, that's a fat crappie.

"During the first good cold fronts -- I mean really good ones -- the crappie and shad will move to the river," Stanley noted. "And as they move up the river with the shad, they will stage on the inside bends. Some will stage on the outside bends. But for the most part you need to concentrate on fishing the inside bends in 35 feet of water.

"You want to fish the edge of the river channel. Once you find a couple of areas with inside bends you can just tie off to a stump and start fishing."

Stanley almost always fishes 12 to 20 feet deep -- right where the river-channel edge drops off into 35 to 40 feet of water. Practically without exception, he's found, the optimal depth is going to be 16 to 18 feet.

"Good crappie fishermen know there is always a magic depth where the crappie seem to feeding exclusively," he said. "I'll take a black waterproof marker along to mark the magic depth on my line. That way I know exactly at what depth I'm fishing. Take the guesswork out of the depth where crappie are feeding and you'll put more fish in the box every time."

As you might imagine, crappie are a tad sluggish in the cold February water. Even though the air temperature might be 65 degrees, the water temperature will likely be in the upper 40s. Stanley will use both jigs and live shiners to catch the big river-run crappie.

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