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Winter Tips for Catching Crappie from Docks

Fishing from marinas and other docks provides a great way to consistently catch crappie during the coldest time of the year. Here’s everything you need to know.

You will never hear Chris Edwards call himself a winter crappie dock-fishing expert, but considering this avid outdoorsman’s history with the activity and the container of splashing slabs hanging in the water nearby, there’s no doubt he could.  

Edwards has a lifetime of dock fishing experience across Oklahoma that began in his youth when his parents had a place on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees. Thereafter, he’s always had a dock somewhere in the state – Texoma, Keystone, Ft. Gibson and Eufaula. He’s made sure of that with one season and one purpose in mind: January to March crappie fishing.

He and I have swapped crappie reports over the years, so his first two responses were no surprise when I called to ask if he’d be willing to share his best tips for this story. First came, “Sure,” and then, “I’m on the dock now.” 

Dock Visit

Dock crappie catchDock crappie catch
Chris Edwards in his winter element: catching crappie from a dock.

 

He was at Lake Eufaula Marina, a famed wintertime crappie spot originally known as Fountainhead. The destination likely still holds bragging rights to housing the largest indoor heated fishing dock in the country.

The place is also a good representative of many marinas across southern waters that provide winter dock fishing opportunities, either through boat-slip rentals or day-use or fishing-memberships fees. Such marina privileges certainly don’t exist everywhere. Some marinas totally ban it, and even among the places where allowed, details vary greatly from one property to the next.

That means it’s a good idea to do your homework beforehand to fully discover dock-fishing access and regulations for waters of interest.

Edwards’ dock is one of several multi-slip structures on the outside of the marina’s store and day-fee fishing. Most slip renters here have boats. Others clearly rent just to have dock-fishing privileges.

Edwards and his fishing buddy Brian Carson were tossing double-rigged Baby Shad into slips. He greeted me with “The bite’s pretty good,” and gestured toward his live-fish container.

Dock Talk

Most marinas always hold fish for several reasons. First, they are located in calm-water areas with depth. They also provide mass cover above and below the surface, and they attract things crappie eat, such shad and insects. Where allowed, it’s not uncommon for hardcore crappie enthusiasts to “sweeten” such gathering places even more.

“I, we, have doctored our dock with cover, mostly brush, and we’ve created so much habitat for crappie,” Edwards explained. “I’m sure this fish think this is a big crappie hotel. They move around all of these places throughout the day, but they’re always here somewhere.”

After redirecting his toss to another spot, Edwards continued, “This time of year, if I don’t get a bite in two or three minutes, I ‘poke another hole;’ drop my jig in another spot. I’ve found in our cold-water fishing you won’t catch multiple crappie from one spot. Maybe three or four, but most often it’s one. So, I’m constantly moving.”

I watched, listened, took some pics, asked a few questions … and here’s what I learned from this winter crappie dock fishing expert.

Why Dock Fishing?

crappie caught from a marina dockcrappie caught from a marina dock

First, I love to crappie fish. Second, I love to fish on docks. It’s convenient. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. Access is good. Anybody, any age, can do it. I also like to introduce folks to fishing, and there aren’t many better ways to provide a successful introductory experience than crappie from the docks.

Why Winter?

fishing from docks for crappiefishing from docks for crappie

You know Oklahoma’s January, February; I don’t get out in my boat much at this time. Whatever the weather, you can still almost always fish from docks. I know the crappie are here, and I always feel like I can catch some. Standing here, I can manage light lines and jigs, and feel the bites, even if there are adverse conditions on the lake. It’s a quiet time now, usually just me and a few other like-minded anglers on any given winter day. And crappie from cold water are delicious. You can’t beat a fresh mess.

Dock Selection Influences

dock fishing for winter crappiedock fishing for winter crappie

Marina pay-to-fish areas, including heated docks, typically do a good job of maintaining habitat for attracting and holding crappie. So, I know crappie are here anyway.

As for renting a slip, here are some of my considerations. First, do your homework. Of course, start with a good crappie lake. Then, a dock with a wide range of depth from shallow to deep is best. (His ranges from a few feet to almost 40). Know exactly what the slip rental agreement allows in regards to fishing, including controlled access, guests, habitat improvements, etc. Also, inquire about and/or visit with other slip renters about the dock’s “community.” Dock-neighbor compatibility makes things more enjoyable.

Top 10 Tips for Success

baits for winter dock fishingbaits for winter dock fishing
  1. Go with a quality 5 ½-foot spinning rod, light action but with backbone, and good sensitivity. Anything longer seems to just get in the way as you move around.
  2. Spool up with 6-pound test hi-vis yellow monofilament line. It shows up well in shade and other low light conditions for tracking of your line and “seeing” light bites
  3. Use a loop knot to attach your jigheads. It’s a fast and easy connection, plus maximizes lure action
  4. Employ double-jig rigs as a way to keep weights minimal and offer differing lure variations (profiles and colors) at the same time
  5. Trust your confidence baits. My go-to’s are Bobby Garland’s straight-tail baits, especially the Original Baby Shad and Slab Slay’R … they’re subtle but their tails are always moving. I also like the Itty Bit Series, and it seems some winters are better than others in the big versus small profile baits. I had success on some Itty Bit Slab Hunt’Rs
  6. Be strategic in color selections. This part of Eufaula is almost always stained, even in winter, so I’m usually using darker colors. Today, Eclipse has been working especially well.
  7. Try my Hot/Cool and Cool/Hot color-matchup formulas:
    • “Hot” lure body (bright, crisp colors like pink, orange, chartreuse, etc., go with a “cool” head color (purple, dark blue, etc.)
    • “Cool” body, “hot” head, reverse the colors for body/jighead combos
  8. Use these approaches for different lure presentations to cover:
    • Pendulum – make a soft toss of your rig to a calculated distance beyond the cover so that the jigs do a pendulum swing back to end up alongside the edge of the cover at the intended depth. This works for getting fish away from the cover.
    • Thread the Needle – Hold your rod tip directly over the cover you want to vertically penetrate and do a lowering of the jigs as you “feel” the baits descend so you can detect and react to bites quickly to pull fish from inside the cover.
  9. Fish the dark spots. Crappie seem to prefer the cover of shade and shadows over being in direct sunlight, even in winter. I’m always looking for the darkest hideouts.
  10. Keep moving. Pop your jigs occasionally, but don’t overwork them. If you don’t get a bite in two or three minutes, move on. When you catch a fish, try the spot again, then move on. Repeat throughout the day.