Winter Crappie: Sharpening Spring Techniques With Cold-Weather Slabs.

By Mike Roux

Not everyone loves to hunt as the weather turns cooler and even cold.  Many die hard anglers find ways to make winter fishing trips and keep fresh fillets in the skillet all winter.  Recently I hooked-up (no pun intended) with one such guy.  This energetic, knowledgeable young man does not hunt.  He does not even fish for bass or catfish.  Reagan Smith, of Tremont, is obsessed with crappie and white bass in central-Illinois.  Reagan is the owner/operator of REAG’S GUIDE SERVICE.

Smith, a licensed fishing guide certified by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, guides on several regional lakes. I met him last week at Clinton Lake.  Besides Clinton, Reagan also has experience fishing at Lake Springfield, Banner Marsh, Evergreen, Sangchris and Lake Shelbyville.  So regardless of where you are located in the central part of The Prairie State, he can get you on the crappie.

When I met Reagan at Clinton he was accompanied by his good friend and sponsor Erik Zimmerman.  The three of us were going to try to put 3 limits of crappie in the boat that morning.  The size limit on Clinton is 9-inches and the daily bag limit is 15-crappie per angler.  

Smith’s plan for us was to use minnows under slip bobbers.  He set our rigs at about 18-inches.  We would be fishing in 6 to 10-feet of water, but the fish were suspended somewhere in between.  As Reagan told us, the crappie feed from the bottom up.  He was spot on every aspect of this rip.

Our young guide took us to the west side of the main lake so the morning sun would be on the rip rap on that shore.  As the sun warmed the boulders the water there also warmed, attracting the crappie.  I was lucky and drew first blood.  Unfortunately it was only 8 3/4-inches long.  Back in it went.  Soon after that Reagan found the fish.

As we all three worked the rip rap Smith put four keepers in the boat in as many casts.  Erik too found the fish and his live well got some customers.  Finally I got on them and we had several doubles throughout the morning.  

Smith’s boat is an 18-foot boat pushed by a 115HP motor with a trolling motor on the front.  This boat was very comfortable for the three of us and I think four could fish out of it easily.  This is because casting for crappie is totally different from casting for bass.

Another cool thing about Smith’s service is that all you really have to bring is your camera and your lunch.  He can furnish rods, reels, both live and artificial baits and even cleans your catch for you.  If you choose to use your own gear, that is fine, as well.

We were working close to getting 45-crappie limit we were after.  We had caught a few shorts but the vast majority of our fish were legal keepers and most were between 10 and 11-inches.  Erik took the price for the big fish of the morning with a black crappie that measured just a hair over a foot long.


Clinton Trio Crappie
Our crappie fishing trio had a great day last week on Clinton Lake.


Even with a break for lunch we caught 45 keepers in just under three hours.  That is a limit and hour.  It may not be a record but it is a pretty darn good average.  Along with the crappie we also caught bluegill, largemouth bass, white bass and even a drum.  It was an amazing morning on Clinton Lake.

Reagan Smith can take up to four fishermen at a time and guides on the above mentioned waters 12-months a year, depending upon weather and ice conditions.  He can be reached at or call him at 309-642-8106.  Tell him Mike sent you.  You will be glad you did.


FCA PheasantMike Roux  has more than 4 decades of experience as an outdoor writer and communicator. See more about Mike Roux at his Field Writer Bio.

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