Keith Wray of Fish Doc Guide Service in Eden, N.C., spends about as much time planting brush piles in Kerr Lake as he does fishing for crappie.

Wray (336-589-9025) knows that the chill of December drives crappie from the cold water of the main lake into the warmer water in creeks, where they gather around brush piles to feed up for winter.

“I plant brush piles in the creeks in 20 to 30 feet of water .. (they) top off at 15 to 20 feet,”  Wray said. “The best crappie brush attractors consist of willows, but willows die off quickly and have to be replenished about every two years. For that reason, I also plant hardwood brush piles consisting of sweet gum, maple and sycamore, which last longer. I don’t plant thick-bodied brush because it’s hard to fish without snagging, and because it doesn’t hold big crappie.”

Wray has brush to fish in Grassy, Butcher, Eastland and Panhandle creeks. His knowledge of these places is priceless. Even with today’s sophisticated side-scan sonar units, fishermen unfamiliar with Kerr would be hard-pressed to locate brush in a reservoir that covers 50,000 acres. Motoring about in cold weather is not a pleasant experience, either.

Wray motors around for an hour before he begins fishing, checking on spots for indications of active fish. Once he’s found several brush piles that might be productive, he fishes vertically around the brush using a 6-foot, light-action spinning rod and matching reel spooled with 4- to 6-pound test line.

“I’ve caught big stripers, accidentally, on that light line, which is a lot of fun,” said Wray, whose baits include small Cotton Cordell CC spoons, which flutter on their way down, or small crappie jigs with soft-plastic trailers. He slowly drops these baits in front of the fish giving them a slight twitch. Because of the cold water, strikes are often only a slight tick or bump.

Sometimes, he fills a cooler at one spot; at other times, he has to move to several places to catch numbers of fish.

Wray said winter crappie at Kerr Lake generally run from 12 to 14 inches long. They have a tendency to bunch up in brush during the winter.

The ideal December situation is a warming trend, the warmer the better. A stiff wind hampers fishing if it’s strong enough to make keeping his boat positioned over brush piles nearly impossible. And frigid weather puts a freeze on the fishing.