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Catching Late Fall and Wintertime Crappie Day 5: Knowing the Best Locations to Catch Crappie

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Editor’s Note: Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, like other great lakes across the country, used to be well-known nationwide as one of the best crappie lakes. But then tournament bass fishermen discovered the lake’s potential and began to catch large numbers of big bass there. Guntersville often will have 200- + bass tournaments every year. The lake has received plenty of publicity about the large number of bass that are caught there. Many anglers have forgotten what an outstanding crappie lake Guntersville always has been, except for some locals. The lake’s guides are primarily bass guides. However, Phillip Criss of Albertville, Alabama, has been guiding crappie for 45 years. I first met Criss when he brought five huge bass weighing 5 – 7 pounds each into my brother’s taxidermy shop to be mounted on a stringer. As he took the bass from his big cooler, I noticed there were three or four 2+ pound crappie, if not better. I asked Criss, “Where’d you catch those giant crappie?” He answered, “In some of the same places where I caught those bass. I fished a spinner bait. If crappie doesn’t eat a spinner bait, they’re probably not the size crappie I want to keep.” Criss and I agreed we’d visit the Alabama River, where he was fishing then. That was the beginning of a 30+ crappie-fishing relationship between Criss and me.

Phillip Criss says, “I’m often asked, ‘If I wanted to come to Guntersville and catch some really- big crappie, what month do you recommend, and why, and where would I fish?’ February and early March seem the most productive months for catching the biggest crappie here on Guntersville. On other lakes, that timetable may change. This pre-spawn period at Guntersville is when the crappie have eaten as much as they can eat and packed on as many eggs as they can carry. At that time, a limit of 30 Guntersville crappie usually will weigh about 45 pounds. If you catch 30 crappie that weigh 1-1/2 pounds each, you’ll get that total. On one trip during that period last year, we had four or five crappie in a limit that weighed 2-1/2 pounds each. If you can find a school of big crappie like that, the weight per limit of crappie climbs.

“During February and March, my partner, Scott Jernigan, and I will fish minnows and jigs. Catching a two-person limit of 60 pounds or a three-person limit of 90 pounds of fish may happen. That’s for four hours of fishing.

“The secret to catching good limits of big crappie in the early fall and winter is location, location, location. You’ve got to know where the fish are, and you’ve got to be willing to pre-fish if you don’t know. For instance, last week, I searched for crappie because I had some upcoming trips. We don’t just fish our trees or bridges, we also fish underwater bridges. We go out and try to pinpoint other places that are holding crappie.

“I found a school of crappie last week under a deep dock that held at least 100 crappie in that one school. The dock was in about 14 feet of water. I shot a jig up under the dock, and I caught one crappie that weighed over a pound and a second that weighed 1-1/2 pounds. So, I just left the crappie. I don’t try to catch them because I’ll bring my customers to that school of crappie.

“Also, when we find a new location, and we know that plenty of big crappie are in that area, then we start hunting for a place to put out our treetops. The other thing we do is every year, we put out more and more treetops. We know that people are going to find our treetops and fish them. So, until we have time to return to those treetops and drag them back to the spots where we’ve originally put them, we still must have places we can go back to with our customers.

“We’ve built about 35 underwater tree crappie attractors with big trees. Some of the trees we’ve cut down maybe 30 feet tall. We get these trees by helping to clear rights-of-ways and taking down trees close to people’s houses. Some of these trees are so big they cover our entire pontoon boat. We’ll take that tree out, sink it, come back, get the pontoon boat, go back to the house, get another big tree, load it up, carry it out, and sink it. There’s a lot of time and effort required to consistently produce big crappie for two people in four hours, 18 – 30 days a month.”

Phillip Criss has his jigs custom-made by Gus White at Rocky Bottom Baits on Facebook. White makes any sizes and colors of crappie jigs.

You can phone Gus White at 304-545-4334. To reach Criss, call him at 205-461-5549. If he doesn’t answer, he’s probably out with a customer or sinking trees, but he will call you back.

Expert Guidebooks on Crappie Fishing: Best Sellers

Fishing rivers for crappie and being able to find and catch speckled sides consistently has long been one of the mysteries in the crappie-fishing world.

“One of the reasons that river systems are so difficult to fish is because the water’s either rising or falling in them,” says Ott DeFoe, the 2019 Bassmaster Classic champion.

Rivers also are very susceptible to floods and droughts and constantly have current moving through them. Often fast current or slow current in rivers is created by rain or droughts upstream. When rivers flood, they can wash away fish habitat like logs, sunken trees, manmade brush piles and stake beds. But that’s the time when a river also creates new crappie hot spots that haven’t been available to the crappie or the fishermen before the flood. 

Because river systems are so unpredictable, I’ve felt the best way to get the most useful information on how to fish rivers for crappie is to talk to numbers of anglers all over the nation to learn their best tactics.

In this book, I’ve gleaned crappie-fishing wisdom from three dozen crappie anglers and guides from a dozen states, who consistently catch crappie at all times of the year. The tournament crappie fishermen in this book fish most of the country at different times of the year on various river systems and lakes. And, these anglers use techniques you never may have considered, including:

  • Setting up a casting ring with your electronics to keep you from getting too close to the crappie that are holding on underwater structure, while you’re fishing all the way around the structure;
  • Buying an automotive laser temperature gauge to measure water temperature
  • Evaluating the most-productive places to sink brush and other structure, according to prevailing wind direction, the crappie’s summer, fall, winter, and spring migration patterns, and other factors.


Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall & Winter
Yes, you can catch and eat crappie during the fall and winter months. Often, at many places, you’ll catch more and bigger crappies in the fall and winter than you do in the spring and summer. To learn where to find and how to catch cooler weather speckled sides, we’ve interviewed a wide variety of some of the nation’s best tournament crappie fishermen and guides. 

Many of the individuals you’ll hear about in this audiobook are tournament crappie pros who travel the country to fish in crappie tournaments from New York to Florida and from Virginia to California. They use the latest crappie-finding equipment, the best poles, rods, reels, line, and the most-productive baits. Each of the people mentioned in this book has the ability to be dropped out of an airplane anywhere in the United States and catch crappie on any lake close to where they land that contains crappie. 

From over 50 years of crappie-fishing experience, I’ve learned that you get the best advice by interviewing a large number of people who have different tactics and fish under various water, weather, and fishing-pressure conditions.

In this book, you will learn:

  • How to spider-rig (slow-troll), which is one of the fastest-growing techniques for catching the most and biggest crappies in the shortest time
  • How to catch crappie on crank baits and when and where using a crank bait is the most appropriate
  • How to find areas of any lake that will hold large schools of crappies during the winter months – places you can return to time and again and expect them to be there
  • Why competing in crappie tournaments is one of the quickest ways to learn how to catch more and bigger crappie faster
  • Why and how to look for and catch the biggest crappie in a lake


Catch Crappie All Year: Fishing a Single Pole, Using No Boat, and Farming Crappie
I’ve interviewed some of the best crappie fishermen in the nation for my new audiobook, Catch Crappie All Year: Fishing a Single Pole, Using No Boat and Farming Crappie to learn how, where, and when to catch the most crappie with or without a boat while single-pole fishing. I’ve also included information on how to grow a crop of crappie to catch every day of the year. Although I’ve fished in fully rigged crappie boats costing $45,000 – $90,000-plus that can have up to 16 rods at one time to slow troll, I still enjoy….

  • Watching a quill cork sink in a brush top
  • Fishing with an ultralight spinning rod
  • Reeling jigs or minnows along a grass line and feeling that thud when a crappie takes the bait
  • Fishing with family and friends, even if we all can’t fit in one boat
  • Participating in less-expensive and hassle-free yet highly-productive crappie fishing like single poling 

I’ve tried to capture in this new audiobook the old way of crappie fishing with new twists and detailed tactics to aid you in catching crappie all year.


Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer 
You can catch crappie all year long if you know where to find them and what techniques to use to catch them. However, crappie fishing is so technical these days, and we’ve learned so much about how to crappie fish because of the professional crappie-fishing circuits, that one book can’t hold all the information.

This book is the first of a three-part series on how, where, and when to catch crappie, with the best crappie fishermen in the nation. Many of these men have proven they are the best, because they’ve won crappie-fishing tournaments or been successful fishing guides for many years.

This audio version of Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer includes crappie pros like Ronnie Capps, who has won seven national championships and over $1 million with his partner Steve Coleman.

We also have Malcolm Lane, Stokes McClellan from North Carolina, Billy Blakeley from Reelfoot Lake, John Woods, Kent Driscoll, fishing biologist and professional basser Ken Cook, and many others. We asked the questions that crappie fishermen want answered about how to find and catch crappie during the spring and summer months, and these fishing tips are the result.

In the world of crappie fishing, no one man knows it all, and that’s why I’ve interviewed so many fishermen, asked so many questions, and tried to get so many answers for you about how to fish.


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