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story.lead_photo.caption Brandon Butler, Kris Nelson and Nathan "Shags" McLeod show off their three-man limit of 45 crappie caught in two hours. Photo by Contributed photo
Brandon Butler
December is typically not considered a top crappie fishing month, but after boating 90 slabs in a total of three hours in two days, my annual angling calendar is from now on going to include a few Christmas-time crappie trips.

With giant snowflakes falling all around, we wore them out over sunk brush.

Kris and Amanda Nelson own and operate Tandem Fly Outfitters and Stone Creek Resort on Stockton Lake. Kris is an expert fishing guide on Stockton, as well as Pomme de Terre Lake. However, the tactics we employed to fill his boat with big, cold-water, winter-time crappies could be used on any lake or reservoir with adequate brush, including Truman, Mark Twain and Lake of the Ozarks.

I'm pretty old school in my outdoor pursuits. I've bought and sold a couple of handheld GPS units through the years, because it was just too much work figuring out how to use them. Paper maps have never failed me.

As technology continues to encroach on fishing and hunting, I usually find myself drawing away from those advancements. But when it comes to electronics on boats, what we used to call fish finders, flashers or graphs, the incredible advantages the newer computer-like units provide are great enough to even convince a guy like me learning how to use them is worth the time, effort and cost.

Nelson, and other professional guides like him, make their living based on knowing where the fish are and how to catch them. Modern electronics make the job easier.

Nelson has more than 800 waypoints saved on his unit that mark sunken brush piles. With years of experience, he has learned when the crappie will be in certain areas, responding to certain tactics. It couldn't have been much easier on this trip, which took place on Pomme de Terre.

With the temperature outside below freezing, none of us were up for a long boat ride. Thankfully, one wasn't necessary.

We didn't motor more than a few hundred yards from the boat ramp before Nelson put the trolling motor down and began checking brush for fish. Almost immediately, he found them hanging in 15 feet of water surrounding a giant brush pile.

The fishing couldn't have been any simpler. We were using basic medium light spinning rods with 6-pound test line, dropping a 1/16th ounce Jakked Baits jig head with a plastic body down to the top of the brush and very, very slowly raising it up. Not jigging. Just raising it as slowly as you possibly could. The fish aren't super aggressive in 44-degree water, but they'll eat.

We could have caught all our fish off one pile, but Nelson likes to spread out the harvest.

We moved from brush to brush until we found ourselves in a position with piles on multiple sides of the boat. I found a sweet spot where I'd cast my jig 20 yards toward the shore into shallower water and let it freefall back to the boat. The bite was so lite it couldn't be felt, but by watching the line, a twitch indicating a fish had bit could be seen.

I caught seven slab crappie in seven casts. That was nearly half of my 15-fish limit in less than five minutes.

December is usually reserved for duck hunting, late season deer and chasing rabbits. It's the tail end of hunting season. I'm guilty of overlooking the fishing opportunities winter provide. But as a guy who loves a good fish fry as much as anything else on Earth, I was giddy to fill my freezer with cold-water crappie filets.

Come summer, when we're sitting on the porch enjoying these filets, I'll be thinking ahead to a few winter crappie fishing trips.

Don't write off winter fishing, especially for crappie. Once located, they are easy to catch this time of year. And the filets are an absolute delicacy when coming from cold water. To me, cold water filets seem meatier and sweeter. If you want to fill your freezer with a couple of limits of crappie, get a hold of Kris through his website, www.tandemflyoutfitters.com, or give him a call at 417-839-2762.

On a trip with Kris, you can count on catching a lot of fish. And the accommodations at Stoney Creek Lodge are perfect for a fishing camp. All you have to do is get there. Everything else, including fish cleaning services, is provided for you.

See you down the trail.

III

Brandon Butler, the director of communications for Roeslein Alternative Energy, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected]

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