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DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: Winter crappie fishing fills the freezer

Brandon Butler, bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com
Brandon Butler, Kris Nelson and Nathan “Shags” McLeod with stringers of cold water crappie and white bass.

A little over a year ago, Nathan “Shags” McLeod and I fished winter crappie with Kris Nelson for the first time on Pomme de Terre Lake. That trip spoiled us. In just under an hour, all three of us were able to boat our 15-fish limit. Shags and I returned last week, and learned it’s not always that easy. Yet, with some added effort Nelson still guided us to two stringers full of fish.

Fish filets from cold water just taste better to me. I know a lot of folks agree. When it comes time to fill my freezer, I like to do so in the winter months. Here in the Midwest, crappie are a go to resource for bags of filets. Putting work in during winter pays off when you’re frying fish in the summer.

Nelson and his wife, Amanda, own and operate Stone Creek Lodge on Stockton Lake in Southwest Missouri and their guide service Tandem Fly Outfitters. Nelson has been a captain in the Florida Keys fishing offshore for various species and a fly fishing guide for trout on Lake Taneycomo. He is one of the most knowledgeable fishermen I know, and great guy everyone just enjoys being around.

“I am happy with the idea of fishing for crappie and walleye on these reservoirs for the rest of my life,” Nelson said. “Figuring out these fish and watching my clients’ excitement over catching them is what it’s all about for me. There’s nothing like the thump of a crappie bite.”

Last year, Nelson pulled us up over brush and we vertically jigged. The action was so hot, I landed seven slab crappie on seven consecutive drops, which is what Nelson calls lowering your jig down vertically. This year, it wasn’t so easy.

“When you guys were here last year in December, the water temperature was around 43 or 44 degrees. This crappie were still up on the brush. Today, the water temperature is 39 degrees. They have slid off into deeper water where they are suspending on channels. It takes more work, but we’ll still get them,” Nelson said.

He was right. We still caught a mess of fish, but we had to work a little harder for them. Nelson would locate a school on his high-tech electronics, and position us a little ways away from them. He said the fish are finicky and setting up right over them shuts down the bite. We’d throw our jigs past the brush, then let them sink and swing back towards the boat. The key was having no slack in your line and watching for it to twitch. When the line moved where it met the water, you set the hook. Usually, another slab was then on the line.

The tactics we employed to fill his boat with big, cold water crappies could be used on any lake or reservoir with adequate brush. We were using basic medium-light spinning rods with 6-lb test line, and a 1/16th ounce jig head with a blue and gray plastic body.

Another point I’d like to make, is that Kris and so many fishing guides and outfitters like him, are small business owners. He and his wife have worked so hard to develop their lodge into a wonderful family friendly resort, and it has taken years for him to build up his clientele for the guide service. In 2020, they lost 85 percent of their business. Many of the people who book trips to come stay and fish with the Nelson’s are between 60 and 80 years old, the demographic most affected by COVID. Rightfully so, most of those folks canceled their trips and didn’t travel.

The Nelson’s did not receive any financial support from the government. They applied for help, but it never came. If you have ever wanted to go fishing with a guide, who will not only show you a great time and send you home with a mess of fish, but will also teach you a lot about fishing, now’s the time. If you book with Nelson, you’re not just going fishing, you’re helping a wonderful family who is doing everything they can to keep their small business alive during a very trying time. Look Nelson up on Facebook at Tandem Fly Outfitters, or give him a call. His phone number is (417) 839-2762. I hope you’ll contact him and book a trip today.

See you down the trail...

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