Freshwater anglers who think the recent cold snaps have signaled the end of fishing until spring need to set their sights on white perch and crappie. As surface temperatures on many lakes in South Carolina’s Upstate dip below 48 degrees, baitfish such as threadfin shad will gang up in huge schools in deeper areas and will begin dying as temperatures decline.
Anglers accustomed to targeting white perch and crappie around structure should refocus their efforts on fishing around these schools of bait on deep flats in as much as 40 feet of water. Both panfish species will relate to the schools of bait, acclimating to the new “structure”. In general terms, white perch will hold closer to the bottom, while crappie suspend to the sides and slightly above.
Anglers targeting panfish with artificial baits will have more success enticing a reaction bite from these fish which, though highly dormant, will strike out at shad as they die and spin away from the schools or flutter to the bottom. Jigging spoons, down-sized Alabama rigs and drop-shot rigs with small plastics are best bets.
Anglers preferring to use live baits should equip themselves with small and medium minnows, roughly equating the same size threadfin shad the fish are eating. Fish these baits vertically on one or two hook rigs. A Kentucky rig, with up to a 1-ounce bait on the bottom and two loops tied in-line sporting No. 2 light-wire hooks, is effective for making contact with the bottom, then reeling up to the desired level.
Drift or slow-troll through schools of bait, paying particular attention to each end of the bait schools rather than the middle. The white perch bite will be more aggressive, even in cold water, than the crappie. White perch will move off to one side, while crappie will simply inhale the bait and likely spit it when resistance is detected. Look for the line rather than the rod tip to signal a bite.
Regardless of popular opinion, upscale line to 8- to 10-pound test. At depths of 30 to 40 feet, panfish are less likely to be line shy, and the higher tensile strength will raise your chances of landing that big blue catfish, largemouth bass or striped bass that inevitably didn’t get the memo that you were on a perch jerking trip.