Autumn is a golden season for crappie fishing fans. Summer’s crowds have vanished. Lakes, ponds and rivers shimmer beneath canopies of vermilion and amber leaves. Summer-fattened crappie are ravenous and in prime condition, offering exciting possibilities for action-hungry anglers.
This season offers some of the year’s best crappie angling if you learn some tips that will help you find and tempt these silvery panfish. Read on, and you will.
Shallow Water Wading
Crappie often move to extreme shallows, water barely deep enough to cover them, as the water temperature cools in fall. You may catch more if you don a set of waders and carefully make your way to edge areas fringed with inundated brush, willows or grass. Use a 12- to 14-foot jigging pole, pull the jig to the tip, then after positioning the jig over a hole in the cover, lower the jig into the crappie hideout.
Try trolling with jigs to find often-scattered schools of autumn crappie. This tactic works best if you periodically change your trolling speed and the size of jig you use. Start with a 1/32-ounce jig and a fast trolling speed. This will find crappie in shallow water. If that doesn’t work, try a 1/16-ounce jig and a medium trolling speed to look for crappie in mid-depths. If necessary, change again, to a 1/8-ounce jig and a medium-slow speed, then a 1/8-ounce jig and a very slow speed.
Autumn crappie often suspend in open water near tributary mouths. To find them, watch for schooling fish that show up as “boomerangs” on your sonar. To catch them, troll crankbaits instead of jigs. Use a 1/4- to 1/8-ounce shad-imitation diver. Silver works great on sunny days and in clear water. If the sky is overcast, or the water is murky, switch to hot colors such as chartreuse.
Back Out With the Fish
When fishing a reservoir that has current caused by power generation, it pays to observe changes in the amount of current. Crappie may be in as little as 4 to 5 feet of water when current is minimal, but when power generation increases and current is high, crappie will move out to structures 10 to 20 feet deep. In the latter situation, work offshore cover, positioning your boat directly above and dropping minnows straight down. Or back off and cast 1/8-ounce jigs dressed with curly-tailed grubs or tubes.
Get to the Point
If the water level starts dropping fast due to power generation, try fishing points using small in-line or safety-pin spinners. Retrieve the lure with an up-and-down “yo-yo” motion, or buzz it along the surface and allow it to fall or “die” right beside the cover. Position your boat in deep water and cast toward the shallow part of the point, or vice versa.
Sliders for Stumps
Stump fields in mid-depths are prime holding areas for fall crappie, but stumps often gobble up so many tube jigs that you’re doing more tying than fishing. In this situation, try a weedless jig such as Charlie Brewer’s Weedless Crappie Slider. Cast past the stumps, let the lure settle, then retrieve the lure slow and steady. If you hit wood before catching a crappie, continue your retrieve, allowing the jig to bump over the wood. Most times, you’ll be able to work the lure in this fashion without hang-ups to catch more fish.
If you pinpoint feeding crappie near schools of surface-running shad, a common occurrence in fall, try casting a 1/32-ounce jig tied above a 1/8-ounce jig with a small safety-pin spinner. The heavier jig stays well beneath the upper lure at a level where larger crappie are often holding. Double hookups are common.
Fish Windward Shores
Wind can be an important factor in determining where you’re most likely to find early fall crappie. Wind pushes tiny invertebrates that minnows and other baitfish eat. If there’s a westerly wind for a couple of days, an east-shore area could hold the most fish, or vice versa. Consequently, you should always give wind-hit areas your full attention.
“See” Edges that are Out of Sight
Fall crappie often hold along creek channel drop-offs and other edge areas. You’ll be able to fish such a location better if you mark it with a several buoys. Locate the drop-off with sonar, then slowly follow the edge. Throw out a marker buoy each time you cross a certain depth—10 feet, for instance. Continue placing the buoys, about 20 feet apart, until you’ve used them all. Now you have a visible image of the edge, and can fish it more thoroughly for crappie.
“Don’t give up on a previously productive fishing spot too quick,” a crappie guide once told me. He noted that autumn crappie are often finicky, and just want something different. Try changing jig colors or body styles. Use minnows instead of jigs, or vice versa. Try a fast retrieve instead of a slow one. Switch to lighter line. “If the structure you’re fishing has given up some nice slabs on previous trips during the same season,” the guide said, “it should do so again if you can determine the best fishing pattern.”