In Virginia we are fortunate to have an abundance of year-round fishing opportunities. Crappie fishing is no exception and it ranks at the top of the list for cold water fishing.
Last November (2012) I had the opportunity to spend a day fishing the Chickahominy River and Lake with expert Crappie angler, Dr. Greg South. Greg is a retired radiologist and former Bassmaster pro, placing second behind Rick Clunn in the 1984 Bassmaster Classic. Greg learned how to Crappie fish from his dad and has been pursuing them all of his life.
Greg says that Crappie can be caught year round, but he prefers to fish for them from November through April, “Crappie are excellent table fair and the meat is firmer and sweeter in the cold water.” As we headed out to fish, Greg revealed his t-shirt that stated, “I am a Crappie Fisherman.” He convinced me as we landed over 100 fish during our trip that day!
He exclusively uses homemade hair jigs during the cold weather, believing they give him an edge over plastic baits this time of year. He pours and paints his own jigheads and ties his jigs primarily with craft hair and occasionally buck tail. He and his dad have been tying Crappie jigs since he was a kid before the quality jig making components and plastic baits were available like they are now.
His dad’s first jigs were crafted using a baitholder hook with a split-shot pinched below the eye and tied with bristles from a shaving brush. Plastic baits like tubes, curly tail grubs and straight tail shad imitators work all year long, but he feels they are best during the warmer months. The top color combinations contain chartreuse, white, pink or orange.
Often anglers fish for panfish with flimsy ultra-light rods and small reels, but Greg uses heavier equipment. He uses 6’6” medium or medium light action rods that are suited for finesse bass fishing.
The rods provide more backbone and the longer length coupled with larger reels allow for greater casting distance. He primarily fishes his jigs without a float, but will employ a 7’ rod if that is the favorable technique. He spools up with two and four lb. yellow line to aid in detecting the faintest strikes. He ties all his baits with a loop knot to achieve the proper swimming action.
Even though the Crappie fishing is excellent during the cold months, with 100 fish days being commonplace, the fish are not found everywhere. The best concentrations of Crappie are likely to be found in deeper water away from the shoreline.
In the tidal rivers and lakes with current like the Chick, Crappie will be found away from the strong current in eddies or slower moving water. They may be relating to current breaks, drop-offs, cover or just the bottom. In lakes like Buggs Island or Lake Anna the fish will be found around cover in the form of brush piles, docks and bridge pilings. Greg also points out that Crappie love shade – even when it is cold.
A helpful tool for locating Crappie is your fishfinder. Idle around studying your electronics looking for schools of Crappie and cover. Greg rarely stops and fishes if he does not see fish on the screen. Sometimes they look like vertical columns and other times just horizontal lines just above the bottom or suspended.
Each unit shows the fish differently, but over time you will learn what represents bait, larger fish and of course Crappie! Sometimes the fish hold tight to a brush pile and do not show up on the screen, a good brush pile is always worth a few casts.
— Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries