Cold Medicine

Embrace unconventional tactics for sluggish winter slabs.

When I was a youngster learning to fish crappies, my uncles taught me that versatility brings success. If jigs worked, we stuck with them. But if they didn’t, it was time for another come-on. Sometimes spinners did the trick. Other times, it was jigging spoons around timber. If that didn’t work, we’d cast crankbaits.

And so, I was corrupted into crappie fishing lipless rattlebaits, spoons and spinners, and learned they can nail slabs more often than the minnows and jigs most anglers lean on, especially in winter.

Cold-water crappies haunt deeper water where light penetration is minimal. As a result, they depend more on hearing and the lateral line to pinpoint prey, so raucous lures that rattle, vibrate, shimmy and shake stimulate those senses and catch more fish. I’ve been fortunate to have dialed in some of the top brash baits and the best ways to fish them when the water’s icy.

Good Vibrations
Lipless crankbaits like Rapala’s Rippin’ Rap, Bill Lewis’ Rat-L-Trap, Cabela’s Mini Rattlin Shad and others are seldom used by slab hunters, but they’re proven killers. Their rattle, head-down posture and convulsive shimmy make them great winter crappie locators.

The narrow body has little resistance to wind or water, so you can cast long distances and retrieve rapidly, combing broad areas to find active biters. A steady retrieve with occasional pauses optimizes the lure’s acoustical attraction and allows fast coverage of large areas. Each time you yank the lure upward, it wiggles rapidly, and the long-distance sound transmission attracts nearby crappies like a bell announcing lunchtime at a school cafeteria.

The problem is that winter crappies rarely strike fast-moving lures. Slow your presentation way down by fishing the lures as jigs.

Smaller rattlebaits—1 to 21/2 inches long, 1/10- to 1/2-ounce—usually work best because they’re the size of the baitfish crappies usually eat. However, don’t be afraid to go big. Slabs will hit bass-size models 1 ounce and bigger.

For peak action, always attach rattlebaits with a loop knot or small split ring, never with a snap swivel or heavy leader.

Use a sensitive rod to detect changes in vibration that signal a strike or indicate the plug is fouled. Rods also should be stiff enough to activate the lure with the least amount of rod movement. A 6-foot, fast-action, lightweight graphite spinning stick works best.

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