By Tim Huffman:
Jim and Jason Westerberg work a ledge near the mouth of a major arm on Kentucky Lake. Here they are netting a small crappie.
Winning patterns are different between lakes, seasons, weather and water conditions.. At Kentucky Lake during the Crappie Masters’ National Championship in late September, the lake was turning over in different areas during the week. Fish were scattered from shallow water out to deep water. Small fish were biting but keeper fish were difficult to catch. The follow is the main pattern and variations that worked best. They’ll still work now although depths may vary.
Pattern Number One
Fishermen found fish were no on one specific pattern. It was difficult to figure out exactly how to catch fish the bigger fish. The first pattern was a shallow pattern. Fishermen could catch numbers of fish in 2 to 6 feet of water.
Pattern one included shallow drops or flats near the drops. Kentucky Lake is literally full of man-made cover, usually stakebeds.
Every pattern started with detailed electronic scanning of the areas to be fished. The drop-offs, other contour changes, and crappie beds could be found and marked. Once this was completed and the area looked promising, GPS points were used to fish different beds found.
The first pattern provided more fishing action than the other depths but fishermen learned that smaller fish with an occasional good one were located shallow. Some fishermen stayed with the pattern mainly because they couldn’t catch a seven fish limit in other depths.
Pattern Number Two
The deep fish, mostly in the 18 to 20 foot range, were very difficult to catch but were some of the biggest caught during pre-fishing practice and some during the tournament. These fish were big but also difficult to keep alive. The second place team used this pattern and found three trees along a drop that produced.
The deeper pattern was definitely a ledge/drop-off pattern. Fishermen would pick a drop, run it with electronics, and mark good cover with fish. The key was to find the spots where fish were active enough that the team could catch seven fish a day for a tournament limit. Many went for the win and ended up with too few fish for a weigh-in limit. But no fishermen in a tournament can be criticized for going for fish that might win.
Deeper tactics were usually slow trolling or holding poles, one in each hand. Slow trolling simply puts more baits into the water. Holding two poles still gives a number of baits but holding allows a fishermen to hold poles still and have a better feel of bites. When fishing choppy water, holding poles is very important. The second place team single-pole fished.
Pattern Number Three
Pattern three was mid-depth water. First place fished 6 to 12 feet while third place was in the 12-14 foot range. Good fish were difficult to find, some areas were highly pressured during practice week, and most fish were very tight-lipped not wanting to bite.
The best spots were brush or stakebeds on or near a good drop. The drop is a travel route and place where a fish can move up or down in the water column within a matter of seconds. All crappie like a ledge.
Again, vertical jigging and slow trolling were the top tactics for this pattern. Slow trolling has the option of fishing two baits per pole, four poles per fisherman. Therefore, a team can have 16 baits in the water giving different bait options at multiple depths. The odds are better with more baits in the water. Slow trolling allows baits to be on the move or held still. Boat control is critical because poles are linked to the boat through the holders so the boat guides the baits.
Single pole jigging allows a quick jump from bed to bed searching for the active fish. Stakebeds are often marked by tossing a buoy to the side of the bed. Baits, usually jigs, are pitched out and allowed to swing down to the fish. If not taken, the jig is hopped off bottom and kept swimming until under the pole tip. It is held still momentarily to see if the stopped jig gets a hit.
There is nothing magic about single pole jigging except it puts the fisherman in full control of the bait and bites can be felt. Holding a pole allows a quick hook-set that’s very important when fishing jigs.
Fishermen believe a ledge is a great year-round structure. The season determines the depth of the fish. As proven in the tournament, the September/October months at Kentucky Lake can have fish scattered at every depth. The reason is water temperature cooling causes fish to be changing from summer patterns to fall. Fish don’t all go at the same time so during these transition periods it can be a daily change in pattern with fish scattered.
November patterns, at least on Kentucky Lake and many other of the middle states, will become more stable where crappie will be located in a tighter strike zone, maybe 16 to 20 feet depending upon the lake. November can be one of the best fishing times of the year with ledges an important seasonal structure.
Keys to November Success
The first key is to use your electronics. A simple sonar and GPS unit will do the job. A contour map will get you to the ledge. Then, use electronics to pinpoint the ledge. Drop a marker buoy on the top of the ledge and idle along the ledge to find cover. Mark it with your GPS or another buoy. Continue until you mark a few spots. The GPS will put you on spots but the addition of a few buoys will give you a good visual of how the ledge runs making it easier to fish.
The second key is to fish the right depth. Fish can be at any depth in cold water!! But typically, the fish might be on top of a ledge 10 to 16 feet on top dropping down to 25 to 30 feet. Fish often hang around the top of the ledge. Or, they often suspend at some depth, maybe 16 feet, whether they are hugging the drop or are suspended out over the deeper part of the ledge. Therefore, once you find the depth of the fish they’ll be at that same depth, in our example 16 feet, whether water is 16 feet deep or 40 feet deep. They relate to the drop but may hug cover or suspend nearby in open water.
The third key is to expect a light bite in November and other cold water months. A few may thump but many bites in cold water will be just a heavy feeling on the end of the pole. You might lift your rod tip before feeling that a fish has your bait. So line watching is very important for seeing bites you don’t feel.
The championship patterns on Kentucky Lake included the most basic of all structures, a ledge with cover. Stakebeds and natural cover placed in the lake were the major targets along with some trees that had fallen into the lake. Your home lake may be very different or very similar. The obvious solution is to find the pattern of the fish for the body of water you are fishing.
>Wind: Wind will cause boat control problems. Finding protected areas is important. Dress warmly because wind and water will make you feel colder.
>Bright Sun: Light penetration can change the mood of the fish. The crappie are likely to get tighter to the ledge and cover.
>Boat Traffic: Recreational boaters are not a big problem in the winter. However, if the word gets out that the fishing is good it could cause some crowding, especially on a draw-down lake.
>Rain: A drizzle or rain in the winter can make life miserable. Proper clothing can make things better, or, in worse case scenario, save your life.