John's Journal...

Wake Up to 2:00 AM Cold Weather Crappie Fishing at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville

Day 4: How to Set-Up to Catch Wintertime Crappie Under Lake Guntersville Bridges

Editor’s Note: No one really wants to get up at 2:00 am on a cold morning, dress like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and go out on any lake in pitch-black dark. The only reason to answer that 2:00 am alarm is the vision of big slab crappie coming to your dip net on almost every cast at Lake Guntersville.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewLocal restaurants and bait shops at Guntersville have long known the amount of business they can do if they stay open all night. They know there will be a line of crappie fishermen at bait shop counters buying minnows and jigs. And, like avid crappie angler Lawrence Shepherd (see Day 2) says, “If you don’t arrive at the lake early and get a spot you want to fish, there’ll be so many boats and so many people around the bridges and culverts that you may not be able to fish one of the best spots.”

The best spots under the bridges for the boat fishermen are about 6- to 10-yards from one of the bridge pilings. By parking your boat near the pilings, you can cast to the pilings or fish parallel to the pilings, depending on how you set your boat up. If current is running under the bridge, you may want to let your jig or minnow run from the upside of the current down the side of the piling and into the eddy area just behind the piling on the down-current side. “The first time I fished with the Shepherds (Lawrence and his son Kevin) and Calvin McLaughlin, I consistently caught the most crappie by casting to a little offset of the bridge piling on the down-current side and to the eddy area right behind the pilings,” Captain Phillip Criss, a bass and crappie guide at Lake Guntersville, told me. “I like to fish with Punisher ( hair jigs, because I believe the crappie will take the hair jigs more readily than they will soft-plastic jigs.” Kevin Shepherd explains, “By fishing the jigs, I'm not constantly getting my hands wet and cold baiting with minnows. However, when the crappie are really biting in cold weather, they seem to take minnows and jigs equally well. We always bring a bucket of minnows with us every night we fish the bridges, because we never know whether the crappie will bite better on minnows, jigs or jigs tipped with minnows. We don’t want to come out here to fish and not have the right bait.”

Positioning your boat so that you can fish the bridge pilings requires some special equipment, since there's no way to tie-up your boat to keep it in the right place to consistently fish the bridge pilings. “We use large C-clamps and tighten the C-clamps down on the lip of the steel girders under the bridges,” longtime, avid crappie fisherman Calvin McLaughlin says. “Once we have the C-clamps tightened down to the steel beams, we tie our bow rope on to one C-clamp and tie our stern rope onto the C-clamp that we've placed above the back of the boat. By using this system of C-clamps and ropes, we can hold our boat all night long in exactly the spot we want to fish for crappie. After we’ve secured the boat with the C-clamps, we use additional C-clamps on the I-beams to hang lanterns above, on the back of, in the front of and on both sides of the boat to see better how and where to cast and how to land our crappie. With the lanterns, we can watch our lines and see the slightest twitch on the lines when the crappie attack the jigs or the minnows.”

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewI asked McLaughlin why the fishermen didn’t hang their lanterns beside the boats to attract bait fish. He explained, “We used to fish that way, but we discovered that when we hung the lights down close to the water and beside the boat, we attracted more trash fish - like white bass, catfish, bluegills and largemouths - than we did when we hung the lanterns high above the boats.” Too, anglers fishing on the outside points of culverts and bridges use Power Poles ( or anchors on the backs of their boats to hold their boats in position. Then, they can cast to the rocky points just off the current of the culverts.

On the early Saturday morning I fished at Lake Guntersville, two bass tournaments were being held there. As soon as the bass boats blasted off from the Goose Pond ( boat ramp, I noticed about a dozen or more boats stopped just down-current of the bridge where we were fishing. They began to cast into the large schools of shad that were feeding behind the bridge pilings. While we were catching crappie under the bridge, the bass fishermen were catching bass using lipless crankbaits - like the Rat-L-Trap and Strike King’s Redeye Shad – as well as flutter spoons and buzzbaits.

To contact Captain Phillip Criss about fishing Lake Guntersville, call him at 205-461-5549, or email him at

To learn much more about crappie fishing, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBooks and some print books, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall & Winter,” “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer” and “Catch Cold Water Crappie Now” by clicking on each, or go to, type in the name of the book, and download it to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.

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About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: How to Fish the Culverts and Secret Places at Lake Guntersville for Wintertime Crappie

Check back each day this week for more about Wake Up to 2:00 AM Cold Weather Crappie Fishing at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville"

Day 1: Answering the 2:00 AM Cold Weather Crappie Fishing Alarm at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville
Day 2: Three Lake Guntersville Anglers Explain the Outstanding Wintertime Crappie Fishing There Even in Cold and Nasty Weather
Day 3: Why Fish Around the Bridges and Culverts for Crappie in the Winter Months at Lake Guntersville
Day 4: How to Set-Up to Catch Wintertime Crappie Under Lake Guntersville Bridges
Day 5: How to Fish the Culverts and Secret Places at Lake Guntersville for Wintertime Crappie

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Entry 799, Day 4