Cold weather means good crappie fishing

Saturday, January 20, 2018
Janice Burnett, Greenwood, with a keeper crappie after breaking a hole through the ice.
Ken White

Staying inside during the winter months, and you’ll avoid the potential for frostbite, pneumonia, ear infections and other maladies. Trouble is, you might miss some of the good months for crappie fishing. Should you decide to try your luck, you should definitely dress for it.

In looking over the winter dock status, I noticed the enclosed docks have won their place in fishing society and much of this is because of the many retired persons who have found this way to fish in the winter.

Fred and Janice Burnett, Greenfield, are one couple who catch their share of fish in cold and icy water. Recently, this fishing couple broke ice around a dock so they could fish for crappie. In just a few minutes, after dropping her lure in the cold water, Janice pulled out an 11-inch crappie and missed several others. She said, “I would fish every day of the week if I could.”

Fred related that he used to fish a lot for bass, but when he met Janice and she fished for crappie by using a bobber and minnow, he started joining her and now they fish for crappie a lot and she usually out fishes him. Fred said, “they say a woman has a better touch, and I think that it is true. There is another couple from Greenwood fishing on another dock and the woman usually catches most of the fish.”

Although Janice loves to fish, she doesn’t like to eat them so they give their catch to members of their church to enjoy. Fred, now 71, started fishing when he was only four years old. He has fished in Minnesota and Canada, but for the past few years he has concentrated on crappie and walleye fishing in Missouri. The couple were using jigs and small silver spoons to catch their crappie. Burnett found that when he glued eyes on the top of the spoon it attracted more hits as the spoon looked more like a live minnow.

They fish often for the fun it offers them, it reacquaints them with the outdoors they knew and loved during their younger years. These private boat docks have opened doors to active fishing when the snow lays on the ground and the home walls start closing in. Fred has fixed up an icebreaker pole with a steel base so he can open up a hole to fish through.

It reminded me of the time I broke a small hole in the ice and dropped a jig through it. It didn’t take long before I had a hit. When I set the hook I knew it wasn’t a crappie on the end of the line. As it turned out, the fish was a big bass that was larger than the hole in the ice. After some help from a nearby fisherman, who made the hole big enough for me to land the five-pound bass, I don’t make such a small hole in the ice when winter fishing anymore.

Tom Williams, a retired business owner from Kansas City who moved to Warsaw, has learned that his dock in the winter is a spot where you do more than catch fish.

Williams said, “I used to fish the enclosed docks at Pomme de Terre and Stockton, but they disappeared years ago so now I fish through the ice at my dock on the Lake of the Ozarks and make a trip or two to Grand Lake in Oklahoma. Back in the days when I fished the enclosed fishing docks, you become acquainted with people from all areas of Missouri or other states. You learn some tricks of dock fishing and you also learn about cousin whoever’s health problems, the new grandchild or many other things both good and bad. You become part of a family that is also interested in what you do, what you have done and where you have fished. It reminds me of people I visit on opening day at Bennett Springs.”

Often on a dock fishing trip you relive the many trips made by all the other persons fishing there. You follow along, in your mind’s eye, to Table Rock, to Grand Lake and other docks. You listen and you learn.

One thing that might surprise you is finding out how many good bass fishermen also fish for crappie. I know of bass anglers who, a few years ago, wouldn’t want to waste time talking about crappie. If you mentioned a dock, they looked at you as if you had insulted them. Today they fish right beside you. They still prefer bass — the boat and the long casts — but they have found if you can’t travel to states where warm weather refuses to leave, you can keep up on your fishing, can keep the muscles working, can work on the touch of a fish taking small nips at your bait.

Trout fishermen have told me they like to visit docks around Lake Taneycomo prior to the March 1 opener in the trout parks. They say it keeps them alert to the feel of a fish coming in contact with a lure being offered. They see the closeness between the pounce of a trout upon a lure, and the quick grab of a crappie for the lure offered.

Years ago, there was a dock on Bull Shoals in the Lead Hill area where the fishing and catching was good when the weather was cold and the wind was howling outside. Many white bass, walleye and largemouths were hauled in along with the crappie. Unfortunately that dock is no longer in operation.

Even today many anglers hide the fact they fished the docks, but fishermen like Williams doesn’t. He said, “I never pretended to be the great fisherman that others thought they were. Big fishermen didn’t want to say they liked to sit down and, in cold months, fish in comfort. Imagine a big-named fisherman sitting in a rocking chair, in shirt sleeves, swapping tales with some unknown who just started fishing this past year.”

Enclosed docks, like ones around Grand Lake in Oklahoma, are not the place where you can show your casting skills. They are just a place where you drop your line down into the concealed brush and wait, ever alert for the movement of the rod tip. This is the place where you hope your minnow isn’t too large, too small or too dull to coax a big crappie to hit. This is a place where you use small jigs of different colors and mumble strange things under your breath when you find yourself in brush that won’t give an inch.

This is the place where, if you get a big one, some other fisherman will start telling you about the time he fished in the same spot, same depth, same lure and caught one much larger than the one you just landed. Often, a lot of those anglers are happy as can be if you lose the big one. They feel they’ll catch him soon and then show you how it’s done.

Fishermen often wish you luck, but only after they have had a lot of it themselves.

Several resorts around the Lake of the Ozarks still offer winter fishing for customers for crappie and catches can be very good for those who fish jigs and minnows around the sunken brush piles.

Jim Wallace, Independence, spends several days during winter months fishing enclosed docks at Grand Lake. He said “I wish there were heated or enclosed docks around Missouri where I could fish during the winter and maybe take my grandkids. It would be a much better way to spend a January afternoon, unlike the one I recently spent at a KC Chief’s playoff game.”

For years, area crappie fishermen have caught fish from the docks where they have their fishing boats in slips at several of the big impoundments. Many times the crappie aren’t as large as you might like, but the action will help bring spring closer.

This is the time to get some big, fat slab crappie. Don’t let winter keep you away from fishing. The fish are there as Janice and Fred Burnett proved last week. Along with the crappie, anglers fishing through the ice were catching some bass which were released, but Tom Wilson, Springfield, said “most of the crappie I caught last week were keepers and boy, they make for some excellent eating anytime, but especially when caught from the cold and icy water.”

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