By Richard Hines
We were just pulling into a small inlet on one of the local Corps of Engineers Lakes. As I was slowing down, I told my friend, “It should be about another 80 feet or so before we are over the brush pile.” There was no sign of a stickup or brush, but 15-feet below us was a pile I had located during duck season earlier that year.
I do have a fish finder, but each year I also take time to locate new fish attractors using my handheld GPS. Chances are if you are on the water during the winter you may be duck hunting or boating into out of the way places to hunt a late season buck. If this is the case, why not take a GPS along? Most Corps of Engineers lakes have major drawdowns during the winter making locating fish attractors and other potential locations for crappie an easy chore.
I started doing this back in the 1970’s long before I could afford a good fish finder. I kept a map of the lake with me when I was duck hunting. It seemed like the ducks would always slow down around mid-day giving me some time to cruise around, eat lunch, and mark a few potential places to catch fish the following spring.
By trial and error, I keyed in on brush piles, stumps and anything else that might hold a school of crappie. Forty years later, forget the map, I keep a GPS handy.
Many of the Corps of Engineers lakes across the country will have large drawdowns during the winter months exposing stumps and other potential cover. Stop, get out and set the waypoint on your GPS for potential structure, new brush piles, fish attractors, anything that will hold a bass, crappie or a school of bluegill.
Setting the coordinates and returning in the spring and summer has paid off more than once and while I might find most of these with my fish finder, marking these on my GPS in the winter saves me time on the first trip out. If they are productive, I later add these to the fish finder memory.
Another item few anglers think about marking is freshwater springs or seeps. You will see water dripping out of sides of lake banks where springs run year-round. Although insignificant in size, they sometimes congregate aquatic invertebrates. Even when the lake is at full pool, there may be enough invertebrates at these sites to likewise attract baitfish and other food for bass.
Winter is also a good time to construct your own fish attractors, just check rules and regulations with your state fish and wildlife agency and there may be additional regulations for the lake you are planning to build attractors in.
In either case, if you construct an attractor, remember if it is in public water it is open to public fishing on a first come, first serve basis.
It is as easy as it sounds. If you are not a waterfowl hunter, just pick a nice winter day and go for a boat ride. Remember, you are boating in the winter, so plan accordingly. First, have a float plan which lets someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. A text message to your regular fishing partner that might read, “Checking crappie structures/ will be putting in at Walnut Creek Ramp, heading to Goose branch, back at 3:00pm.”
If something happens, your friend will know where to start looking.
In addition to the list of safety items required by the U.S. Coast Guard, I throw in a plastic tote box with some food, bottled water, small propane stove for coffee, plus two sleeping bags. I have never needed the contents, but weather conditions during the winter can change rapidly, so be prepared.
During the winter is not only a good time to locate potential fish attractors or cover but don’t overlook the obvious, take your fishing equipment and try catching a few cold weather crappie.
In any case, pre-season scouting during low winter water levels really can reveal springtime crappie hotspots!