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There’s no time like the present for some early season crappie fishing

February 14, 2019

While it seems that the whole world is clamoring to hit the trout waters and chase those brookies, rainbows and browns, many fishermen know that trout aren’t the only game in town. There are other fish in the sea as the old saying goes.

February may not be a month that is generally synonymous with pan fish, but anglers looking for a fun day on the water and some great fillets for the table shouldn’t consume themselves with the salmonid family alone. Believe it or not, some of the best crappie fishing is right around the corner.

Yep, you heard that right. Dust off the boat and trolling motor and head to the lake and catch some papermouths before the trees even start to bud. With the recent string of warmer days water temperatures are already starting to react.

Granted, the warm days have been a lot warmer than normal lately, but February is always known for a few milder days of the winter which starts to turn the lake temperatures around and bring them out of the deep freeze. This warm up in temperature will put those pan fish on the move and get them headed up into shallower water to feed and prepare for the fast approaching spawning season. Boil all of that down and that means that there is some awesome fishing on the horizon.

Generally, in the late winter and early spring, crappie seek refuge from the frigid temperatures in the deeper parts of the lakes and rivers, but as those temperatures creep ever higher, so do the fish. As they move into shallower water, it makes for some great fishing.

Some of the biggest crappie you will catch all season will likely be early this spring as those pan sized pan fish are often the first ones to start moving up into shallow water to feed. Even I could be persuaded to give up a day of chasing the stock truck to put a mess of 14-inch, or bigger, crappie in the cooler.

As with any great day, the key to fishing is always going to be finding the fish. If you are looking for crappie, your best bet is always going to be keying in on structure. Whether it is submerged brush piles, rock ledges, or just a change in the underwater topography, these fish are going to be centered around that structure and looking for food.

Keep in mind when you are searching for those big slab sides that just because the structure is there and screaming “fish me!,” early season fishing is a game of cat and mouse. The fish are there, you just need to find them.

Don’t spend all day hoping to catch them off just one hot spot. Move around and go to the fish. The more water you cover, the more likely you will find that skillet filling papermouth. Try a few different baits at each likely spot and if nothing is biting, move on to the next.

Lake fisherman aren’t the only ones who can get out and fill their coolers. The Ohio, Kanawha, Guyandotte and even the Tug Fork have their share of crappie. Any of the bigger slow-moving holes will likely have some catchable fish that you can reach right from the bank. All it takes is the will to break from the trout stream and switch out a few pieces of tackle.

Grab your favorite box of jigs and curly tails and get out there. A bucket full of live minnows is never a bad bet either when you are looking for crappie. Just be sure to fish a little slower in the cooler months as the fish might be a little sluggish, but as I have said many times, “fish gotta eat”.

Now, you have some options this winter. If your favorite trout stream is getting too much pressure, or not enough fish, maybe it is time to switch gears for a change of pace. One thing is certain, you aren’t likely to be fishing elbow to elbow when casting for crappie. Believe me when I say that once they are batter dipped and fried golden brown, you might wonder why you were trout fishing at all.

Roger Wolfe is an avid outdoorsman and has spent most of his life hunting and fishing and writes a weekly outdoors column for HD Media. He is a resident of Chapmanville and can be reached via email at wolfeii@hotmail.com.