Crappies can be tough to find all summer long. Like walleyes, crappies tend to suspend and chase shad when the weather is hot. Locating them can be a midsummer nightmare.
But that changes as water temperature cools! Big crappies become ‘findable’ again, and it’s worth the effort. Crappies make a great meal on cool autumn nights. And, fall is the time you might just nab those 2-pounders.
Even though autumn crappie fishing is easier than in summer, fall crappies are still wary. They move as weather changes and as the water cools down.
In reservoirs, water levels cause them to move, too. Managers draw the water down in fall to make room for snowmelt and spring rains. Crappies adjust by moving away from shoreline cover and flats.
Where do they go?
Deeper stump fields, flooded trees and brush piles in the warmer, deeper water near old river channels. It’s there they find the food and protection from the changes†in temperature and water levels going on around them. A single piece of timber sticking up is sometimes all that is needed to concentrate a school of crappies.
Plucking crappies from spots like those can be a challenge if conditions aren’t right. Strong winds make precise presentation of small jigs in deep water wood difficult if not impossible. For that reason, your best fall crappie days are calm.
Start by using an electric motor to move along the channel breaks and turns looking for signs of brush piles, submerged trees and stumps on the sonar. A good map of the reservoir will give you a place to start.
Check a variety of depths. Crappies tend to stay on the top of the break when temperatures stay in the 60s and slide into the channel as mercury dips lower.
Toss marker buoys near†likely looking features. Don’t drop them directly over the wood. Any disturbance and crappies will be gone. Never anchor for the same reason.
Once done, you’ll have a line of reference points on the surface.
How to Catch ‘em
Use longer spinning rods to improve hook sets.
If laws allow multiple rods, try these tricks all at once. If not, try them one at a time until you find the one that seems to work best.
1) A ‘Do-Nothing’ rig. Its name says it all. You do nothing but set the depth, add bait, put the rod in a holder and wait.
Use 6-pound-test abrasion-resistant line and a weedless hook. Try colored hooks for more attraction. Use a rubber-core sinker about 18 inches above the hook.
Add a 2 to 2 1/2 inch minnow hooked lightly through the lips or near the tail. Forget small minnows. Fall crappies want a meal, not a snack. Change bait often to keep it lively.
Lower the rig until it hangs just above the brush.
Contrary to its name, the ‘Do-Nothing’ rig can keep you busy. It’s often the most productive presentation†when crappies are holding near cover, but not deep within it.
2) When cold fronts may drive crappies deeper into the brush, try resorting to a NO-SNAGG Timb’r Rock Jig. Use the 1/16-ounce size to explore brush and stump fields.
Change up colors to see if the fish prefer one over the others. Vary the action from holding it still to jigging it just a little. Slow is†generally best in colder water.
When you get a bite, don’t expect a strong tap. More likely, you’ll sense just added weight on the line. Don’t set the hook hard. Lift the rod to tighten the line. The struggling fish will hook itself.
3) The NO-SNAGG Rig consists of a NO-SNAGG sinker, a snell and a soft Aberdeen style hook. Keep the line as vertical as possible, moving slowly from brush pile to stump to fallen trees.
4) A slip-bobber rig is always a good choice to reach deep fish. Use a Thill Pro-Series slip bobber, balanced with†enough weight to detect the slightest movement up, down or to the sides. Set the hook at any sign of motion.
Note the depth where the first crappies are caught. Others will be at that same depth.
If the action slows on one spot, move on. Crappies can be spooked by too much activity. But, remember the productive spots and return to them. You can often map a ‘milk run’ of productive spots. Pluck a few fish from one spot, then go to one or two others and return after crappies have had a chance to settle down.
Late fall crappies are a challenge, but the rewards can be tasty. It’s a great time to practice ‘catch and release to the grease’ as you enjoy a memorable fish fry.