"FISH DEEP FOR FORK CRAPPIE" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton As Phil Zimmerman and I pulled into the parking lot at The Minnow Bucket Marina at Lake Fork, the wind was blowing hard from the northwest. Guide Tony Parker was at the gas pump, fueling his Kenner for our days crappie fishing. Darned those weather forecasters! The prediction was 5-10 mph. but I noted the flag was two blocked; Old Glory was flying as stiff as a poker, this was going to be a challenging day to fish the deep open water areas in the lower lake where crappie hang out this time of year. We have a couple miles to run to get to the crappie but I think we can catch them if the wind isnt too strong for the anchor to hold. This type of fishing requires precise boat positioning. We will be fishing around pods of shad hanging on deep ledges. Says Paker as he hammers down and we head toward the mouth of Little Caney Creek in the lower lake. Like most casual crappie fisherman, the majority of my fishing has been in the spring when the fish are packed into the shallows during the spawn or, when they are stacked up around standing timber or brush during the summer. Fishing deep, open water as we were about to do is far different than dunking jigs or minnows in the shallows. Parker depends heavily on his sonar and GPS to locate ideal bits of structure holding baitfish. Some winter crappie fishermen simply use their trolling motor and move around until they catch a crappie, then they toss out a marker buoy and fish until the school moves out. This time of year, when the water temperature is at its lowest of the year, shad and crappie relate to deep ledges. I use GPS to first locate the ledges, often situated around sharp bends in the submerged creeks, then study my sonar and look for heavy concentrations of baitfish. Once the bait is located, crappie are almost always nearby, usually holding near bottom under the shad. tips Parker as he shuts the big engine down as buries his head in the graph. Precise boat positioning during periods of heavy winds is always a challenge and, especially so when anchoring on a flat bottom. The day before our trip, Parker and his clients had hammered the crappie on a deep ledge that was out in open water, far from the wind-buffering shoreline. As the ledge began to plot on sonar, a huge, Christmas tree shaped ball of shad plotted a few feet up from bottom and small inverted Vs , crappie, were hanging around the baitfish. A marker buoy went out to mark the hotspot, about the size of an automobile, and Parker moved the boat north of the spot and eased the anchor overboard. The wind was simply too strong for it hold. We were forced to head toward more protected waters closer to shore. Well catch crappie here, says Parker, as he feeds the anchor rope out and the boat settles precisely over another ledge. Small live minnows or brightly colored jigs are Parkers favorite baits and in the next hour, we had several nice sized crappie in the ice cooler, all caught very near the bottom. The bite was very subtle, even with the bigger crappie which pushed a couple pounds apiece. Its hard to feel the subtle bites during periods of heavy wind. I watched Parker slowly lift and lower his bait occasionally. I catch lots of these soft biters when I raise the rod tip and suddenly discover they have taken the baits, says Parker and he cranks another tasty papermouth to the surface. Photo by Luke Clayton After a couple hours fishing these more sheltered waters, the wind settled a bit and we motored back to the open water hotspot. This time, the anchor held and we found the big school of bait and accompanying crappie were still there, and they were hungry! In the next hour, we proceeded to round out the makings of a big winter crappie fry. Photo by Luke Clayton Here are some tips from Parker that will definitely help you catch the makings of your own winter fish fry: *Fish near bottom around steep ledges and drop offs, around heavy concentrations of shad. *Use small live minnows and jigs and move the baits vertically occasionally. The bite is very subtle and crappie will often simply suck in the bait and you will never feel the strike. *Move when the bite slows. When baitfish and crappie move, its necessary to locate another school. *If wind is light, use the trolling motor rather than the anchor to stay on the fish. *Remember that all crappie landed at Fork during the winter months must be kept. Pulling them from deep water causes a high mortality rate. Check fishing regulations for exact dates. Contact Lake Fork crappie guide Tony Parker at 903-348-1619 or email: email@example.com. OUTDOOR TIP OF THE WEEK: The dead of winter, after the close of deer season, is prime time for putting some wild pork in the freezer. Wild hogs often become nocturnal after continued hunting pressure. I use a light system known as the Feedlight (www.ultramaticfeeders.com) to illuminate the area around my corn feeder for night hunting. Its a good idea to contact the game warden in the area you will be hunting and inform him that you will be hunting hogs. Listen to Outdoors With Luke Clayton at www.catfishradio.com and check out the new fishing videos at lukeshotspots.com The BOC has a virtual library of Luke's stories right here on the forums; just about anything you could want to read about the outdoors. Click here to see a boat load of information!