Sportsmen who aren’t chasing deer this month and are dialed into fishing might consider hunting crappie at Hyco Lake — and throughout the winter.

The 3,750-acre Person County impoundment, built in the early 1960s by Carolina Power & Light – and later purchased by Duke Energy – was formed by an earthen dam that impounded North Hyco, South Hyco and Cobbs creeks. Hurricane Hilda quickly filled the lake in 1965, and fishing has been good since that time.

Although largemouth bass are often cold-weather targets — and the hot-water discharge canal near the coal-fired steam plant’s west side provides 50-degree water temperatures in winter and great baitfish habitat — late-season crappie prefer cooler water, said according to Barry Joyce, a retired N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission enforcement officer who owns and operates Hyco Marina & Outfitters (366-599-2211).

“The lake ‘turned over’ in late October,” he said, “but it didn’t affect the fishing all that much. It’s been getting better recently after a small lull during the turnover.”

Even though the steam plant produces heated water 365 days per year, Joyce said its discharge “meanders down toward the dam and doesn’t affect the rest of the lake.”

Although anglers shouldn’t expect to catch a lot of large black crappie, the lake produces its share of slabs.

“Although (Hyco) doesn’t have monster crappie like Jordan and Falls, we’ve got a lot of really nice fish, and the colder it gets, the better the fishing gets,” Joyce said.

Fishermen aren’t having aren’t having any trouble landing 10 to 12 keeper slabs per day this month.

“Most of them are ¾- to a pound, but a guy came in the other day with a 1 ½-pounder,” said Joyce, who explained that fishermen are catching crappie from the boat and the bank.

“The boaters are fishing tree tops,” Joyce said. “The Wildlife Commission cut down a lot of trees and cabled them to the shoreline, so tree tops often sit over deep water. There’s a bunch of downed trees in the lake.”

Most popular lures are 1/32-ounce jigs in green and white.

“Everybody’s got his own secret,” he said. “Some of the favorites are called Acid Rain and Wally World, but green-and-white’s the color most people like.”

Joyce said some boaters use multiple poles in open water, aka spider rigging, but shoreline anglers mostly cast to tree tops because slow-trolling would provide too many hang-up hazards.

Live crappie minnows are a favorite for anglers who fish from the banks near bridges.

“The bank anglers like to use minnows on drop shots, sometimes only using a split shot on the bottom, near the pilings in the current that flows,” Joyce said. “Crappie like to hang out on the down side of the pilings and wait for the current to bring baitfish to them.”