Tips for Haw River’s winter crappie

Todd Vick poses with a typical wintertime river crappie.

Unseasonably warm February weather equals hot crappie bite

It may seem a little early in the year for hot crappie fishing across the Carolinas. But 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. Especially when the weather and wind are just right.

And while some days have been stellar on the lakes, river fishing has been the most consistent. Waterways like North Carolina’s Haw River have given up lots of fish lately.

James Inglethorpe of Mebane, N.C. has been crappie fishing on the Haw River for the past 30 years. 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 recent warm weather, 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. You can still catch them then, it’s just more spotty and you have to look for them harder,” he said.

Head upriver

He catches the fish most consistently all the way up 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. I fish them at different depths under a slip float. Sometimes you’ll find them just a few feet off the bank. Other times, 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 finds plenty of crappie in the rocky areas of the river. But he said they don’t usually hold very close to the rocks.

Fish closer to banks around rocky areas

“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. 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. 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.

About Brian Cope 2800 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@carolinasportsman.com.

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