Despite the chilly conditions, crappie fishing after dark in the winter on Lake Guntersville provides some of the hottest action of the year.
Winter fishing is a perfectly normal pursuit on Lake Guntersville. Fishermen regularly dot the lake during the daylight hours, especially when the bite for largemouth cranks up around New Years. Catfishing for giant blues is another consistent cold-weather fishery that promises trophy fish over 50 pounds just about every day.
Then there’s crappie fishing. Crappie fishermen on the Big G catch thousands of slabs through the winter months, some of them landed at a most unusual time for cold-weather fishing. Anglers with a sense of adventure suggest the best crappie bite on the lake occurs during the winter months at night. Yes, some of the hottest crappie action of the year on Lake Guntersville takes place after the sun goes down when the weather is coldest.
I first became aware of the night fishing for crappie opportunities as much as 15 years ago. The bridges and causeways all over Guntersville are a popular destination, the practice a time-honored approach and perhaps the best chance to catch numbers of crappie from the bank anywhere around. Some of the best stringers come at night.
Some years ago, I met a hardy group of anglers catching crappie at night from a boat. While catching crappie from a boat is the norm on most lakes, the night-time approach borders on the extreme. I fished one January night with Huntsville-area angler Will Yelverton when the air temperature dropped well under freezing.
The rewards justify the practice, however, for those fishermen. The boat approach can be more productive than the bank approach because of obvious factors, mainly ease of movement and the ability to pinpoint schools of crappie with electronics.
“It can be very good,” said Yelverton, a regular on various bass circuits who routinely drops his bass rig into the lake to crappie fish at night in the winter as well. “You would be surprised just how many people will be out on Guntersville crappie fishing at night even in the coldest weather.”
This year should prove no different. The cold-weather bite generally starts around Thanksgiving and continues until fish move toward spawning areas in the spring. “January should be good,” Yelverton said. “The water temperature is already getting down low enough to trigger that type of bite.”
The Boat Approach
Boaters can get to the best crappie spots on the lake, even after dark in the winter.
For Yelverton, that means bluffs and sharply sloping banks from the mid to lower ends of the lake. One of his favorite spots is on the north bank around the Highway 431 bridge running into the city of Guntersville. He said any type of bluff or bank in proximity to deep water potentially holds crappie through the winter months. “I’m usually sitting in about 30 or 35 feet of water and fishing about 10 feet down to 20, maybe 22 feet,” Yelverton said.
Darrell Adams, one of the few fishermen who guides for crappie regularly on Guntersville, said he finds fish at night in the same places that he finds them in the daytime in the winter, around bridges, adjacent rip-rap, ledges, and grass lines. In fact, he said a lack of a crappie bite around such structure during normal daylight-to-dark fishing indicates a need to fish after hours.
“That’s actually how I discovered this type of fishing,” Adams said. “I was catching fish during the daytime, and all of the sudden that bite went away. I told myself, ‘I need to try these fish after dark’.”
Both Yelverton and Adams suggest picking a specific area on the lake and minimizing movement. Even a short run at night in the winter can be a chilling proposition.
“I will pick some spots close to the boat ramp and stay relatively close,” Adams said.
Adams (www.guntersvilleanglers.com, 256.647.3071) said his best night-time fishing always occurs when the moon is in the sky. He doesn’t worry about moon phase.
“Often the bite will start when the moon rises above the horizon and then when the moon drops out of the skyline, it will end most of the time,” he said.
While a few crappie fishermen will be on the water at night, the greatest boat traffic comes from duck hunters. While most people, even average fishermen, probably never consider the idea, Lake Guntersville is alive with duck boats just about every night in the hours leading up to daylight. Crappie fishermen must anticipate a parking lot full of duck boats at any time after midnight. Also, expect constant wave action after about two a.m. as the duck hunters move toward their blinds.
The duck boats are just one thing to think about while navigating or even sitting still fishing in a boat. Anyone who takes a night trip in a boat on Lake Guntersville during the winter should consider the inherent dangers. Wearing life jackets at all times is mandatory, not from a legal standpoint but rather from a common sense one.
Otherwise, the crappie provides a reliable fishery through the cold-weather months.
“About the only thing they don’t like is current,” Yelverton said. “Even with heavy current, you can still catch a few, but they seem to prefer little to no current.”
The Bridge Approach
Fishermen are blessed with an abundance of causeways that cross Lake Guntersville. The bridges within the causeways serve as funnels for crappie, and fishing from boats and from the bank proves productive.
For the bank fishermen, a couple of destinations are reliable crappie hotspots and attract dozens of anglers at a given time. Perhaps the best choice is along Highway 227, which runs out of the city of Guntersville past the entrance to Guntersville State Park. At least three stops along the route – Short Creek, Town Creek, and South Sauty Creek – feature quality bridge fishing.
“The bridges within the causeways serve as funnels for crappie, and fishing from boats and from the bank proves productive.”
Perhaps more fishermen can be found on the Highway 69 causeway at Browns Creek than anywhere else, even though some of the best spots are hard to fish. I’ve seen fishermen in waders, thigh-deep in the water attempting to reach the best bridge columns and the best angles for casting.
