By Tim Huffman
Spending time with your electronics is worth the effort. You’ll catch more fish by finding the sweet spots before dropping a hook into the water.
Spring Spawning Sites
Fall is a time when you can go to your spring spawning sites and have a good chance of finding fish. Expect fish to be a little deeper but in the same general areas where they spawned.
Experts always recommend using electronics to look at an area with your sonar. Knowing the location of a small drop-off, flat with cover, a rocky bottom and a ball of baitfish in the spawning region can reduce your search time. Putting baits in high-percentage spots results in more fish at the end of the day.
Slow trolling is a great technique to use because it allows multiple baits and lets them stay in the water. You can fish the locations found on the sonar plus the baits can be trolled slowly while looking for or traveling to the next spot.
Minnows or jig/minnow combos work great for slow trolling. A crappie will usually hang on to a minnow longer so it gives more time to see and react to bites. A crappie will sometimes come back to hit a minnow a second time when it won’t a jig.
Wood with Shad
There is no one place where you will always find shad, but a dream spot is 7- to 10-foot water with wood cover. Crappie are following shad to do some heavy feeding. Add wood to the equation and the spot can become fantastic. Crappie love wood like we enjoy being in or near our house. It’s a sanctuary. Wood with an ample food source is dynamite.
In general, baitfish move up into the mid-depth and shallow water in the fall. Therefore, start your search in these depths making sure to watch your electronics.
The best technique is to vertical jig. Jigging allows a fisherman to put a bait in and out of the wood with the fewest hang-ups. A jig is best when fish are active but a minnow is best when the bites are slow. The bait should match the baitfish size but the best color is debatable. Do you want something that looks like the thousands of other baitfish in the water? An option would be to add orange, chartreuse, pink or other color to draw attention to the bait.
Open Water Baitfish
Electronics is critical for finding balls of shad in open water. Start by looking around points because the various depths makes a point ideal for fish and baitfish. Early mornings and overcast days look for shallow fish. A bright sun puts them deeper.
After using electronics to find baitfish, use slow trolling methods to put multiple baits into the water. You can move around to follow the shad. Jigs, minnows and jigs tipped with minnows are all baits to try. Also experiment with different size baits.
It doesn’t matter which season a fisherman chooses, a ledge is seldom a bad choice. It’s the same in the fall. Crappie roam and change depths often but they are often relating to or are nearby a ledge. For example, this week fish are at 11- to 12-foot depths but next week they’ll move up to 7- to 8-foot depths. Each time they’ll be on a ledge but simply at a different depth. So depth isn’t a factor if a lake has ledges at different depths, and most lakes do.
Again, electronics is a key element in the search. Key spots on the ledge are important. A quick turn, change in drop-off and cover are all important. Cover is good in the fall and will become more important as the water gets cooler. Electronics will show cover and if fish are located on the cover.
Slow trolling is a good method but vertical jigging may be the best choice. Vertical jigging allows each spot to be probed without wasting time. When fish are tight to cover a bait can be eased down into it. A fisherman can hop from one spot to another so more good spots can be quickly fished. So vertical jigging allows a bait to be in prime territory by fishing high-percentage spots.
Any good jigging bait will work. Some top choices include Bass Pro Shops tubes, Bobby Garland Baby Shad and Yamamoto Yamaminnow. A good attractant will increase the number of bites.
Clear lakes with privately-owned docks are outstanding for crappie action. Two strategies are important. First, shoot the hard-to-reach areas of the dock. Between boats and walkways, under pontoon boats and between floatation are typical shooting spots. Fish like to hide in the most remote areas.
Shooting can be done with a 5- to 7-foot rod with a 5.5 or 6 being the most common. Stick to light 6-pound test line for good shooting, bait control and clear water. Basic shooting can be learned with a few hours of practice. Hitting tight places comes with lots of practice and shooting experience.
Which docks? Ones with deep water are the best bets. Crappie have a choice of being high in the water or down deeper. However, only with experience or field-testing each one will let you know for sure. Shooters will tell you that a few docks, for one reason or anther, are always better than the others around them.
Good electronics will show brushpiles within casting distance of the dock. Dock owners place these to have additional spots besides under the dock. These can be fished by slow trolling, jigging or casting.
Fall fishing can be good or bad. Crappie like to eat to fatten up after a hot summer so your chances are good that you’ll find and catch fish. Try one of the spots in the story and enjoy the action.