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Catching Vertical Crappie
Before the fish move to the shores to spawn, crappie can be difficult to find and catch. But these tips can make the chore easier. (March 2006) ... [+] Full Article
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Pineywoods Pros Talk Crappie

Ditto that for Bill Fondren, a veteran crappie fishing guide on the lake, and a regular fishing partner of Stanley's. "Most of the time we'll start out using Wedge Tail Minnows rigged on 1/32-ounce leadhead jigs," Fondren said. "The Wedge Tail minnows are 1 1/2 and 2 inches long. That's the perfect size for a jig or live shiner. The best jig colors will be glow/chartreuse, pink/white or chartreuse."

One thing about coldwater crappie is that they don't usually feed on big shad and shiners. You don't want to use big live minnows for winter crappie. At the bait shop, Stanley will specifically request 1 1/2- to 2-inch-long shiners -- the size of minnow that he's done best with for years.

You can either hook the minnow through the lips or just behind the dorsal fin. When placing the hook behind the dorsal fin, be careful not to run it through the spine of the fish. That's why a thin wire hook, like a gold Aberdeen, is a must. When placed through a minnow, its small diameter won't kill the bait. Plus, when snagged, the thin wire hook can be pulled off the brush without breaking the line. When hung up, what you want to do is tighten up the line with your rod tip pointing down to the hook. Gradually pull up, and the wire hook should straighten out and pop free.

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When selecting jig colors, you want to keep in mind that the water on the upper end of Rayburn will likely be stained. Because of that, you'll want to use a jig tail with a little contrast.

Fondren ties on the jig and squeeze on a 1/8-ounce lead split shot about 8 to 10 inches over the jig. The split shot helps sink the jig down to the right depth.

"You don't want a fast-sinking jig," Fondren said. "Crappie are not going to move too far or fast to eat. In the cold water you want to be able to put a slow-sinking jig right in their face."

When using live shiners, Stanley and Fondren will rig them on 1/0 gold Aberdeen hooks with just enough weight to sink the shiner to the desired depth. One of the best ways to rig a live bait weight is with a bullet sinker -- the same type that you use to fix up a Texas-rigged worm.

You can use a wooden toothpick to secure the weight about 12 inches above the live shiner. First, run your fishing line through the weight, and tie the tag end off to a hook. Next, stick the toothpick in the hole of the weight and then break off the excess. It can be slipped up and down the line with a little pressure, but will stay in place wherever you stop it.

According to Stanley, another hot fishing tactic is to get in the river channel and locate a few inside bends that are holding shad. "I like to get on my trolling motor and ease up the channel while looking for shad holding on the bends," he said. "If you can find an area that is holding shad that are kind of spread out, you'll usually find crappie. To do that, you have to watch your depthfinder. A long line of shad is a good indicator that they are being worked by crappie. If they are in a tight wad, they aren't usually too active."

It's in the lower end of Rayburn that guides Mike and Cathy Wheatley will be hunting for -- and catching -- lots of crappie during February. This husband-and-wife team can definitely tell you a thing or two about how to find cold-water crappie on Rayburn.

"During the first of the month, we'll be working brush in creeks with water depths of 28 to 40 feet," offered Mike. "At that time the crappie will usually be holding 15 to 20 feet deep on a thermocline next to naturally occurring brush. The water temperature there will be 45 to 50 degrees, depending on how much cold weather we get."

Mike says that the crappie holding on deep brush in the creeks will be solid keepers, most 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.

At the first of the month, Mike and Cathy will be fishing with jigs or shiners. If the water temperature is in the 40s, they'll more than likely be fishing with live shiners.

"If we're getting one cold front after another, the crappie will be sluggish," said Mike. "That's when you have to use live shiners, and put them right in a crappie's face to get a bite.

"When fishing live shiners I'll rig them on No. 1 gold Aberdeen hooks. For a weight I'll use a small split shot or worm weight. I'll usually go with a 3/8- or 1/4-ounce worm weight rigged about 4 to 6 inches above the hook."

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