All I want for Christmas is a pair of 600-gram Thinsulate, waterproof boots. Yep, it’s after Christmas by the time you read this, but, right now, before Christmas, I’ve been asked several times by my family members what I want for Christmas.
My usual response is “I don’t know, surprise me.”
But, this year I’ve given the same answer to each who has asked. “I want a pair of those camo boots that are on sale at Dick’s Sporting Goods for $39.95. They are waterproof and have 600 grams of Thinsulate. Don’t get the 400 grams or less Thinsulate — I want the 600-gram pair.”
My wife warns me that I can expect several pairs of the same boots under the family Christmas tree. Hey, that’s alright. I’m betting Dick’s will have an after-Christmas sale, and I can trade the extra pairs in for some more crankbaits.
Fishing in cold weather
Gear up for fishing. Six hundred-gram Thinsulate boots will be much appreciated, but I also recommend extra-heavy wool socks and some of that new black, silky underwear — tops and bottoms. (Yes, I gave my fishing buddy, Big Jim McKay a pair back a few years ago before his passing. My wife still gigs me about that. Jim liked them a lot.) I really like my fleece-lined jeans and a Browning down-filled jacket I bought years ago while on a winter trip in Morgan, Utah. Best $50 I ever spent.
Oh — and the secret — the secret that so many winter fishermen don’t know or forget about is a fleece neck gaiter. Look, $6 never looked or felt sooo good as when it’s around your neck and face on a cold, windy January day.
Finally, a good pair of warm gloves helps a bunch while motoring to your first fishing hole at day-break.
Head gear is important, too. Something like 80 percent or more of the heat loss from your body goes out the top of your head. I’ve got a collection of warm, insulated, waterproof caps with ear flaps from my duck-hunting days that I break out at this time of the year.
Look, don’t put up the sunscreen, either, just because the temps have dropped to below freezing. Some of us blister on a cloudy day, and skin cancer is the last thing you and I want to deal with.
My point is that, when prepared for the elements, wintertime crappie fishing is a blast. You do know our cousins “up north” fish year round for crappie, right? And, shoot, they have to drill holes in 3 feet of ice just to get a hook wet.
So, don’t be a wuss — get on out there, friend.
Great wintertime crappie lakes
Ross Barnett Reservoir, Eagle Lake, Chotard, Lake Washington can provide the biggest sacks of crappie you have ever caught.
Remember Washington from last winter? Nine — that’s nine, folks — fish over 3 pounders weighed in on T-Day.
My personal favorite is Chotard, located behind the Mississippi River levee about 20 miles north of Vicksburg.
Chotard, depending on the river gage at Vicksburg is actually three different lakes. If the Vicksburg gage is above 21 feet, you can get into Tennessee — an absolute wonder. Such a beautiful lake to fish. And, the wind doesn’t seem to bother fishermen much on Tennessee, being partially protected by high banks around much of it.
If Tennessee is unreachable because of low-water conditions, I go to Albermarle/Chotard. Wind speed and direction often determine exactly where I’ll fish these magnificent crappie holes. I love them both.
I’ve had so many wonderful experiences — what I still love to call “adventures” at Chotard. Friend, it’s like stepping into a different world or traveling to a different country. There is no place quite like Chotard.
Gosh, am I gushing? It’s just that I haven’t been to Chotard since last year, and I can’t wait to go. At the time of this writing, I’ll be there next week — the week of Dec. 14 — for our next Magnolia Crappie Club tournament.
Let me help you out a little: Call my good friends Mark Johnson or his dad Jerry at 601-279-4282 for current conditions, to rent a cabin, to check on the minnows or to just talk fishing. In my humble opinion, you won’t find a more fisherman-friendly bunch set in a more-beautiful site with the chance to catch some of the biggest white perch this side of heaven than at Chotard Landing.
And, no, I’ve never gotten a thing for free from my good friends the Johnsons. And, no, I have no sponsors. This is just me telling you, based on decades of experience at Chotard, that December through February at Chotard is the place to be.
My winter fishing secrets
I’m going to list things here that have worked for me in the past. Some of these you will have heard before.
1. Use colored octopus-shaped hooks. I especially like orange, red and bright, almost yellow chartreuse. I won’t retell the well-known successes I’ve had time after time at Chotard using those “secret” colored hooks. Look, the water is typically off-colored to muddy during this time of the year — not always, but a lot of the time. And, orange is spectacular in muddy water.
2. Try the bottom. I don’t care how deep it is — try fishing on the bottom. I learned years ago from an East Texas crappie fisherman that he was catching huge, “as big as they grow” slabs fishing on the bottom in 45 to 50 feet of water in January. Try it, friend, it works.
3. Try 6-pound line in clear water. One of the best perch jerkers on Eagle Lake and Chotard is Shelton Culpepper, and his one advantage is that he scales down to 6-pound line in clear water. Yes, at Eagle, especially, you may find yourself fishing in clear water this time of the year.
4. Jigs or minnows, or jigs and minnows? Can’t decide which is best — not sure one is better than the other. Just go prepared to fish straight jigs and have a few minnows to tag onto those jigs or hooks if straight artificials are not working. I’ll tell you this for sure, though: I won’t go to the lake without my Real Craw fish attractant. Seems to work great at Barnett in January when fishing on the bottom at Rose’s Bluff with straight jigs.
5. Don’t always fish on the bottom. When the water is as cold as it gets in the winter and the sun breaks out, crappie will come to the surface to feed and warm up. Got that lesson years ago at Eagle Lake — got schooled by Mr. A.E. Smith of Wesson on a day when the temps stayed in the teens. While my buddy and I were fishing on the bottom and not getting a dadgum bite, A.E. and his tournament partner came by us “on the run,” catching one slab after another while fishing with no more than 3 feet of line below the tips of their trolling poles.
6. Last, but not least, get off the porch, put on your warmest gear, put the plug in your boat and take your jig pole to the lake this month. Go catch that wall-hanger “as big as they grow.”