The locations on 227 and 69 are just a couple to consider. Among many others, the bridges over Spring Creek in Guntersville and the bridges over North Sauty near Scottsboro are also popular bank stops.
Here’s a bit of advice. Fish at night to avoid the crowd. At least two factors come into play after dark. Some of the best catches occur between midnight and daylight. Even fishermen who choose to extend their fishing past daybreak arrive in the pre-dawn hours to stake out the prime spots. They often find their best action immediately upon arrival because the fish are less pressured than in the day. The bridge crappie appear to be ultra-sensitive at times and become line- and lure-shy.
Expect competition not only from other bank fishermen but also from boaters, who generally tie up underneath a bridge and fish vertically. “The bridges can definitely be community fishing, whether you are fishing day or night,” Adams said.
Crappie-fishing gear becomes more specialized with each passing year. While many anglers around the bridges can be seen casting a Zebco 33 outfit, the most efficient fishermen choose quality spinning gear with a highly sensitive rod and a reel that works well with a small-diameter line.
I once watched a fisherman change out spools in an attempt to trigger the bite, switching from four-pound test to two.
A six-foot spinning rod is a good all-around choice; slightly longer models can be used but be advised that overhead casting restraints under the bridges limit the longest spinning rods available.
A variety of jigs and plastics attract crappie. Years ago, Bass Assassin grubs and small swimbaits appeared to be the most popular lure. However, the various Bobby Garland plastics now dominate around Guntersville. Both Yelverton and Adams favor the Bobby Garland Baby Shad; Yelverton prefers Cajun Cricket and Adams likes Monkey Milk.
For his bluff fishing, Yelverton attempts to figure the depth the fish are holding and then determines jig size. For shallower crappie, he uses a 1/24th-oz. head and a 1/16th for slightly deeper fish.
“I usually have a good sense of where the fish are holding and will adjust jig size according to the depth,” Yelverton said. In general, Adams uses a 1/32nd-oz. jig head. “I pretty much use the same tackle and the same plastic and colors that I use during the daytime,” Adams said.
Fishermen experiment with line size. Determining the rate of fall is generally more important than hiding the line from fish. With that idea in mind, fishermen usually start with four- or six-pound line, most of the time fluorocarbon, and occasionally bump up to eight. “Four-pound test is the best size for me,” Yelverton said.
While many fishermen use minnows, most frequently boaters tied up to the bridges, lures are generally the choice. Yelverton said a jig-plastic combination proves much more effective for him at night.
“I have tried minnows in the boat,” Yelverton said. “I actually use minnows a good bit during the daytime, but I much prefer jigs at night. I would say I catch three-to-one more on jigs than I do on minnows at night.”
One of the most important considerations other than tackle is lighting. At a minimum, bank fishermen need a quality flashlight. Other light sources range from sophisticated lanterns to something as simple as a fire, which serves dual purposes on a cold night.
For boaters, some type of light makes for more efficient fishing. “I’ve got two of the Coleman lanterns that have the gas bottles actually attached to them,” Yelverton said. “I’ve built some stands so they are a little bit off the deck of the boat. I run one in the front of the boat and one in the back. “I don’t think they are drawing the fish. It’s mainly for my convenience so that I can see a little better.”
Adams uses the same type of light often employed by bass fishermen. “Personally, I use the black light with the blue, glow-in-the-dark line,” he said. “It’s really for me and my eyes. I like to see that line jump in the black light.”
Proper clothing is another important accessory. “If you don’t dress properly, you are going to be cold,” Yelverton said. Yelverton said he has never experienced weather conditions that were too cold for the crappie, thus the need for quality winter clothing.
Adams also stressed wearing the proper clothing but noted that the conditions at times become more comfortable when a heavy daytime wind dies after dark. He said he prefers to fish when the air temperature is 38 degrees to the lower 50s.
Applications on Other Waters
While night fishing for crappie is the norm on Lake Guntersville in the winter, the practice does not appear to translate as well to other waters across north Alabama.
When asked about cold night fishing, long-time Weiss Lake guide Darrell Baker (www.weisslakecrappieguides.com, 256.557.0129) says, “No, I don’t do it. It is cold enough fishing (in the winter) when the sun is up. I don’t know of anyone that does it over this way. I’m just familiar with the bridge fishing around Guntersville.”
Baker is not alone in his assessment. Other crappie fanatics generally ignore the night-time approach whether on Lake Guntersville or elsewhere.
“Why it is, I don’t know,” Yelverton said. “I’ve talked with a lot of people, and I don’t know anyone on other lakes that crappie fishes at night in the winter. It’s a regular thing on Guntersville, either on the bluffs or on the bridges.”
Would it work elsewhere? The answer is a vague probably, and likely there are some secretive crappie fishermen on other lakes who catch crappie at night at this time of year. Certainly, experienced fishermen could likely catch cold-weather crappie at night given similar water and weather conditions.
“Guntersville is about the only place that I fish now, so I can’t really say,” Adams said. Despite the novelty, crappie fishing is a definite option on Guntersville. Not only does the after-dark fishing produce good numbers, both Yelverton and Adams said they boat some of their biggest crappie at night.
So, here’s a New Year’s resolution for fishing Lake Guntersville. Have a cold, crappie night! In this case, it might just be worth it.