Crappie are well-established in their winter pattern during the month of January until mid-February, when they begin to move. Typically, this means they are oriented to structure in water depths ranging from 15 to 35 feet in many South Carolina reservoirs.
Favorite locations for winter crappie include drop-offs along the main channel, the mouths of major tributary creeks or the slopes of mid-lake points or humps. Look for crappie to hold on the lee side of any available structure or bottom contours when water is running through the dam. Think about old standing timber and any location you find baitfish congregated around old wood.
Seasonal weather fronts may cause crappie to sink lower in the water column. Fish are often caught with muddy fins, suggesting that crappie lie on the bottom of the lake during drastic barometric changes.
Targeting winter crappie is a matter of vertical presentations of either live or artificial baits or combinations of the two. This approach can be accomplished by single-pole vertical jigging or using a spider rig, multiple-rod approach while slow-trolling or drifting over likely structure. Look for bites to be exceptionally soft, requiring the angler to feel for the bite with rod in hand or watch for slight variations in the movement of the line.
Marking fish on a depth finder may or may not be possible with fish holding tight to structure. In many cases, graphed fish will be white perch in addition to or instead of crappie. Anglers using live bait will have a mixed bag of crappie and white perch, and few will complain about the mix.