While it may seem a little early in the year for hot crappie fishing across the Carolinas, it’s been on fire for those willing to test out the waters a little sooner than most, at least on some days. Whether it’s longline trolling or anchoring over brush piles, anglers are catching plenty of slabs when the weather and wind are just right.

And while some days have been stellar on the lakes, it’s the river anglers who are catching the most consistently, especially on waterways like North Carolina’s Haw River.

James Inglethorpe of Mebane, N.C. has been crappie fishing on the Haw River for the past 30 years, and he said it starts getting hot earlier and earlier every year, as long as the weather in February has some nice, mild days mixed in with the typical weather of winter. And after the warm weather this past weekend and early this week, he said the bite has been exceptional.

“The best fishing is on the second day of a warming trend, and if you get three good days of warmer whether, that third day is even better, but it’s worth it to try even on the first unseasonably warm day. The worst day is that first day the temperature drops back to normal, but you can still catch them then, it’s just more spotty and you have to look for them harder,” he said.

One of his best spots is all the way up at the beginning of the river, in the tailrace just below the New Hope River.

“There’s a big eddy up there, really between where the water runs into the Haw and the bank of the dam. That’s where I always start. And on the warmer days, I’ll use the biggest minnows I can find and fish them at different depths under a slip float. Sometimes you’ll find them just a few feet off the bank, but sometimes they are out closer to the middle of the river in deeper water. Where the water is deepest, I usually catch the most if my minnow is about two feet below my float,” he said.

Other than that spot, the 68-year-old retired machinist said he finds plenty of crappie in the rocky areas of the river, but he said they don’t usually hold very close to the rocks.

“Once I get into a rocky area, I spend my time closer to the banks. I think they like to be near those rocks for whatever reason, but they’ll hunker down in the calmest water they can find, which is usually behind downed trees, in eddies, and in any cuts in the bank you can find. This is a really straight river, so you won’t find many sharp bends like you will in other rivers. Now when I find a big collection of rocks that is several feet wide and has a large pool of calm water behind it, I will often catch crappie there. Some days you’ll really kill them there, but it’s not that consistent,” he said.

Inglethorpe said anglers don’t need to get up early this time of year to get on the good bite, even¬† during the most unseasonable warming trend.

“These crappie are going to wait to warm up before they start biting, and it takes a little longer for the sun to get up above the tree line that runs up and down the Haw. There’s just no reason to get on this river very early this time of year,” he said.¬†