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THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing GuideExpert Articles by John Neporadny Jr. - February 2008

Locating Winter Crappie on Lake of the Ozarks

by John Neporadny Jr.

When you want to escape from bone-chilling winter weather, you move inside and sit in fron of a warm fire. Crappie also search for a winter haven when the water temperature plummets on Lake of the Ozarks Unable to find any warm spots in the shallows, crappie move to deeper water where they seek shelter in manmade brush piles during the winter.

Brush piles provide both food and cover for crappie throughout most of the year. "About the only time you don't find crappie tight to brush is when they go to the bank to spawn, but usually even then they aren't far from it," says Guy Winters, a crappie expert from Camdenton, MO.

Crappie seek deeper water in the winter because it provides a comfort zone with more oxygen and warmth. During early winter, shad eat plankton off the limbs of sunken brush and crappie hide in the brush to ambush the baitfish. Winters has built brush piles for years and knows the key locations to find these crappie condos. The most productive brush piles are usually found along certain types of bottom structure. "If you find them very far from a creek channel, river channel or some kind ofa break on the bottom structure, they are not going to be as productive as the ones close to that break line," advises Winters. "If you are lucky enough to find a spring that has some brush in it, that rascal will hold fish year-round. They'll really congregate there in the wintertime because that water stays warmer."

Weather determines if the crappie suspend over the top of the brush or burrow into the cover. Winters relies on a barometer to tell him how the fish position around the brush each day. "Any time you get a strong low pressure system, those fish are going to suck back tighter into the brush simply because the low pressure causes them to lose their equilibrium so they get into the brush to lean up against it and hold themselves upright," says Winters. "Anybody who does any serious wintertime fishing should watch that barometer real close."

During high-pressure conditions, crappie tend to suspend over the top of the brush at various depths. "On bright sunny, calm daysin the winter, even if the air temperatures are as low as 20 degrees, those fish will move up," says Winters, who theorizes crappie move closer to the surface either seeking the warmth of the sun or a comfort zone along the edge where the sunlight penetrates into the deep water. During calm, sunny weather, Winters has caught crappie suspended as shallow as 8 to 10 feet deep from brush piles where the fish had been suspending as deep as 20 feet on previous winter days.

While barometric pressure influences how crappie position in the brush, finding crappie becomes easier since winter experiences fewer severe weather changes than springtime. "The weather doesn't change on you as fast day to day, consequently those fish tend to stabilize more," says Winters. "So if you find a hole where you can catch them suspended over the brush out of 25 feet of water one day, chances are the next two or three days you can do the same thing during the winter."

Using a slow vertical presentation is the best way to catch wintertime crappie from the brush piles. "Once the water temperature gets intothe low 40s those fish get pretty lethargic and you really have to slow that presentation down to be successful catching them," says Winters. The crappie expert positions his boat over the brush and drops his line straight down into or above the cover. A depth finder helps you determine whether crappie are suspending over the brush or holding tight to the cover. For anglers without electronics, Winters suggest trying different depths until they get some hits, then they should concentrate on the most productive depth.

When he finds the right depth to fish, both Winters hardly moves his lure. "You're trying to imitate a minnow and minnows aren't movingvery fast then," says Winters. "None of the fish are move very fast in cold water." Lifting the rod tip causes the lure to move too much. "A lot of times I'll let my lure down to where it hits the brush, and let it lie there for about the count of five," says Winters. "Then I just make two turns of the reel handle and hold it still.

If I give it any action at all I get the line on my finger, justtwitch my finger and don't even move my rod tip." Winters primarily uses tube jigs in cold water, but he does experiment with different colors then. Color combinations that work best for him include red-and-pearl, black-and-chartreuse glitter or red-and-chartreuse glitter. "Another color combination a lot of people overlook during the wintertime is pink-and-pearl," he says. "I find that to be an excellent hot- and cold-water color."

Since he wants his jig to fall slowly, Winters selects a 1/32-ounce jighead tied to 4-pound test line. Waiting for the light-weight jig to fall down to the brush requires patience, especially in cold and windy weather. While cold weather makes it uncomfortable for fishing, you can still catch a mess of Lake of the Ozarks crappie during this time by delivering your lures to a crappie's favorite winter haven, a deep-water brush pile. For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 152-page vacation guide, call the

Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.

Copies of John Neporadny's book, "THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide" are available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.

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