By Darl Black
It’s mid-November up North. Hardwood trees stand naked, except the hardy oaks which still have dried, brown leaves. Every couple days the air gets a couple degrees colder. Light snow flurries occasionally fill the air but accumulation is unlikely. Water temperature is falling into the mid-40s in large lakes. The stage is set for the last hurrah of crappie fishing before ice-up.
Living in northwestern Pennsylvania, I can experience fishing crappies on distinctly different types of water bodies in the fall. Although a few crappies may still be found relatively shallow, most schools of black and white crappies have followed preyfish to deeper water in both natural lakes and man-made reservoirs.
When all the leaves are brown…that’s when crappies go deep on northern lakes. Jim McClave agrees.
In multiple-basin natural lakes, crappies likely will be found on hard bottom points or along the sides of humps somewhere between 15 and 30 feet deep (most often at a distinct breakline). In hill-land and flatland type reservoirs, crappies are usually positioned near the end of long main lake points, along the edge of a river/creek channel or on deep flats dotted with stumps. Depth depends on the specific character of the impoundment.
November crappie fishing in northern states is relatively simple. Find a school on your sonar and drop to them with a vertical presentation.
Electronics play a crucial role in locating crappies. Often – but not always – crappies stack up in what look like Christmas tree formations on a sonar screen. Traditional sonar units do a reasonably good job of identifying fish, but anglers can be fooled sometimes by confusing signals. The newer down-scan units perform admirably in identifying crappie-size fish in deep water. With schools of small minnows or shiners at the same depth, it’s not unusual to find bluegills and white bass occupying the same areas as crappies.
Of course strong winds can play heck with vertical jigging in 15 to 30 feet of water. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer dropping a visible floating buoy marker once a school of crappies is found. I find it much easier to keep an eye on a bright buoy in a chop than constantly looking at the depthfinder.
Whether I’m fishing a natural lake or a reservoir, my lure choices are basically the same: jigging spoons, blade baits and blade jigs.
Keep in mind while crappies are the primary target, on northern waters at this time of year it is common to encounter walleyes, smallmouth bass, northern pike or even a musky while searching structures with these baits.
A selection of deepwater lures for late fall crappies. Left column: Hopkins Spoon; Kastmaster Spoon; Silver Buddy Blade Bait. Right column: Charlie Brewer Whirly Bee; Road Runner head with tube body; Osgood’s new Jig & Spoon.
Jigging Spoon – My choice is a 1/4 or 3/8-ounce slab style spoon such as a Hopkins or Kastmaster. If the selected spoon comes with heavy treble hook, replace it with a #4 or #6 light wire treble. I employ a medium-power spinning rod with 8-pound monofilament, preferably Gamma Polyflex because it is an exceptionally strong yet very manageable line.
To reduce line twist, I incorporate a small roller swivel in the rigging. First tie a round-bend snap to the end of the line. Then cut the line about 16 inches above the snap and tie in the swivel, thereby creating a 12 to 14-inch leader. Some anglers use a swivel or snap swivel directly on the spoon but I favor the leader rigging.
With a suspected school of crappie located, open the bail and count the spoon to the bottom. Some crappies will be very near the bottom while others will be suspended higher in the water column. Once you have identified the “count” to the bottom, you can adjust the count on future drops to stop at the depth which crappies appear to be suspended.
The actual presentation of the spoon is merely shaking the rod tip to make the metal slab dance then pausing for several seconds to hold the spoon stationary; hits often come when the spoon is held almost motionless. The jiggling is interspersed with a higher jump every so often to attract crappies from a distance.
Blade Bait – There are numerous metal vibrating blade lures on the market. The Original Heddon Sonar, Silver Buddy and Binsky in the 1/4-ounce models are the ones I use most often for crappies. I will jump to a 1/2-ounce model in a heartbeat if the wind is strong enough to interfere with vertical presentation in deep water. The size difference between a 1/4 and 1/2-ounce model is only about 1/2-inch – certainly within the size of desired preyfish.
When rigging a blade for vertical presentation I highly recommend the same 12 to 14-inch leader used with a jigging spoon.
I observe many angles snapping or ripping a blade off the bottom. That is a big no-no for all species but especially for crappie. Visually follow the line as the blade sinks to the bottom, engage the line and take up any slack. With rod tip near the water surface, firmly lift the blade off the bottom bringing the rod tip up to level with your waist. Then pause and slowly set the blade down. Hits usually come on the pause or the descent.
Like the spoon, the blade can be counted down to the level of suspended fish and worked with the lift-and-fall presentation.
Blade Jig – When crappies are in a negative feeding mood, I go to 3/32, 1/8, or 3/16-ounce jig which incorporates a spinner blade in the design. I employ a light action rod with 4-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon.
If casting a point, I’ll position the boat so the jig will pendulum swim down along the point to deep water. The jig I prefer for this slow downward swim is a Charlie Brewer Whirly Bee.
In other instances, I will drop a Road Runner Jig (with a tube or baby shad body) directly to the depth of the schooled crappies, presenting it vertically with gentle quivers and shakes of the rod tip as the boat drifts over the school location. Once the boat has drifted beyond the fish, run back up and drift again.
If confronted with an easterly wind which really shuts crappies down, I will tip the jig with a live minnow.
A new lure in this blade jig category which I am anxious to try this November is the Jig & Spoon from Lloyd Osgood (firstname.lastname@example.org). Rather than the spinner blade attached by a swivel to the jig, the hole in the spinner blade is slipped directly onto the hook and held in place with a small plastic keeper. The result is a side-to-side spoon action on the drop, and an unusual side-to-side horizontal swimming action.
If you are in the upper Mid-West, Great Lakes Region, Northeast or New England States, now is the time to go deep for late fall crappies.