As we approach another change in season, another change in fish patterns follows. Crappies are often revered as a viable target only during the spring and winter months. Overlooking the fall crappie bite is a mistake made by far too many anglers.
This time of year, as average temperatures drop, the crappies will push towards thicker water. The fall months are typically characterized by two major changes in fish location.
In the early fall months, like September, it is pretty common for fish to push away from the shallow weedlines and into slightly deeper water. In relatively small, natural lakes, crappies will hold tight to thick weedy cover in less than 10-12 feet for the majority of the summer. When the leaves start to drop and some of the shallow vegetation starts to die, crappies will often move towards deeper vegetation, or suspend along structure in mid depth ranges. At this time of year, the majority of fish can be found in depths of 15-25 feet, depending on the lake.
As the winter months approach, crappies can often be located suspending over some of the deepest water in the lake. This is often your best chance to get a head start on early winter locations for panfish. Late fall searches typically cover depths of 25-40 feet of water.
Don’t shy away from deep wood as well throughout any part of the fall. Personal experience has shown that cribs and wood piles are usually a safe bet throughout the fall and winter months. Don’t completely overlook weed structure either, especially if it’s the right kind. Healthy weeds will always hold fish of some kind; and crappies are no exception.
Rely heavily on your electronics to find schools of fish. If you aren’t marking fish on your graph, don’t wet a line.
Vertical jigging tends to be king when fishing for deep fish. I typically opt for slightly larger baits than one would choose in the spring and summer. Top choices include larger plastics and hard baits, like the all new Eurotackle Z-Viber 1/8 oz. Hard baits, like the Z-Viber, allow you to fish quickly and pick off the most aggressive fish in the school. Alternating action between aggressive lifts, short jigging strokes, and occasional pauses is extremely effective.
If you’re marking fish that don’t want to commit to larger baits, I’d recommend downsizing to micro-sized baits. If they’ll eat them at first ice, you can be sure they’ll eat them in the fall. Tungsten jigs tipped with small ice plastics are amongst the most effective. My personal choices come from Eurotackle’s line of micro finesse plastics, they include the Eurogrub and Original Bloodworm.
Once you locate the fish, anchoring or spot locking is often an effective way to stay on a school, especially when they are relating to specific structure. Bust out the winter electronics for these situations. There’s something to be said about vertical jigging under your flasher out of a boat.
Rod choice is important throughout this time of year. Light to medium light rods are effective for swinging heavier panfish baits. Make sure it has appropriate action and backbone to to keep fish pinned on their way up to the boat. Rod length really comes down to user preference, however, personal preference has always led me to shorter rods for vertical jigging applications. If you’re fishing with micro stuff, there’s nothing wrong with bringing out your ice rods. My weapons of choice for fall crappies include: a 6’3” Elk River Rods Panfish Gold Light and a 27” Elk River Rods Power Noodle.
Don’t miss out on your opportunity to get a jump on first ice locations. If you’re looking for fall crappies, fish fast, ditch the live bait, and don’t wet a line until you mark fish.
Good luck and tight lines!
Get stories and tutorials on fishing delivered to your inbox weekly