Crappie have become one of my favorite species to target in the winter because of how lucrative a single fishing trip can be. In Florida, we tend to hibernate when it drops below 50 degrees, so venturing out on those freezing mornings separates the dedicated anglers from the fair-weather fishermen. Be sure to de-winterize your boat early on
Here are four reasons why winter is the best time to fish for crappie:
1. Spots are Easy to Identify
Winter is all about location. The cold water makes the fish lethargic and slows down their metabolism. This may sound unappealing because you typically want active prey, but it actually allows you to catch the same amount of fish in fewer spots.
Crappie often bundle together under docks, submerged trees, or bridge pilings. Anywhere you can find underwater debris or sudden depth changes are ideal locations. You want to dial in on deeper water than you would in the warmer months, typically 15-25 ft.
If you use a fish finder to scout the perfect spot, you may fill the cooler without having to move. Just remember to slow down your retrieve for whatever rig you are using due to a less aggressive winter crappie.
2. Pre-Spawning Activity Leads to Large Fish—and Lots of Them
Another reason crappie tend to group together this time of year is pre-spawning, which means they’re eating more to prepare to create the next generation during spawning season.
During pre-spawning, you can find dense populations of large fish in those deeper depths where they can find cover. This time of year can bring you some of the fattest roe-filled females otherwise not available in warmer months.
Spawning occurs when the water temperature reaches 60 degrees so be wary of when things start to warm up as this shift in temperature moves them to shallower water to lay eggs. If you found a great winter spot, mark it on your map as they likely are nearby in spring, just in less water.
3. Early Sunset Means Fewer Sunburns
I have always been a fan of evening fishing, or what I call “happy hour” fishing. The evening hours of winter are ideal for catching fish because crappie prefer low light, and the setting sun can spark a feeding frenzy.
Spring and summer are great crappie seasons, but your early morning hours are often your best bet. An overcast winter day may be physically uncomfortable, but the lack of sunlight will keep them in their hideouts for the entire day, meaning more fishing for you.
4. Live Bait Is a Sure Bet
Live bait is my go-to strategy. During the colder months, a crappie is looking for an easy meal, so dropping a live minnow to the right depth is perfect.
A bullet bait rig will get your minnow there quickly. Put the lightest line you can get away with on your favorite spinning reel/rod combo, use the right bait, and enjoy some of the easiest fishing there is.
Trolling is the best way to cover a lot of ground in a new spot. According to your boat size you can put up to 6 poles in the water at varying depths. Dropper rigs at 10 ft, 15 ft, and 20 ft will help you discover where the slabs are hiding on that specific day.
Winter is the black sheep of the fishing seasons, but not when it comes to targeting crappie. If you go ahead and de-winterize your boat early and bundle up in the right winter fishing gear for your climate, venturing out in late-winter can be a great experience. It’s the best time of year to find large, dense crappie populations you’ll never see in the warmer months. Tight lines!
About the Author
Trent Ragans is a freelance writer and lyricist primarily focusing on informational fishing content and heavy rock lyrics. He has over 10 years of experience as an angler including fresh water, inshore saltwater, and deep-sea fishing. He is the primary lyricist for his metalcore band, Days Gone By, which has surpassed 500,000 streams on Spotify. Trent has over five years of sales experience in the commercial construction industry with a business degree from Florida State University. He is an avid outdoorsman who lives with an entrepreneurial spirit by also pursuing work in real estate, trading, and franchising.