I don't fish much for crappie except this time of year. In the mid 1970's when I got my first paper graph I explored Germany Creek at Clark's Hill with it and found a couple of isolated trees standing on the edge of the channel in about 40 feet of water. These trees, unlike several others in the area, topped out 15 feet below the surface and were never exposed during the winter drawdown of six to ten feet. That meant they were never fished like the trees that stuck out of the water part of the year and got marked by fishermen.
The crappie holding in these trees will hit a small 1/16ths ounce jig dropped down to them this time of year. The first time I really got on them, my mother and I fished for three hours and brought in 68 weighing 78 pounds. We had an even dozen that weighed over two pounds each. That was a pile of big crappie!
The best method then and since has been to get right on top of the tree and drop a jig down to the fish. With a good depth finder you can see the fish in the tree and fish at that depth. If no fish show up, 11 feet seems to be a "magic" depth for me and is where I always start. I use a spinning reel loaded with six pound line and a limber rod to make it even more fun. Keep a rubber band on the butt of the rod and slip it over the spool when you find the right depth. This allows you to quickly drop your jig back to that depth after catching a fish.
Ride the creek channel edges and watch a depthfinder carefully to find hidden trees full of fish. When most lakes were built years ago, the trees right on the channel edges were hard to get to and some were left standing. They are the ones you want to find.
Hybrids also hit when you get right on top of them and drop a spoon to them. I use a heavier outfit because they fight so hard but, it you know fish are there and they just will not hit a spoon, try your crappie jig. You will be bit when no one else is having any luck, and you will be in for the fight of your life if you hook a five pound plus hybrid on your light outfit. It took me over 15 minutes to land a six pounder last Thanksgiving!
To find the schools of hybrids, watch for gulls. When the hybrids are feeding the gulls will circle over them, eating the injured shad and locating the fish for you. Note any underwater structure they are feeding over. When the feed is over, the hybrids will often hold on points and humps and you can entice them to hit even when not actively feeding. Ride these shallow spots with your depthfinder and watch for fish near the bottom. If you see fish suspended over deep water, they are less likely to hit and are harder to jig for. You might try trolling a plug that runs at the depth they are holding for them.
If its largemouth bass you want this time of year, you will have to work harder for them. Working shallow brush and rocks will produce fish but you will not get many strikes. The few you do get will usually include one from a big bass, though. I watched a club tournament weigh-in last Saturday and the top three fishermen had seven fish limits weighing over 15 pounds. There were two bass over five pounds included in those 21 bass. A crankbait worked over and through rocks and wood structure will make a bass hit. Make several casts to the same place since these cold-blooded fish will be sluggish in the cold water. Offer them an easy meal they don't have to work for. Bass, especially the big ones, want something they can eat without much effort. The best bait I have found for big bass this time of year is a jig and pig. I like to work it through rock piles and around brush and trees in the water, the same place I fish a crankbait. You can fish it slowly and the big bass seem to be especially fond of it. It is supposed to look like a crayfish, just about the favorite food of bass. Give them a chance to eat it.
It may seem too cold to go fishing but a great ole big un stretching your string makes it worth the effort - and it gets a lot warmer while you are fighting a fish. Give it a try and let me know how you do.