December is an excellent time to catch crappie. Schools of slabs follow clouds of shad for easy meals – an important factor for surviving winter. Fish love forage that doesn’t require burning loads of precious energy.

December is an excellent time to catch crappie. Schools of slabs follow clouds of shad for easy meals – an important factor for surviving winter. Fish love forage that doesn’t require burning loads of precious energy.


I joined Mike Kerby, a professional crappie fisherman from Spring Hill, Kan., a week before Christmas several years ago on a Kansas lake. I relished the thought of a fresh mess of crappie fillets and fried potatoes for our Christmas morning breakfast as we motored down the lake.


Kerby soon drifted his boat to a stop before anchoring against the wind. Boats were stacked up throughout the lake. This particular strip of the lake was full of submerged brush.


Most boats were anchored over Christmas-tree style crappie beds, vertically dropping jigs and the crappie were not biting. Eventually anglers gave up anchoring off structure and started trolling around the area with little results. Many decided that fishing was slow and returned to the boat ramp. Besides, it was getting colder.


Kerby spent many years guiding on most of the bigger Kansas reservoirs. Crappie guiding soon led to selling crappie jigs. Throughout his field testing and guiding, he discovered when crappie are not biting on one technique, try another approach in a different area.


Kerby did not pick his fishing areas by accident that day. Throughout the morning he charted movements of huge shad schools in each heavily fished area and around rocks. The shad schools traveled at 10- to 15-foot depths, and their presence meant crappie would soon follow.


His depth finder indicated that larger crappie were schooling below the clouds of shad, but they were not biting. Kerby decided that it was time to take a stroll.


Strolling is a controlled drift with directions controlled by sonar readings. The depth finder is closely watched to remain precisely over the shad school. Currents drift the boat with occasional corrections by the trolling motor.


Kerby tied two plastic jigs on at different depths. All jigs were cast behind the boat and we began strolling. We started by catching an occasional fish until the boat drifted between two giant bridge pillars. Then the game really started. Surprisingly they were feeding in 5- to 10-foot depths. I expected them to be deeper at the end of winter. They were certainly not at Midwestern depths for December.


We started catching 1- to 2-pound crappie while the other boats were anchored in the distance and still not catching fish. We landed a crappie every two to three minutes. We eventually returned to the boat ramp with a healthy string of crappie.


That day’s fishing proved why Kerby is a professional crappie fisherman. He was not afraid to break away from standard technique that had worked the week before.


When crappie are not biting on the main lake, locate fish around submerged creek channels and rivers. He starts at the back of creek channels and fishes his way out when there has been plenty of nice weather with little rain. Warmer weather moves crappie to the back of creek areas. Rain creating cold water runoffs push crappie back out toward the creek’s mouth.


A mild early spring will push crappie off of deeper structure while following shad. Basically that day most fisherman in the main lake were fishing in formerly productive areas the crappie had abandoned. In fact, most shad abandoned the area and the crappie followed.


“On shallow lakes, shad and crappie tend to be deeper towards the dam when it is cold,” Kerby said. “During this colder period I anchor off and slowly vertical jig throughout the submerged creek channels. You can never fish too slowly in the winter, especially when it is extremely cold.”


The bridge we strolled under ran over a submerged creek that the shad and crappie used as a highway.


We had found crappie moving under clouds of shad past the bridge pillars. The crappie moved away from their easy meal later that day as the water continued to warm. Kerby’s charting created the game plan that allowed us to continue to catch fish.


Charting structure and shad movement is not difficult. Kerby depends on the topographical map to start and a graph or depth finder while fishing. He depends on several factors during either warm or cold weather.


A topographical map shows what to look for. Kerby likes to find roadbeds or humps that create a drop-off in the submerged creeks or rivers. Humps hold shad and crappie. He uses a red pen to mark important locations that might hold fish. Crappie movements eventually become predictable with the use of a topographical map and sonar. The key is finding their travel patterns by what structure is available.


Once this structure is located, he watches both a flasher and graph. The flasher is better for finding higher crappie concentrations when the boat is traveling at higher speeds. Graphing an area requires slower boat speeds. A flasher allows you to cover more area at a faster pace.


When shad schools and submerged structure are discovered, marker buoys mark reference points. Kerby warns never to drop a marker’s weighted end down on structure. A 6-ounce weight can quickly spook a whole school of crappie. Instead, gently drop the weight a couple of feet to the right or left. You would be surprised how many experienced fishermen drop their weight or anchor on top of fish.


Kerby fishes extremely brushy winter lakes by finding submerged creek channels that swing to a point, a secondary point or close to the bank. Crappie holding areas are often close to deep water. Later toward the spawning period, the crappie will swing into gravel banks close to plenty of brush.


“Following a creek channel in the more brushy lakes is a good way to find productive waters fast,” Kerby said. “Following the more productive creek channels is better than sitting over dead water. It only makes sense to fish where the fish are.”


Baits are another factor of Kerby’s success. Traditionally most fishermen use 1/32-ounce to micro-size marabou jigs or tiny minnows. He uses bigger bait of 1/16- to 1/8-ounce with good success. He expands up to 1/16-ounce jigs when fishing in heavy winds. He mainly throws Sassy Shad, Puddle Jumpers or, especially, Crappie Critters. Don’t be afraid to try all sizes. Let the crappie tell you want they want.


Winter fishermen gain added success by adding euro larvae, meal worms or commercial brand tipping baits like Crappie Candy. Various types of shad spray help attract crappie.


Kerby fishes heavier lines in murky water and extremely light line in clear water. Late-winter strikes are often soft, making ultralight or medium-action rods necessary. This is also a good case for longer rods for vertical jigging over brush.


A good drag system on your reel is recommended. A large crappie, walleye or bass will occasionally take a jig. This strike will likely happen in brush.


My kids still talk about that Christmas crappie breakfast. I plan to surprise them this year with crappie and walleye fillets.


Merry Christmas!