It was 19 degrees that January day in 1988. Deer season was over and we had bad, cabin fever. The late Harold Dotson and I were shivering the rivets out of his boat as we fished Dale Hollow.
We had one of those useless, propane heaters that was all the rage, back then. I had my feet on top of it. Every two or three casts, we dipped our rods in the water to get the ice out of the guides. Then, we wiped our running noses and weeping eyes and cast.
This was well before the float and fly. We were throwing 1/16-ounce, white/yellow hair flies on 4# mono. We would cast as far as we could and let the fly sink to 15 feet or so, then start a very slow retrieve.
We caught as many smallmouth as we could stand before hypothermia set in. It was a lot. Couple good'uns, too.
Fast forward a few years to a similar day on Center Hill. Same boat, roughly same weather. We are in the mouth of Indian Creek, where Jones Creek runs into it. This day, we had 1/16-ounce SlapHappy jigs in white on the same, 4#-mono.
We had the boat in 15 feet of cold water and were casting into about nine-feet. Again, let it sink, very slow retrieve. About every third cast-bang! Fish on. But this time, we were catching crappie and a lot of them. Big ones, too. There was a huge tree down there, under about eight feet of water. Somehow, it fallen just perfectly on the edge of a drop-off. Never did know how that happened.
A lot of advancements have been made in cold weather fishing since those days; better clothes, better heaters, better tackle and most of all better electronics.
I have known for some time, you can catch fish, big fish and lots of fish well before the spring, pre-spawn. I just don't like cold weather enough to do it anymore. Even these occasional warm day like today, are not enough to get me out in a boat, as a rule. But I know a guy that does.
Richard Simms owns and operates Scenic City Charters, a freshwater fishing guide service based in Chattanooga. I have mentioned him several times.
He guides mostly on Chickamauga and knows it well. So, I asked him about fishing in January.
It was January 1st, New Year's Day, about 10 years ago. Me and a friend were off work for the Holiday and bored stiff.
He and I routinely liked to long-line troll for pre-spawn crappie. March was always the peak month for us, but we often started catching a decent number of crappie in February. For some off reason, on this New Year's Day, we decided to go give it a try.
You could have knocked us over with a feather when, after about four hours, we had two limits of monster white crappie swimming in the livewell. All caught long-line trolling tiny jigs in 8 to 11 feet of water. It was cold as geewillikers. I don't remember exactly, but I'm guessing the water temperatures were in the high 40's.
We were shocked for two reasons... 1) that we caught such a huge number of fish at all, and 2) that they were all white crappie.
The predominant species in Chickamauga Lake is black crappie, but we didn't catch a single one. They were all white crappie that for whatever reason had moved up onto a spawning flat.
I don't think I've repeated that experience since, but rarely try since I'm usually still duck hunting at that time. However we do routinely catch great numbers of crappie longline trolling in February, long before most anglers ever think about serious crappie fishing. In fact it's not unusual to go through a hot streak in February, and then the fishing slows down for a few weeks until the March, "pre-spawn" peak occurs.
Bottom line, don't think it is ever too early in the year to try some of your traditional late-winter, early-spring crappie techniques. You might be surprised.
You can contact Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 423-509-4655.
So although it may still be just a tad chilly, fish can be caught.
The key is go with smaller lures and slow down. Heck, even Judge David Durham caught a 5#-plus bass last January 30. But be warned, you never know what is going to hit. It could be a 34# drum.
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