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Texas Sportsman
Pineywoods Pros Talk Crappie

When fishing with jigs, Mike and Cathy like to use Wedge Tail minnows 1 1/2 inches long rigged on a 1/16-ounce jighead. Slow-rolling spinners for crappie is another option, and a tactic that these two professionals like to use. They rig a Wedge Tail Minnow on a small spinner like a Beetle Spin and then slow-troll the spinner in the creeks.

"Slow-rolling spinners deep in creeks is a very good way to locate crappie in cold water," said Mike. "Once you get a bite you can toss out a buoy to mark the area. If you catch one crappie, there are usually more in the area."

The colors of Wedge Tails used by Mike and Cathy depend on the situation. In stained water they'll go with bright pink and a tail that's been dipped in chartreuse paint; a clear-colored Wedge Tail with a dipped chartreuse tail is good, too. Another good standby color is purple/chartreuse. In really clear water they'll go with pearl/white with a chartreuse tail. A smoke-colored jig is good, too.

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"As we move toward the end of February, the crappie will begin moving up the creeks to shallower water, preparing to spawn," said Mike. "That's when you'll want to slow-troll spinners to locate migrating fish. Most will probably show up in the bends of the creek near brush."

At Toledo Bend you'll want target crappie at the "Chicken Coop" that we mentioned above. A bend in the Sabine River channel about 8 miles out of Milam, it gets down to around 60 feet or so in depth. Water that deep offers protection from the cold in the shallows and thus attracts lots of shad. The crappie aren't far behind.

Newells' Fishing World, owned and operated by Gary and Sherrill Newell, is about the closest boat ramp to the Chicken Coop. Once you put in at their ramp, you run upriver about a mile to the area, which is usually marked with lots of boats.

Finding the crappie isn't that difficult, but if you're planning on really getting in on the fast action, you'll do best by using a depthfinder. The key is to find the big schools of shad -- find the food source, and you'll find crappie. Gary, probably the best-known guide at the Chicken Coop, has this advice: Locate the shad and then fish.

"The crappie are going to be with the shad, almost all the time at the Chicken Coop," said Gary. "Once I locate the shad, I'll lower a minnow to see what's going on. If I catch at crappie on the first drop, I throw in a buoy, anchor the boat and see if I can catch a few more.

"Most of the time you'll find shad along the ledges and bends near brush. The best depths will be from 30 to 60 feet deep. You won't normally be fishing 50 to 60 feet deep, because the crappie will be suspended. That's where the depthfinder can show you where the crappie are feeding."

Newell doesn't do anything fancy when fishing the Chicken Coop area. He uses a live minnow rigged on a No. 4 hook. It's best to add enough split shot to keep the bait from moving with the current.

One of the most important things to remember about fishing the Chicken Coop area is not to stay in one spot too long without catching fish. Move around till you find them. If the bite fades, move on to another location.

The one thing you don't want to do is go after coldwater crappie with bulked-up tackle. Remember, we're talking about a fish that has one of the softest bites of all freshwater fish. Stanley, Fondren and the Wheatleys all use ultralight spinning tackle rigged with 4- to 6-pound-test line. Their favorite rods and reels are the Pflueger Trion spinning combinations. The rods are 5 1/2 to 6 feet long.

"As a full-time crappie fishing guide I've used the Pflueger spinning outfits for the past few years," said Fondren. "The key is to use a rod and reel that will cast tiny jigs and minnows. Plus, it's got to be sensitive enough to relay a soft bite to the angler. That's why I like the ultralight Trion outfits."

Don't forget that fishing in February puts you at the mercy of Old Man Winter. Prior to fishing, always check the forecast, and make sure you aren't caught out on the water when a cold front blows through.

For details on fishing on Rayburn, call Bill Fondren at (409) 698-3491, or Mike and Cathy Wheatley at (409) 489-1816. You can find Toledo Bend guide Gary Newell at (409) 625-4928.

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