Crappie fishing is extremely popular in the Carolinas, and what better way to spend the cold months than catching slab crappie. Here’s what two of the Southeast’s top crappie fishermen do when going to a new lake to find crappie.

Matt Morgan and Kent Watson have won numerous major crappie tournaments, and they have a game plan already in place when they fish any lake for crappie, especially a lake they’ve never fished before.

Morgan said the six keys are use the Internet, research Google Earth, use electronics to search for specific targets, fish specific areas to find quality fish and forage, use good equipment and proper lures and finally add a dose of patience.

“First, I research the Internet to see what information is there on a lake in terms of crappie,” Morgan said. “It’s important to know if it’s primarily a white crappie or black crappie lake because that impacts how we fish, such as size of bait. Plus, there are often some helpful hints on specific parts of the lake at certain times of the year.

“Next, I use Google Earth to actually look at the lake, and I can even go back in time and see what the lake looks like during a drawdown or drought,” he said. “This can provide views of underwater cover that’s exposed at low water but may be covered by fishable water when I fish it. Plus, I can see creeks and ditches that may not be marked on maps.”

Watson said that after off-lake research is complete, it’s time to get on the lake and start narrowing the focus for crappie.

“We can eliminate 50 percent of the water before we launch the boat,” Watson said. “The next phase is to use our electronics, along with lake maps, to actually look at channels, ledges drops, brush piles and actually find fish we believe to be crappie. We’ll be using our Hummingbird graph with side- and down-scan to pinpoint areas based on the general concepts we begin with.

“During winter, we’re often looking in deep water, and it may be mid-lake to lower lake,” he said. “During spring, we often take a hard look at the mid- to upper portion of a lake since that water warms first. Adapting to change is part of a crappie fisherman’s life.”

Watson said that in addition to finding crappie, it’s important to find forage.

“On our first day on the lake, we often spend several hours looking at various places before we fish,” he said. “Then, we’ve narrowed our targets and start fishing.

“We’ll use jigs, minnows or a combination and give the fish what they want,” he said. “During winter a 1/8-ounce Roadrunner tipped with a live minnow can be lethal. By spring, just a jig, Roadrunner or a minnow may produce, so we experiment. We typically fish an 8-rod spider rig with quality rods. We use B’n’M crappie rods; quality makes a difference in detecting light bites. When pre-fishing for a tournament, we only catch a couple crappies from a place, and then move and look for larger crappie.”

Morgan said that patience can be key when fishing a new lake for crappie.

“Even being totally prepared, it may take several attempts before we find fish of good quantity and quality,” he said. “We know we have a proven process that works year-round, not just in cold weather, and if we stick with it, we’ll find fish. Without a side- or down-scan unit, it may take longer, but the concept is still the same. Use electronics to your advantage as much as you can.”