CLINTON — Truman Lake was recently no place for a fair-weather fisherman. When Charlie Rogers pulled up to a boat ramp on the sprawling reservoir in west-central Missouri, he was greeted by sub-freezing temperatures, a cold wind and ice that covered parts of the big water.
Nightmare conditions to some. But perfect for Rogers.
"A lot of people think of spring when they think of crappie fishing," Rogers said as he prepared for a cold ride across the lake. "But in my opinion, that's the very worst time of the year. One cold front and those fish that had been on the banks spawning will be gone.
"This is the time of the year I like to go. The fish get schooled up in the winter. And the fishing will stay consistent.
"If you can find 'em, you can catch a lot of fish. It's not uncommon at all to pull in 50 crappies or more on a day like this."
Frigid weather, hot fishing. That's the life of a crappie fisherman in the winter.
When the water temperature dips down into the 30s and winter puts a layer of ice on Truman's creeks and coves, Rogers knows it's time to go fishing.
He piles on layers of clothes, puts on a motorcycle helmet to protect his face and heads out.
But Rogers often finds antifreeze in the fishing he encounters. Like on a recent Tuesday.
Moments after he had pulled his boat into the Big Tebo arm of Truman Lake, he glanced at the electronic locator on his boat and spotted what he wanted to see — a screen filled with the marks of fish.
"They're suspended in this timber," he said. "This is a good spot because we're not too far from the channel.
"In the winter, they like to be close to deep water. They'll move up to this cover along the channel to feed, then they'll drop back again."
Rogers used his 10-foot-long fishing rod to drop a pink jig into the frigid water, then held it steady for several seconds before bouncing it slightly. When he felt a faint tap, he set the hook and watched his light-action rod bow sharply.
Moments later, he had a 10-inch crappie — the first of many — in the boat. A half-hour later, Rogers had caught 17 fish out of that same tree.
But that was only the start. When the action in the Big Tebo arm slacked, he relocated to the Grand arm and headed for some spots where Rogers had sunk brush in the past.
Those spots immediately paid off. Fishing eight or nine feet down in 15 feet of water, Rogers began catching crappies, one after the other.
He tossed most of those crappies back, but Rogers kept a few to eat.
Years ago, such success might have opened eyes. When Rogers first started fishing during the winter, he didn't have a lot of company on the water.
Now, the word is out. When there is open water, there likely will be other boats on the water.
Rogers, a home builder who lives in Peculiar, has perfected his winter fishing techniques. He always fishes vertically, using his long fishing rod to dip 1/8th-ounce jigs around the stumps and timber.
He uses braided 15-pound test line that is strong enough to pull the crappies out of the heavy brush yet sensitive enough to feel the faintest bites.
He regards his reel as nothing more than a line holder. Once he determines the depth where the crappies are holding, he will strip out the necessary amount of line and never touch his reel.
He holds the rod with one hand and uses the other to slowly pull the line to the side and raise the jig. Many of his hits come as that lure is slowly ascending.
It's a method that has served Rogers well over the years. He and his son, Kevin, team up for crappie tournaments, and they have done well on the national stage. They won the Crappie Masters Ultimate Challenge National Championship — a tournament in which fishermen are limited to only one rod and artificial baits — in 2008.
The Rogers also finished eighth in last year's Crappie Masters Championship, and Charlie Rogers estimates the father-and-son team has qualified for at least 20 national championship tournamentson various circuits.
Charlie Rogers laughs when he looks back on how far he has come with his winter fishing.
"I got started when I heard that some guys were catching crappies off the docks at Lake Jacomo," he said. "I went down there and I followed what a lot of them were doing. I used a four-foot rod with sewing thread for line and 1/100th-ounce jigs, and caught some nice-sized fish.
"Look at what I use now — a 10-foot rod, 15-pound-test line and 1/8th-ounce jigs. But it works."
Rogers glanced at the temperature gauge on his boat and reflected on a day of fishing on the edge.
"Thirty-three degrees," he said. "Not far from freezing.
"But as long as this water stays open, we'll catch fish."