Advanced Seasonal Structure Fall Drop-Offs
By Tim Huffman
It’s no secret that September and October are months when crappie transition from summer homes to fall spots. Cooling water triggers the movement with most waters also experiencing water turnover.
Fish locations vary widely since the crappie move often in search of food and confortable water, although the food is more important than comfort when the fall movement begins.
Many locations will hold crappie but a constant for much of the year is the reliable drop-off. In September and October the drops may range from deeper summer drops to very shallow secondary drops. Your job is to find the right depth and movement of the crappie. The next step is to learn if fish are associating with wood cover then find it along the drop.
Drop-Offs…Great Seasonal Structures
Garrett Steele says, “Fall is all about water temperature. Right now most fish will be in summer hangouts but as the water cools things quickly change. So every day it’s good to check water temperatures and determine where fish will likely be located. A difference of a couple degrees is very important.”
Steele says fishing strategies can vary from jigging, slow trolling and trolling jigs and/or crankbaits with planer boards. There are many good strategies dependent upon whether fish are in the brush or out chasing shad.
“Another factor in fall fishing is the depth of the fish. At Lake Washington in the fall the fish were suspended a foot to two feet deep. You need to be quiet, use long poles or longline to avoid spooking them.”
In some waters it’s not uncommon for fish to suspend up over a drop or cover. Steele says, “The depth of the fish will determine both technique and presentation. It’s good when fish are down at about ten feet because external factors like boat pressure, waves slapping the boat and other things doesn’t make the fish as spooky so they can be easier to catch.”
The size of a drop doesn’t always determine the quality of the fish. For example, a one foot drop is plenty to hide a crappie and create a comfort zone. A ten foot drop gives more depth range for a crappie to stay in one location but move up or down with changes or light penetration. Either drop can be good and should not be overlooked.
Wood Cover & Tactics
“The most important thing we do is paint an area with the electronics. Taking time to look just watch electronics will help find better places to fish than if you just starting off fishing.
Steele says once they get on a spot they use Garmin Panoptics because it allows a live view of the fish movement. Combined with sonar it unlocks what’s under the water and what the fish are doing.
Mixing both cover and a drop makes a spot much better. Again, electronics is a key to finding the burshpile and then figuring the best strategy and depths. “One of the frustrating parts is seeing fish, knowing they are there and not being able to get them to hit.
“Spider rigging is usually what we will be doing this time of year. We can push into a brushpile and it’s slow enough that it’s similar to jigging but we are using multiple poles. There are times a jigging pole is needed to probe around and into some places but the spider rigging poles can be left in the holders. Fishing laydowns and brushpiles on a ledge can keep you busy when using multiple poles.”
Steele says places like the Alabama River gives a variety of options for fishing ledges with cover. He will spider rig paying attention to the drops, wood cover, current and depths. Once a pattern is found it makes finding other spots much easier.
His setup includes Driftmaster Rod Holders, 16-foot BnM BGJP poles because they detect lighter bites, 10-pound test Gamma line with 8-lb leaders, TTI-Blakemore Tru-Turn #1 or #2 hook on the top and a Road Runner on bottom with a 1/2-ounce egg sinker in between. Plastics are always Bobby Garland with a Minnow Mind’R being good with minnows. Stubby Steves scent works great with a minnow because it helps keeps the minnow on the hook, last a long time and holds it scent. For a scent blast he says he is religious about using Slab Jam on the plastics.
Water temperature: A critical factor in the fall. Several cool nights can pull fish from deep or mid-depth water into more shallow water.
Sun/Rain: Light penetration may change both the mood and depth of crappie but it’s sometimes difficult to predict how much or whether it will be good or bad.
Rise/Fall: Any rapid change is not good. Many flood control lakes start draw-down sometime from September to December depending upon the levels and drawdown schedule.
Wind: Wind can make you change fishing locations but it’s usually not critical to the fish. Waves can oxygenate the top layer of water making fish more active.
Current: Light current can be good especially in rivers. In general, the more current the less likely it is that fish will be present. They will avoid the current.