When November rolls around, days grow shorter and nights grow longer. The water temperature drops, and as favorable oxygen levels return throughout the water column, crappie start roaming like nomads. One day they’re deep, the next day they’re shallow, and the day after that they’re suspended at mid-depths. Pinpointing schools can be as frustrating as trying to fillet a fish with a butter knife.
So what’s an angler to do? One good idea is consulting with folks who are on the water more than most this season – folks like fishing guides and pro anglers. Years of experience give these fishermen a special knack for dealing with tough situations this time of year. When fishing gets difficult, they employ specialized tactics that can turn a potentially dismal day into a memorable crappie-catching experience. Here are some of those tactics that can help you catch more crappie this November.
Find the Baitfish
Gilford “Sonny” Sipes of Moody, Alabama, has won just about every national and regional crappie tournament there is. When he fishes for November crappie, he often starts by finding baitfish.
“November crappie often will be with baitfish such as small shad,” he says. “As nights get cooler, baitfish move shallower, often into water just 8 to 10 feet deep. To find them, be on a lake at dawn and look for shad flickering and schooling on top of the water. When you find baitfish, you can troll in that area to catch crappie that are with them.”
Sipes trolls with eight B’n’M Pro Staff trolling rods, each with a tandem rig using both live bait and a lure. On top is tied a No. 1, Blood-Red Tru-Turn Aberdeen hook baited with a live minnow. Two feet below this is tied a Blakemore Road Runner spinner.
“When I find the shad, I troll through the area with these rigs, adjusting the depth of the lures as the sun rises,” Sipes says. “Before the sun is up, I keep the rigs shallower because feeding crappie will be right under the baitfish, which are at the surface. When the sun rises above the horizon, both the baitfish and crappie leave the surface and move deeper, so I adjust the depth of the rigs so they’re deeper, too. This way, I can stay on crappie throughout early morning and enjoy good fishing even during this tough time of year.”
November fishing can be extra-tough on the northern canal lakes frequented by fishermen such as Russ Bailey, a pro angler/crappie guide from St. Mary’s, Ohio. These waters, built in the 1800s to support canal systems, are shallow and bowl-shaped, with little natural cover and no drop-offs, ledges or channels to which transition crappie normally relate. Although they’re often brimming with slabs, fishing them presents special challenges.
Master crappie angler Russ Bailey demonstrates how to “shoot” a lure under a pontoon boat. Shallow, shady water beneath these boats is very attractive to November crappie in northern canal lakes that have little bottom variation.
“Shooting pontoons is my favorite technique on these lakes during the transition period,” says Bailey. “Pontoon boats provide shade attractive to crappie that have started moving back into the shallows. To catch these fish, I use B’n’M Poles’ 5 1/2-foot Sharpshooter rod and a spinning reel spooled with 6-pound-test, Hi-Vis Yellow Sufix line. My lure is a 1/32-ounce Blakemore Road Runner head with a Hot Grub body by Southern Pro Lures.”
Shooting requires practice to perfect but is easy to learn, Bailey says. The angler pinches the lure carefully, pulls the rod back like a bow, aims and releases, letting the lure fly beneath the structure.
“Most pontoons are situated with their front against the sea walls,” says Bailey. “This leaves the back of the pontoon area for you to shoot under. Shoot as far under the pontoon as possible. If you only get a couple of feet back, you may catch a few crappie but not as many as you could.
“After you shoot the jig, allow it to fall and watch your line closely,” he continues. “You’ll usually see line movement before you feel a strike because most fish strike as the lure drops. If the line jumps or moves, set the hook immediately. If you don’t get a strike during the fall, use a slow, steady retrieve. The Road Runner blade and Hot Grub tail are hard for crappie to resist. It’s common to catch 10 to 20 fish under one pontoon.”
Fishing Cold Fronts
Passing cold fronts are common in November. And when a front moves in, fishing can quickly turn sour. Crappie still can be caught, however, if the angler knows how to deal with this situation.
To catch crappie after a November cold front passes through, Kentucky crappie guide Steve McCadams recommends fishing downsized lures near cover with a slow, vertical presentation.
“Anglers can’t control the weather,” says Kentucky crappie guide Steve McCadams (www.stevemccadams.com). “But they can adjust their presentation and be more effective in catching crappie when weather patterns turn nasty. I’ve seen crappie have a drastic mood swing literally overnight when cold fronts descend. After the front passes, high skies with a high-pressure system alter the crappies’ feeding habits, too.”
Crappie relate close to structure in this scenario, says McCadams.
“To catch them, slow your presentation to a vertical style, keeping the bait in front of the fish longer and in their specific depth range,” he notes. “Don’t expect fish to be aggressive and chase a moving bait because they’re holding tight on structure. Small lure sizes help, too, as will using a bobber for slow, sinking presentations that assist you in keeping the bait in the strike zone longer.”
Fishing Standing Timber
When turnover ends and water starts to clear, crappie often concentrate around standing timber. Here fish can move shallow or deep as water/weather conditions dictate. On cloudy or windy days when light doesn’t penetrate very far in water, crappie may be within a few feet of the surface. Sunny post-frontal days may find them hugging the bottom. Adjust tactics accordingly.
Catching big crappie like this has helped crappie pro Kevin Rogers win lots of tournaments, and often as not, in November, he catches these slabs while working jigs around standing timber.
“When fishing standing timber, fish each tree for only a couple of seconds,” says Missouri crappie pro Kevin Rogers whose specialty is jigging vertical timber. “If you don’t get a bite, move to the next tree. Too many people make the mistake of sitting or tying up to a tree. You’ll catch more fish by using your trolling motor and moving from tree to tree.
“When vertical jigging around standing timber, after your lure reaches the bottom, grab the line with your free hand and gently raise the lure up the tree,” he says. “Crappie will not go down to hit your bait so raising the lure puts the bait in their face. They can’t stand it.”
Editor’s Note: Autographed copies of “The Crappie Fishing Handbook” by Keith Sutton are available by sending a check or money order for $19.45 to C & C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card and PayPal orders, visit www.catfishsutton.com.
Looking for fishing shows on Outdoor Channel during the months of October – December? “The Hunt for Big Fish” and “Stihl’s Reel in the Outdoors” both air in the last quarter of the year. Check the schedule for updated air times.