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March 4, 2021 Comments Off on A feel for light bites: Angler has a knack for cold water crappie Featured, Fishing, Latest, On The Water

A feel for light bites: Angler has a knack for cold water crappie

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

The jig is up when it comes to fishing at Lake Elmdale.

Small jigs are the lure of choice for Mike McBride when it comes to catching crappie during winter at any waterway. McBride, of Winslow, bundles up and gives the crappie a go when the water is the coldest of the year.

McBride catches a crappie Feb. 5 2021 near the intake tower at Lake Elmdale.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

The water temperature was a chilly 41 degrees and the air a tad above freezing when McBride launched his aluminum boat at Lake Elmdale in early February. The 200-acre Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lake is sandwiched between Elm Springs and Springdale. Lake Elmdale takes its name from both cities. Game and Fish built the lake in 1953.

The screen on McBride’s sophisticated fish finder showed a school of crappie lounging 30 feet deep near the dam. Getting them to bite is the challenge.

“They’re real slow and sluggish in water this cold,” McBride said.

Some bites are so light it’s nearly impossible to feel the nibble, he added. He’s got two weapons in his bag of fishing tricks to outwit these light biters.

Small jigs are the preferred lure of many crappie anglers.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

One, McBride lightly holds his fishing line in his fingers near the reel. A tiny peck might telegraph its way up the line so McBride can feel the tap. That’s not always the case. Trick No. 2 is his high-tech fish-finder unit equipped with the most up-to-date features in fishing electronics.

The unit shows schools of fish in such detail that McBride can count how many fish are in the school. The screen shows structure on the bottom in high definition as well. A Christmas tree looks like a Christmas tree. A pile of tree branches looks like a pile of branches.

McBride can actually see his jig on the screen and watch a fish come up and look at the jig, ignore it or bite it.

“There’s been times I’ve watched a fish bite my jig, but I won’t feel a thing,” he said. “That makes me think of how many hundreds of fish I’ve missed in my lifetime, not even knowing that they’d bit.”

Crappie were more eager to bite in the morning on Feb. 5 2021 at Lake Elmdale.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

One thing no fish-finder unit can do is make fish bite. On this winter day at Lake Elmdale, McBride watched on the screen while his jig sank right through a school of two dozen crappie. Nary a fish came to bite.

That prompted a move to another area of the lake in search of more cooperative fish.

“Looks like there’s a bunch holding 15 to 20 feet deep right here,” McBride said, eyeing his screen.

The angler lowered his jig vertically over the side of the boat and danced it up and down. The bite was just a peck, but McBride swung his first crappie into the boat.

When he called it a day around noon, eight crappie swam in McBride’s livewell, enough for a feast of freshfried crappie filets.

McBride bundled up to catch crappie on Feb. 5 2021 at Lake Elmdale.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Lake Elmdale is a popular destination for anglers in hot pursuit of crappie, said Jon Stein, Northwest Arkansas fisheries supervisor for Game and Fish and a fisheries biologist. The fish like to be around wood cover, so Game and Fish sank 10 piles of cedar trees and Christmas trees in the lake to attract crappie and other game fish.

Some of these fish attractors are close to the public fishing dock next to the boat launch ramp.

Crappie reproduce naturally, but some are stocked at Lake Elmdale to increase their numbers. Stocked fish in recent years are about 5 inches long, Stein said. They’ll be8 to 11 inches in a year or two. There’s no size limit at Lake Elmdale. The daily limit is 30 crappie.

McBride favors crappie jigs that are 1/16th-ounce in size. His favorite colors are blue body with a white tail, black body with a chartreuse tail or light blue. His reels are spooled with 4-pound test monofilament line.

A tug from a feisty crappie warms a winter day at Lake Elmdale or any Ozarks waterway.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at or on Twitter @NWAFlip.