HO-HO-HO. Merry Christmas. Can you believe it? We’re into deer season, duck hunting is right around the corner, Christmas is upon us and I’m going crappie fishing every chance I get.

More and more with every winter, I’ve come to enjoy fishing for crappie in colder weather.

What has traditionally been thought of by most as strictly a springtime, around-the-time-of-the-annual-spawn sport, crappie fishing for many of us has become a year-round activity.

You must admit that Mississippi is blessed with rather mild winters most years, and regardless of the temperature, if you dress and prepare properly for the conditions those colder days on the lake are really a treat.

One of my favorite wintertime fishing venues is Eagle Lake just north of Vicksburg next to, but not connected to, the Mississippi River. Just five miles up the levee from Eagle are the popular cold-water lakes of Chotard and Albermarle.

What great days I’ve had on these lower delta lakes.

In the past, early to mid-December has been great, with a relatively shallow bite on the north end of Albermarle. Can’t wait to run my crankbaits over there this month.

I haven’t tried my cranks this time of the year at Chotard and Albermarle, but I’m going to this year — especially if those Albermarle slabs show up in 12 feet of water.

And, as it gets colder, it seems the bite on Chotard just keeps getting better. Some of y’all will recall my tale a few winters ago when my dear, deceased big buddy Jim McKay and I caught the limit of 50 apiece on the bottom in 42 feet of water before lunch time. And, as I recall, that was on Jan. 1 — and it was very cold and frosty when I made Jim get out of the truck and in the boat.

What a morning we had! Slabs, every one of them, hammering minnows fished on the bottom in 35 to 42 feet of water.

Yep, we were back in the truck headed to the house before lunch with 100 of the biggest, fattest crappie I’ve ever seen.

And, last December at a Magnolia Crappie Club tournament, Tommy Moss and I spent the day under a couple of Eagle Lake piers having the time of our lives, catching one right after another. Can’t wait for our December Eagle Lake tournament this year — Dec. 14.

In fact, this particular tournament is a “fisherman’s choice” event. Competitors can fish either Chotard or Eagle, or we can fish both of them on T-Day.

I think I’ll fish both of them. My tournament partner this year is Gil Woodis, and I think Gil and I will hit the Eagle Lake piers early. Catch our seven weighing fish — they’ll all be “specks” (black crappie). Then, just for the fun of it, head to the north end of Albermarle to pull crankbaits.

Winter cranking

Let me offer another lesson on pulling crankbaits.

At the time of this writing, Gil and I are in the Top 5 early into this 2013-14 tournament season. MCC kicks our season off every September, and we have one tournament a month through May.

So far, every crappie we’ve weighed this year has been caught on a crankbait.

At our Wolf Lake tournament in Yazoo County, Gil and I caught crappie practically all morning pulling Bandit 100s next to the bank over and into woody structure.

Other competitors were struggling to catch their seve weigh fish — some did not score seven all day long. But, our crankbait strategy really paid off.

At Wolf on T-Day, the surface temperature of the water was 71 degrees, according to my depth finder. And, that’s a great temperature for active fish chasing bait fish.

We chose the particular bank to fish on that 22-mile-long, skinny lake for a couple of reasons. One, we’d had great success on that stretch before. Two, we smelled shad there the day before, and that was the only place where we noticed the smell of baitfish in two days of prefishing.

Yes, we caught some gar, but on T-day we mostly caught crappie.

Here’s something I recommend as the water cools into the lower 60s and below: I change from “skinny” baits like Bandits and Bombers to “wide-bodied” lures like Storm Wiggle Warts, Worden’s Fat Fish, Luhr-Jensen Hot Shots and SE series lures. And I slow down. These wider baits have a slower, wider action, and they work well at slower trolling speeds.

In warmer times of the year, I pull crankbaits at speeds from 1.4 mph to 1.8 mph. My GPS-controlled Terova trolling motor has cruise control on it.

You might not think it matters what speed you’re pulling those lures, but it does. In the winter, I slow to 1 to 1.4 mph. Lures like Wiggle Warts work great at these slower speeds. Crappie can’t leave them alone when they come lumbering through their strike zone, wobbling back and forth. BAM! It’s another slab as big as they grow.

Regardless of the time of year, when you pull crankbaits, location, location, location is the key. Pulling cranks or any other bait in locations where the crappie are not is a waste of time.

Don’t assume crappie are really deep this time of the year. I have a bad habit of fishing under them many times. Try different depth-rated lures to see which ones get you the most action.

And, lastly, color does matter on many days. Pull several colors to determine what the fish want today. If the water is muddy, I start with baits that have orange, yellow and red on them. If the water is clear I like white, chartreuse, red and natural shad colors.

And I always have a couple of Sharpie markers in my boat to make minor adjustments when I see the fish reacting to the same color. I’ll paint the clear bills of those crankbaits in a heartbeat if I think it’ll help catch a fish. 

My crankbait buddy, Sid Steen, called the other day.

“Paul, Cabelas has got Bandits on sale for $1.88 a piece,” he said.

“What colors, Sid?” I asked.

“Why do you care, Paul? You’re going to paint them a different color anyway.”