Oklahoma slab expert Barry Morrow reveals secrets for locating concentrations of winter crappie.
“Keep the trolling motor going and your lines in the water.”
That’s Barry Morrow’s top tip for finding concentrations of winter crappie. A guide on Oklahoma’s legendary Lake Eufaula, Morrow spends several days every month on the water fishing for crappie. Still, the schools move, so Morrow typically spends some time searching, using both his electronics and a pair of Lindy Watsit Jigs to help him hone in on the fish.
Of course, Morrow’s searching is anything but random. He’s learned the types of areas where the crappie spend their winter days. He simply has to do spend some time fishing in the right areas in order to find the best concentrations of quality fish.
Lake Eufuala spreads across more than 100,000 acres, with numerous large and well-defined creek arms. Its highly fertile waters are loaded with the baitfish and laden with cover. Morrow spends time fishing both in the creeks and the main body during the winter, and he believes that many of the lake’s crappie spend the entire year either in a particular creek or in the main lake.
Whether within a creek or out in the main lake, Morrow concentrates on deeper holes during the winter. On the main lake, especially, bluff banks provide good clues about locations of holes and where they begin and end. In the creeks, the holes are often at channel bends or confluences. The crappie tend to concentrate along the breaklines, where the channel begins dropping into deeper holes and around the edges of the same holes.
The hole itself might average 20 or 30 feet deep, but Morrow normally will find the most fish holding along the break, often in the 12- to 15-foot range. By keeping his boat in that depth range he can follow the break around the hole and cover a lot of water. Morrow fishes tandem jig rigs, with two Watsit Jigs spaced a couple of feet apart, and he’ll commonly fish with a rod in each hand. He fishes with his jigs straight down from his rod tips, and normally has the lines set so the bottom jig hangs just off the bottom.
Of course, when Morrow is keeping the boat over a certain depth along a slope, the water on one side of the boat often is notably deeper than the water on the other side. Based on where they hold their rods, therefore, he and his clients actually can probe a good range of depths, which helps them narrow the pattern and figure out where the most fish are holding that day.
“I keep my graph on and watch it, but the jigs really tell me all I need to know about whether I’m hitting bottom, whether there’s brush in the area and whether I’m around fish,” Morrow said.
Brush can be a very important draw during the winter, with numerous fish commonly concentrating in isolated brushpiles. Morrow stays on the lookout for trunks of downed trees that stretch down into the water and that might crown out at the right depth. However, he noted that most of the best brush is totally hidden from above the surface. He normally locates it either with his graph or with a jig, and when he does find brush, Morrow slows the boat down and fishes that area thoroughly.
Morrow also slows his approach whenever he catches a fish. He’ll either stay in place to work his jigs, or he’ll move the boat slowly back and forth in the same area to see who else is home. The crappie tend to pile up during the winter, so he knows that if he were to catch a couple and keep moving, he could move away from the best group of fish he’d encounter all day.
Morrow’s specific favored rig of choice for Lake Eufuala is a 2-inch Fat Whatsit Grub on a ¼-ounce jighead on the bottom and a 2-inch regular Whatsit Grub on 1/8-ounce jig on the top. For clearer lakes, he might downsize slightly and use a pair of 1/8-ounce jigs or even a 1/8-ounce on the bottom and 1/16-ounce jig on the top. Two of his favorite colors are Black/Chartreuse Green and Green Pumpkin with Black Flake/Pearl.
If clearer than normal water, high skies or extra cold temperatures suggest that the fish might be fussy, Morrow will replace at least one of his Whatsit Grub bodies with a Fuzz-E Grub. His colors of choice for the Fuzz-E Grub include Sapphire and Lightning Lime.
When Morrow has Watsit Grubs at the end of his line, he jiggles the rod from time to time and even adds occasional sharp tugs or lifts and drops to trigger strikes. He’ll keep the jigs in the strike zone, but will experiment with specific presentations. With Fuzz-E Grubs, he rarely moves the rod tip at all, instead letting the continual undulations of the baits’ marabou tails do the fish-attracting work.
Morrow fishes his jigs on 11-foot rods and 12-pound-test Silver Thread AN40 spooled on baitcasting reels. A long rod allows for effective depth control because the first 11 feet of line are easily measured againt the rod, and that length of rod makes it easy to manage up to about 15 feet of line.
Once his baits are down, Morrow rarely touches his reel, instead lifting the bait with his rod or using his free hand to pull up extra line when the bottom comes up or his jigs get around brush. He uses a baitcasting reel because the extra line he pulls out is unlikely to get wrapped around any part of the reel. Avoiding use of the reel to land fish also helps him drop the bait back to the exact depth where a fish just bit.
“Stay focused,” Morrow warned. “Winter strikes typically are very light. They’ll just sort of pick up the bait instead of really hitting it.”
Because fishermen often need gloves and stay bundled inside other heavy clothes this time of year, it becomes extra easy to miss soft strikes, Morrow noted. Therefore he is very intentional about staying ready all the time, and he sets the hook with quick lift of the rod tip any time he detects anything even a little bit different.
Want to Go?
For updated crappie fishing reports, be sure to check out Barry Morrow’s Audio Fishing Reports. For more information or to book a guided trip, visit MRO Crappie Academy.