Quality crappie can be caught in bitter, cold weather at Lake Norman with the use of visual aids.

“The fish will be in 25 feet of water or deeper,” said guide Gus Gustafson. “The most-effective way to find them and catch them is with side-scan and down-scan electronic units. Without these visual aids, opportunities are limited.”

Gustafson uses his side-scan function to locate brush piles or bamboo sheaths in deep water.

“The brush or bamboo must be in 25 feet of water or more,” said Gustafson (www.fishingwithgus.com). “Fishermen have planted brush and bamboo throughout Lake Norman, so a side-scan unit is critical for finding this cover in such a huge lake.”

Gustafson said crappie don’t bunch in large schools at Norman.

“If the cover holds 10 to 12 crappie, that’s a lot on this lake,” said Gustafson.

By using the down-scan function, Gustafson said crappie can be seen holding in or around the cover.

“That’s why fishermen with down-scan units have a big advantage,” he said. “If they don’t see any fish in the brush or bamboo, they won’t waste time fishing that cover like fishermen without electronic visual aids.”

Once fish are located, Gustafson said the cold water dictates fishing slowly, either with live minnows or small crappie jigs. Most winter fishing is done by tight-lining, which enables fishermen to lower the bait vertically in front of the fish.

“Watch your line as you slowly lower the minnow or jig,” said Gustafson. “Most bites come on the fall, and the bite will be subtle. Bounce the jig in slow motion after it reaches the bottom. With live bait, let it stay put for some time. Don’t keep moving the minnow to different spots or reeling it up to check its condition.”

Gustafson prefers tight-lining with small-diameter, braided line, 10-pound or less.

“Braided line drops faster and is more sensitive to light bites than monofilament,” he said.

Fishermen without side-scan and down-scan units can catch winter crappie by fishing bridges and covered boat houses.

“Crappie love hanging around Lake Norman’s bridges. The best bridges are in 30 to 40 feet of water — like the NC 150 bridge and the Slanting bridge — where the fish suspend or hover near the bottom at the abutments,” said Gustafson. “Bridges in shallow water won’t attract many crappie.” 

Gustafson said old, covered boat houses, especially those with their outside doors open, allowing access to fishermen, hold good numbers of crappie. They’re found in Mountain Creek, Stumpy Creek and the older, developed sections of the lake.