Catch Winter Crappie On N.C.’s Jordan Lake

winter crappie

Crappie fishing on North Carolina’s Jordan Lake only slows down a little when winter arrives. Just find concentrations of baitfish and you’ll be on your way to filling that cooler.

Freshwater anglers in North Carolina have two main species to target during the winter months — crappie or catfish. 

Freddie Sinclair of Clayton, a veteran guide on lakes around the Raleigh-Durham area, said that targeting and catching crappie — if done correctly — can warm up even the coldest January angler.

Sinclair, a 62-year-old former facilities manager at N.C. State University’s McKimmon Center, has charted the movement and population of crappie on B. Everett Jordan Lake south of the Raleigh-Durham area for 30 years or more, the last 15 as a guide. He knows crappies’ favorite haunts during all seasons.

Winter fishing requires good electronics

Chartreuse is a color Sinclair likes in crappie lures.

“Winter’s different,” he said. “You’re mostly fishing without anyone else around, but crappies aren’t hard to find; they’re concentrated in schools, most of the time beneath baitfish. 

“Find the baitfish schools, and you’ll find the crappies.”

That starts with effective electronics, not to look for crappie but schools of baitfish.

“In cold water in January, most of the times they’ll be in 20 to 30 feet of water, but occasionally, you’ll find a school in 15 feet of water,” Sinclair said

Many channels crisscross the bottom Jordan Lake’s 13,940 acres, so it’s not enough to know those places; a second key unlocks the door to slabs when line guides freeze.

Find the baitfish, which are usually deep

“I’m going to be fishing deep creek channels, drop-offs and such,” Sinclair said. “That’s where baitfish congregate. But they like the ledges. Sometimes, you can find them in shallow water on the ledges close to the deeper channels. Main-lake points also can be good. Of course, everyone likes to fish bridge pilings.”

You might be tempted to think Sinclair has solved the problem with those two bits of information. But there’s more.

“The absolute best structure is deep, sunken brush piles,” he said.

Anglers are known for taking Christmas trees to lakes in January, tying a cinder block or other weight to them and dropping them over the side of their boats. They make wonderful hideouts for baitfish and magnets for crappies.

“Rock piles and main-lake points also hold crappies in winter,” said Sinclair, who uses Southern Crappie Rods in 10-, 12-, 14- and 16-foot lengths — three on each side of the bow of his boat — and spinning reels spooled with 6-pound monofilament tied to 1/32- to 1/48-ounce jigs. “Some I’ll tip with a minnow on a plain jig hook; I also tip hair jigs with minnows.” 

Troll from shallow to deep

Bright or cloudy conditions make no difference to crappies that are hungry.

If Sinclair drops down minnow-tipped jigs in January, he’ll jig vertically in and around a baitfish ball. If baitfish aren’t around, he tight-lines — moving 1.2 to 1.3 mph with his trolling motor with jigs hanging vertically in the water column, and tight-lining is his favorite way to fish. 

Sinclair often starts halfway to the back of a creek, checks the water’s depth and trolls from shallow to deep because he doesn’t want to entangle hooks in structure.

Ideal surface water temperatures range from 44 to 46 degrees. Even if the mercury drops to 42 degrees, weather never shuts down the crappie bite.

“They might go a little deeper with really cold weather,” he said, “but if you can put a minnow in front of them, they’ll hit it. The bite never shuts down. Their attacks can be light, but if a crappie’s hungry, he’ll slam a minnow. My son and I fished Santee-Cooper (S.C.) once when it was 14 degrees.”

Always use a net when crappie fishing

A crucial point is to watch rod tips and react quickly by simply lifting them to set the hook. Never try to lift a fish into a boat. Crappies have tissue-thin mouths. To prevent lost crappies, keep pressure on a hooked fish, and land it with a net.

Sinclair believes Jordan will be great this winter because flooding last year closed a number of boat ramps and lessened the fishing pressure. 

Freddie Sinclair often uses a winter combo of a 1/32-ounce jig and grub and a live minnow.

“I think that’ll make this winter and spring good at Jordan because the … (crappies) weren’t pressured by anglers so much,” he said.

Sinclair said anglers can expect to catch more big crappies, specimens ranging from 1¼ to to 2 pounds at Jordan.

N.C. puts new fish attractors in lakes

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is producing and placing fish attractors of a new design in lakes it manages to simplify locating gamefish.

“We’re starting a (statewide) habitat enhancement project,” said Kelsey Lincoln, a Commission fisheries biologist whose territory includes Jordan Lake. “It’ll include a ton of fish attractors at Jordan and Harris lakes (that will mostly) attract crappies.”

Biologists and other Commission staff members will sink the structures at different depths. They won’t be sunken-tire reefs (1960s-70s), PVC pipes with paddle wings (1980s) or shoreline trees felled lakes (2000s). 

They’ll include three models: 

1. Large PVC pipes that will crisscross at different angles (mostly for bass);

2. A 5x5x5 box-like attractors of corrugated pipe and PVC pipe;

3.  A “poly tree” made from a vertical piece of hard PVC pipe with holes drilled through which flexible 3- and 4-foot PVC sections are inserted. The whole structure will be set in a concrete base.

“The poly tree actually looks like a tree,” Lincoln said. “The criss-cross structure is to attract bass mainly.”

Anglers who visit can view maps of Jordan and Harris and obtain GPS coordinates of fish-attractors.

“The project will be completed during the next two years,” Lincoln said.

winter crappie
This fish attractor made from PVC pipe is one of a number being sunk on North Carolina reservoirs over the next two years.


HOW TO GET THERE — Jordan Lake is south of the Raleigh-Durham area. US 64 crosses the lake at mid-lake. NC 751 is a prominent access route east of the lake. Public boat ramps are scattered around the lake.

WHEN TO GO — January and February.

BEST TECHNIQUES — Fish 1/32- or 1/48-ounce crappie jigs in brown/chartreuse, black/chartreuse or blue/black, with some ice-blue in each jig, or use live crappie minnows on 1/32- or 1/48-ounce, plain jigheads. Use Southern Crappie rods in 10- to 16-foot lengths with 6-pound-test line. Beginning at the midpoint of creeks or coves, tight-line crappie jigs or minnows on jigs from shallower water toward the mouths of creeks or coves and deeper water. Most fish found in 42- to 46-degree water, 20  to 30 feet deep. If baitfish schools can be located with fish-finder units, vertical fishing may be effective. 

FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Freddie Sinclair, Sinclair’s Guide Service, 919-291-2804, Wilsonville General Store, 919-362-7101; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 919-542-4501. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS — Holiday Inn Express-Apex, 919-387-3636; Comfort Inn-Apex/Holly Springs, 919-387-4600; Hampton Inn & Suites, Holly Springs, 919-552-7610. Camping is available at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, 919-362-0586.

MAPS — Fishing Hot Spots, 800-500-MAPS.

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Craig Holt
About Craig Holt 1317 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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