Cooler Weather Crappies - A Fast & Furious Fall
By: Blake Tollefson
The heat and humidity of summer have subsided – cooler days are on the horizon. As we approach another seasonal change, another change in fish patterns follows closely behind. Water temperatures are starting to drop, leaves are falling, and fish are about to put on the feedbag again. It’s time to look for panfish, and crappies in particular, in deeper water. During the fall period, many individuals focus their efforts on hunting or football, instead of fishing. Overlooking this bite is a mistake made by far too many anglers. Fall crappies can be fast and furious – not to mention, this late season fishing gives an angler a great head start on early ice locations.
Things Are Changing
The fall fishing season is characterized by change. In fact, there’s a few major changes or transitions that crappies make during this time of year.
In relatively small, natural lakes, crappies will hold tight to thick weedy cover for the majority of the summer months. Depending on the lake, crappies can be found as shallow as just a few feet of water. As the season progresses, a good portion of fish will make the move to deeper water, where they will stay throughout the earlier portions of the fall. Many of the remaining crappies will follow suit as water temperatures drop and shallow vegetation starts to die off. During this timeframe, crappies will often position themselves near mid-depth cover, like deeper weed lines or submerged wood. It’s not uncommon to locate suspended pods in these areas either. A safe location to start your search will often occur in the 15 to 25 feet of water range.
Later in the season, crappies will typically make another move towards even deeper water. At this point in the season, it’s not uncommon to find them in some of the deepest basins of the lake. This portion of the year offers a great opportunity to get a jump on early winter crappie locations. Late fall searches typically involve depths of 20 to 40 feet of water – depending on the lake of course. Start your hunt in the depths and focus primarily on areas with some sort of definitive difference. For example, a steep break, point, or transition area. At this point in the Fall, crappies are likely suspended and will presumably be found in big schools. Think back to where crappies were at first ice in previous years – they are likely nearby. If you know where crappies live during the summer and winter months, look in the areas in between.
Although many crappies move to deep water during the late fall, don’t be afraid to check shallower areas if they have the right habitat. Healthy weeds will always hold fish of some kind – crappies are no exception. Additionally, submerged wood, like man-made fish cribs or wood piles, act as fish magnets, especially during the colder months.
Spot Lock and Drop It
As discussed previously, the late fall period forces crappies to school up in great numbers. Since they are often out cruising no man’s land, electronics are invaluable tools for this timeframe. Sonar, Down Imaging, and Side Imaging have long been the ideal tools for locating these roaming schools. That being said, the advent of Forward-Facing Sonar has drastically changed this style of fishing – particularly in these situations. The ability to search up to 100 feet or more in any direction has dramatically increased the efficiency of fish finding. Long gone are the days of driving around aimlessly.
If fish aren’t located, keep searching before wetting a line. Stay vigilant in your pursuit.
Once fish are located, an effective way to stay on the school is to anchor or spot lock, especially if they are related to a specific piece of structure or cover. For roaming schools, drifting or utilizing the jog feature can be beneficial.
On the Menu
Most conventional methods, like casting or jigging, work well for targeting fall crappies. That being said, vertical jigging tends to be king when targeting deeper fish.
Since fish are putting on the feedbag, it’s smart to opt for slightly larger baits than one would choose in the spring and summer. Top choices include larger jig and plastic combinations, in addition to some plus-sized panfish hardbaits (e.g. smaller walleye hard baits). Baits in the 2-to-2.5-inch category are ideal for sorting out some of the larger fish. Hard-bodied baits, like Eurotackle’s Z-Viber and Z-Darter V2, are ideal for fast fishing and picking off the most aggressive fish in the schools. Baits in the 1/8 oz to 1/4 ounce class may seem big for crappies, but as the old saying goes, “big baits lead to big fish.”
On the softer side of things, jig and plastic combinations are really hard to beat. They’re great for picking up the loose ends or for fishing that don’t want to commit to the larger baits. Options, like the Fat Assassin and FNM Minnow, are arguably some of the best options for vertical presentations. These baits are offer the ideal size profile for most crappies and the single tail can be manipulated with even the slightest of movement. Realistic options, like the all-new Hellgrammite, are also great options for vertical scenarios. Regardless of bait choice, tungsten jigs get the nod during this period. As a denser material, tungsten has the ability to get down to fish faster. Not to mention, tungsten offers increased sensitivity over their lead counterparts. The Soft-Lock tungsten jig head has a total of 32 different configurations to fit any of the plastics in Eurotackle’s lineup.
For fish that don’t want to commit to larger baits, try reaching for baits in your ice tackle box. If they’ll eat them at first ice, they’ll eat them in the late fall. Small tungsten ice jigs tipped with small ice plastics are amongst the most effective. Eurotackle’s Micro Finesse lineup has a pile of great choices including the Y-Fry, Bloodworm, and Leech. In addition to ice plastics, ice spoons are also an effective option. They’re often designed to fish quickly, but we can slowed down for tougher scenarios.
Vertical techniques are ideal when the bait placement is horizontal. Use methods to keep the set up horizontal while fishing – rotate the knot to the top of the jig, use a snell knot or loop knot, etc. Having the right presentation can make all the difference between fishing and actually catching.
Tools of the Trade
Rod choice is important throughout this time of year. Light to Medium Light powered rods are effective for swinging heavier panfish baits. Fast to Extra Fast actions are preferred for vertical jigging applications because the rod transitions into the backbone much quicker. Rod length is somewhat driven by user preference, however, shorter rods typically perform better for vertical jigging applications – not to mention it’s easier to keep a shorter rod in the “cone” of the transducer.
For the micro stuff, it may be a good idea to rely on ice rods – they excel at handling small baits. Plus there’s an added element of excitement when adding ice rods to the open water mix.
Fall crappies are one of the more overlooked fish species. Don’t miss your opportunity to get in on this fast and furious action. This is also a great chance to get a jump on those first ice crappie locations. If you knew where they were, you’re more likely to know where they’ll be. Remember to fish fast, ditch the live bait, and don’t wet a line until you mark fish.