The many anglers who are waiting for the great crappie fishing when the spawning run begins in April are missing out on some good winter fishing for these great-tasting fish.
Harold Simms, Monett, Mo., who fishing in the winter months at Table Rock, said, "Those crappie always taste great, but they are even better in the winter when the cold water makes the flesh firm and tasty. Recently, I fished near Kimberling City where the water temperature was in the low 40s. I found the crappie around a brush pile in 20 feet of water. Using a small white jig, I started catching fish and had my limit within the hour. I would like to do that every time out, but there some days you just can't find the crappie. "
There are some crappie anglers like Dennis and Tina Hymer, Strafford, Mo., who do their best crappie fishing during December and January. The Hymers have a houseboat anchored at Mutton Creek Marina on Stockton Lake where Dennis scouts for crappie.
He said, "The good days outnumber the bad ones. Although crappie fishing in the winter doesn't have the appeal that April and May have, you can have some excellent fishing in December."
On a recent trip to the lake, we found the Hymans pulling in lots of crappie while the few other anglers might have one or two fish in their fish baskets. Dennis has a special way to find success fishing for crappie in the winter. He uses an ultra-light rod with his reel filled with 3-pound test line and always uses 1/32-ounce jigs with a small sinker located about a foot above the jig.
The day we visited the Hymans, he had a plastic blue jig on his 3-pound test line and was pulling in fish on nearly every cast.
Hyman said the 3-pound test line makes a lot of difference in catching crappie. "I was losing a lot of good crappie when I was using 2-pound test line and then I found some 3-pound test that was mainly used for trout fishing. I headed for Bass Pro and picked up a spool and was glad I did. Now that is the only line I use. It has really made a difference," he said.
There are several reasons winter crappie anglers enjoy fishing in the winter months. Fred Mason, West Plains, Mo., is a winter crappie angler who said, "In December, you don't have the competition like you do in April and the wind is much lighter, which can make a difference when using light gear. The past several winters have been mild and it makes for much more comfortable fishing. When the action is fast and furious, you don't notice the cold."
Anglers like Dennis Hyman have found where brush piles are located in the lake and know the fish hang out close to them. The day we fished with Hyman, he was dropping his jig on the bottom and then bringing it up about a foot when the crappie would hit.
"You need to watch your line for the slightest movement because the fish aren't as aggressive as they are in the spring," he said.
Tina Hyman started fishing for crappie years ago by using a cane pole and bobber. Today, she only uses jigs to catch crappie. "I experiment with different colors until I find the color the fish like," said said.
Dennis said, "Tina often out-fishes me. She would fish from sun-up to sunset; she enjoys it that much."
Winter crappie fishing isn't limited to area lakes as Kevin White found out last winter. While floating down the Sac River, he found a deep hole where he had caught crappie during the summer and decided to give it a try. On his first cast with a yellow, 1/16-ounce jig, his line started moving away and when he set the hook, a 2-pound crappie had swallowed the jig and the fun started.
In less than an hour, he had 17 crappie on his stringer on a cold December day when the chilly temperatures and gray clouds were a long way from the good spring weather most anglers associate with crappie fishing.
Crappie offer a tremendous amount of enjoyment to Ozark anglers. The action, even in December, can be feverish and when caught on lightweight gear, crappie provide a scrappy fight.
It's little wonder that they are so popular with fishermen year-round.