For some fishermen, the cold, often nasty weather associated with January may not seem like prime time for swinging slab crappies over the gunwales. They might want to reconsider, because but fast crappie fishing is often the norm at Lake Moultrie, where excellent mid-winter action can usually be found in two distinct patterns.
One requires a bit of deep thinking because the relatively deep water in this lake gives up scads of slab crappies. For the shallow-water angler, the skinny water and dense cover that rings the lake is also perfect for crappie. Both techniques can result in limits of slabs.
On the deep-thinking end of the scale, guide Kevin Davis of Blacks Camp said he’ll probe the brush piles along the many drops, humps and ledges in Moultrie’s open water.
“Weather and water temperature will impact where I find crappie during January,” Davis said. “Crappie congregate around the sunken brush in the lake throughout the winter, but weather systems and subsequent warmer periods constantly change productive depths. Patience is crucial, because crappie are not found on every brush pile. They’ll congregate in tight groups and will be very depth-specific.”
Davis said crappie may be found around brush in 30 to 35 feet of water during post-frontal conditions, but they are subject to move to much shallower cover after a few days of warmer weather, especially when we have cloud cover.
“We’ll find crappie in 10 to 15 feet of water at times, particularly late in the month,” Davis said. “What many anglers miss is that by January, these fish are already filling out with roe and some are already moving into the shallow water. With light fishing pressure, plenty of fish are available in both deep and shallow water.”
Davis uses his electronics to locate the brush and hopefully crappie. He usually starts with brush in deep water and works toward shallow water unless he has fished recently, in which case he’ll go back to the same depth to begin.
“Weather does play a role, and when I get on a good pattern for three days and then have a major weather change, the fish will move and I have to search for fish again,” he said. “Typically I’ll find them deeper if it’s a cold front. One advantage I have is side-scan and down-scan with my Humminbird 1199. If I don’t see fish with side-scan or down-scan I move to the next spot.
“I prefer to find fish suspended over the top and along the sides of the brush where they are easily accessible to bait or lures,” Davis said. “The brush may be in 35 feet of water, but the fish may suspend in 27 feet. I check progressively shallower water until I find the right depth, brush and forage to make the crappie connection.”
“I’ll use 12- to 14-foot B‘n’M crappie poles and tight-line minnows, or a jig-and-minnow combination, right over or alongside the brush,” he said. “I will keep the forward speed of the boat very slow because of the cold water. The bite can be very light, so watch for even a miniscule movement in the rod tip. It could be a 3-pound crappie with that light bite.”
Some fishermen maintain that crappie can be found in the shallows throughout the winter.
Joe Dennis with Santee Cooper Charters has been mauling January slab crappie in shallow water at Lake Moultrie for several years.
“It’s a very reliable pattern and one I look forward to every year,” Dennis said. “The crappie are moving in from the big lake to the shallow water in a prespawn, staging phase, and we’re consistently catching them in 6 feet and less of water. The key is to work the natural, shallow-water cover: blow downs, stumps, logs or any woody cover that drops into that depth of water.”
Dennis prefers a 1/32-ounce jighead with a small chartreuse/glitter curlytail grub body.
“I use the very light jig because I don’t want the jig to drop to the bottom; I want it to sink slowly and be effective on the fall,” he said. “I keep my line taut so I can watch or feel for any twitch or change in the jig that might indicate a bite. The bite is subtle so I use a high-visibility yellow line and I ‘line-watch’, and if it twitches, goes slack for moment or anything different occurs, I set the hook. Often, I don’t even feel the bite; I know by watching the line or just get a gut feeling that something has changed. Often a slab has sucked the jig in, and we only have a moment to react with a hookset.”
Dennis also uses minnows on rigs with slip floats to work around the cover, and he employs lines fished vertically beside the boat as he slips around the woody cover.
“Shallow-water crappie are spooky in this cold weather, so I use 4-pound line, and I stay in stealth mode,” he said. “I keep the boat away from the target structure, casting long range to avoid spooking fish. When I find active fish, they’re usually bunched, and I work that small area thoroughly.”
Dennis said he’ll often catch several fish quickly before the action slows. He’ll start fishing and searching and typically hits another hot spot in a short period of time. But he will return to hot spots again in a couple hours and frequently finds crappie again.
“We’re also catching some huge bream,” he said. “It’s not unusual to have a limit of 20 crappie with another 10 big bream added, since 30 fish is the legal limit for panfish.”
Davis said crappie are it’s always crappie time at Moultrie, and fishermen just have to be able to change patterns to match the season and water conditions.
“Anglers can think deep or shallow water in January and catch big crappie,” Davis said.
HOW TO GET THERE — US 52 is the main route to access Lake Moultrie, with SC 6 and SC 45 allowing access to the Diversion Canal and the lower lake. For a list of public boat ramps, visit www.scgreatoutdoors.com/hb-lakes.html.
WHEN TO GO — Crappie fishing on Lake Moultrie can be very productive in January, because fish are beginning to feed up for he early spring spawn. Try to fish at the end of a period of warmer weather lasting several days.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Tight-line minnows or minnow-jig combinations around brush piles in 25 to 35 feet of water, or fish light jigheads with a curlytail grub body around wood and other forms of cover in relatively shallow water.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Kevin Davis, Black’s Camp, 843-753-2231; Joe Dennis, Santee Cooper Charters, 843-899-4325. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Santee Cooper Country, 803-854-2131, www.santeecoopercountry.org;