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Winter Crappie Fishing Tactics that Shouldn’t be Overlooked

Learn the value of a float and a jig used together for mid-winter crappie fishing and how two guides use float strategies to put more fish in the boat.

“Often they won’t pull it under,” Lee Pitts said about the float portion of his Float and Fly rig. “It’ll just tip a little or start easting sideways.”

Pitts knows. As a crappie guide on legendary waters of Weiss Lake, Pitts spends most winter days on the water. Winter delivers some of the best action of the year, and one of his most productive crappie fishing techniques when the water gets cold is the float and fly approach, which refers to fishing a jig beneath a set float for slow, subtle presentations at a prescribed depth.

Beaver Lake crappie guide Greg Robinson also relies heavily on floats for winter crappie fishing. That surprises many people, Robinson noted, because they only associate bobbers with extra shallow water. However, Robinson and Pitts are commonly presenting jigs 6 to 10 feet deep. The key is that the float suspends an offering in the strike zone and allows for the extra slow and subtle presentations that are sometimes needed for winter crappie fishing success.

Float and Fly Crappie

Lee Pitts’ Float and Fly approach spins off a technique that’s popular for cold-water bass, especially for smallmouth bass in mountain lakes. For either application the float is a small oval set float like a Thill America’s Favorite Series Shorty. For bass, the traditional “fly” is a small hair jig. Pitts’ fly for this technique is a crappie jig that has subtle action, such as a Bobby Garland Minnow Mind’R or Baby Shad, fished on a 1/24-ounce Crappie Pro Mo’ Glo Jighead.

Pitts uses the float and fly to target crappie that are schooled up and suspended, typically in the lower halves of creeks arm. Prime areas for finding schools are creek channel breaks that are directly out from pockets where the fish will spawn in a couple of months.

The fish commonly suspend 6 to 8 feet deep, often in water that’s more than 20 feet deep. Because they are winter chilled and relating to shad that are likewise slowed by the water temperatures, they don’t want to chase baits. The crappie suspend too high in the water column to fish for them vertically, if the water is even moderately clear. The float rig allows Pitts to cast to the schools, suspend his bait among them and present it subtly.

Pitts uses an 8-foot slow spinning rod, which is necessary for casting a rig with the float pegged 6 or more feet in front of the jig. The cast is a slow lob, not a snap, and begins with reaching the rod back and letting the line fully drop behind him.

Once Pitts’ float and fly are in in place, with the jig having settled, he works the rig with slight jiggles of the rod tip and pauses. He wants the bait to dance just a little without moving much horizontally and then to just hang enticingly. Unlike other stop-and-go techniques, where strikes normally occur as soon as the bait starts or stops, fish commonly take Pitts’ baits well into a pause, when he is doing nothing other than watching closely.

Watching the float closely is critical, by the way, because many strikes are very soft, and the crappie seldom yank the float completely out of sight. If it tips a bit or starts easing sideways, Pitts sets the hook.

Hanging Close to Cover

Greg Robinson with CrappieGreg Robinson with Crappie

Robinson capitalizes on the same ability to suspend a bait among winter-chilled crappie to coax baits by using a float. However, his key winter areas are close to cover and his presentations are even slower – sometimes even stationary.

“If a tree is just below the surface, I’ll pull it to right next to the tree and then just let it sit there,” Robinson said. “With a Baby Shad or Baby Shad Swim’R you don’t have to work the bait at all. Even a bit of ripple on the water makes the tail move.”

When Robinson does add action, it’s just with very slight twitches. He wants to rock the float a bit, but not move it much horizontally, if at all. The colder the water gets, the less Robinson moves his float to work his bait.

Minimizing movement is important to Robinson’s approach for a couple of reasons. Partly it’s because the fish are relating to winter-slowed forage, and a bait that moves too much looks unnatural. As importantly, he’s mostly fishing around cover, so he when the float and jig move to much horizontally, the bait gets too far from the cover and the fish.

Robinson focuses on sunken brushpiles, stumps and pole timber during the winter. The fish will suspend tight to stumps and trees and will hold in the tops of brush. A float lets him keep the bait in front of the fish or barely above them, whether they are 5 feet deep or 10 feet deep.

Robinson mostly uses set floats, but if the fish are too deep to reasonably cast or pitch a set float, he’ll switch to slip float. His preferred approach is to use a 12- to 14- foot Todd Huckabee rod, position the boat fairly close, and pitch to the cover. However, if the fish are too deep, landing fish becomes awkward, so he’ll switch to 7- or 8-foot Todd Huckabee rods and will cast slip bobber rigs.

Robinson’s primary baits for this approach are the Baby Shad and Baby Shad Swim’R. He typically rigs bait on 1/16-ounce heads, but if the fish seem extra fussy and he wants to slow the fall rate and action when he moves the bobber, he’ll drop down to 1/32-ounce heads.

Bobber Fishing Tips

casting float and fly rigcasting float and fly rig
  • -Choose subtle baits – Less is more when it comes to thump for this style of fishing.
  • -Add Mo’ Glo Slab Jam – Scent can make a big difference when winter chilled fish get fussy.
  • -Slow It Even More – When you think your winter float presentation is as slow as it can get, slow it even more!
  • -Set the Hook – It doesn’t cost anything to be wrong unless you err by not setting the hook.

Bonus Bobber Strategy

Winter dock shooting is popular in Robinson’s area, but on some sunny winter days, many shooters catch fewer crappie than it seems like they should.

“They’re fishing below the crappie,” Robinson said, noting that the crappie will move to just a foot or two beneath the surface when the sun warms boat pontoons and docks supports, so most shooters’ jigs drop beneath the fish almost immediately.

Fellow Beaver Lake guide Payton Usrey introduced Robinson the idea of adding a small float a foot or to above a shooting jig to keep the bait in the primary zone. For shooting, they paint the bottom of the float black because a white underside tends to spook the fish with the jig so shallow.

Bobbers and Baits

float and fly crappie rigfloat and fly crappie rig