Autumn delivers some of the best crappie fishing of the year. Tapping into the best slab-catching action begins with understanding the fish’s seasonal behavior.
white crappie on Live Roam’R
From an opportunity standpoint, the biggest difference between spring crappie fishing and fall crappie fishing is that far fewer anglers compete for the same fish during the fall. Autumn brings excellent spring-like fish catching that is too-often overlooked.
Enjoying the best action begins with understanding key aspects of the crappie’s behavior and primary variables that come into play this time of year. We’ll explore four important concepts that will help you make the most of the season and catch more crappie.
1 – Seize Shallow Opportunities
Autumn delivers an almost spring-like push up creek arms of reservoirs and into shallower water. In fact, many of the same spots that produce well during spring are also top producers during fall. The baitfish and the crappie move up and down the water column with changing conditions, but the general trend through the season is toward shallower water, and anglers too often miss this marvelous opportunity.
Look for crappie along riprap banks that are adjacent to bridges, around downed trees, stumps and brushpiles on shallow flats and under docks and piers, and be certain to make some presentations even shallower than you think the fish ought to be. Peer into the water as you fish. If you see a lot of minnow activity or small shad shallow, you’ll almost certainly find some crappie shallow as well.
A set float and crappie jig combination works wonderfully for shallow fish this time of year because you can control the depth and slow the presentation and can suspend offerings tight to shallow cover. Using a long rod and dipping a jig tight next to stumps and into every hole in a brushpile or weedbed can also be highly effective. If the fish are more active, simply casting a swim-tail crappie bait, like a Bobby Garland Hyper Grub, can be very effective for covering water and prompting attacks.
One of the best things about the fish’s move to shallow water this time of year is that it creates outstanding opportunities to catch fish from the bank and from docks. That allows far more anglers to get in on good fishing, along with creating opportunities for quick, simple outings when there might not be time to launch a boat.
2 – Account for Constant Change
Arguably the biggest challenge of fall is that change is continual. The crappie stay on the move, following schools of baitfish, and they move in and out of the shallow water with the ever-changing weather that comes with passing fronts. The same swings in water temperatures, along with changes in water color that can come from wet weather systems, also cause shifts in the fish’s activity levels and consequently the baits and presentations that work best.
Two strategies that are helpful for locating fish on the move during autumn are to concentrate on creek channels and to seek spots where shallow cover is close to the channel drop, especially where a point or other structure bridges the depths. Creek channels are the crappie’s primary roadways for working their way up creeks. Depending on the conditions, they might hold in brush down in the channel, use standing timber or stumps atop the break, or follow a point to nearby shallows, where they’ll move into buckbrush, under docks, near laydowns and against riprap.
Generally, warmer snaps will push the fish extra shallow while fronts will drop them a little deeper. Water color, which can be influenced by rainfall or wind, also has a big impact on the crappie’s positioning, with dirtier water pushing them tighter to cover and often shallower and clear water causing them to roam more. Roaming fish still relate to channel edges, but they won’t necessarily hold as tight to the cover.
Baitfish provide critical clues for figuring out how far up a creek the crappie have roamed and the depths they are apt to be using. If shad are dimpling the surface in the backs of coves and visible just by looking at the water, or if you see a lot of minnow activity, the fish are apt to be in that area and shallow. If most baitfish on your graph are 10-12 feet deep and you don’t see minnows shallow, there’s a good chance 10-12 feet will be the key fishing depth.
3 – Match Small Forage
Crappie tend to relate to smaller than normal forage during fall for a couple of reasons. First, young of the year shad are just getting big enough to become a decent food source and tend to travel in huge schools. In addition, minnows tend to be very abundant in shallow water.
When natural forage is hyper abundant, game fish tend to become very size selective, and crappie are no exception. When baitfish are readily available and all are very close to the same size, predator fish instinctually avoid anything that is not that size.
Bobby Garland Itty Bit baits, including the Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R, Itty Bit Slab Slay’R and Itty Bit Swim’R provide outstanding options when the baitfish are extra small. Landing in-between most Bobby Garland Crappie Baits and the Itty Bit Series in size, the new Live Roam’R is 1.75 inches long, filling an important size niche during autumn. Beyond being the same size as many of the young shad, the Live Roam’R provides a natural shad or minnow profile and versatility in how it can be fished.
4 – Pattern Relentlessly
Because the crappie do move up and down structures and change their moods with shifting conditions and because abundant available forage can make fish selective, pattering is critical for maximizing fish-catching opportunities. That includes patterning locations, baits, colors and presentation details.
Location-wise fish will often be in congregations. And whether schooled up or scattered, they’ll often be mostly at similar depths, using the same type of cover, with other common characteristics like bottom make up or sunlight conditions.
To start a day, it’s typically best to keep moving and to be intentional about varying areas to figure out details. Even if you’re specifically shooting docks, as an example, try docks along steeper and flatter banks, with differing structural make-up, in different parts of creeks…
As you work, experiment with baits and presentations. Little distinctions, like retrieve pace and pause length can make all the difference. Some days the best added action is absolutely none. Other days a somewhat fast pace might be needed to trigger strikes.
If the cover isn’t too grabby, rigging baits tandem can shorten the patterning process because it allows you to experiment with more than one bait style, size or color at the same time. If the fish aren’t tight to the bank, trolling can be a good starting option because it lets you cover water, move in and out of channels, and experiment with more than one bait at the same time.
The real key, as your work on developing every aspect of a pattern, is to pay attention to EVERYTHING whenever you catch a fish or even get a hit. Think about every aspect of the location, your offering and what you were doing with that offering each time a fish hit, and the patterns will become increasingly clear.
Live Roam’R Rigging Options
We mentioned Bobby Garland’s new Live Roam’R and how its size and baitfish profile make it an excellent offering for autumn crappie fishing. Notably, this bait was designed so that it can be rigged with two different orientations to alter its action and profile and provide different appeals.
UPRIGHT – Upright rigging with the flat sides on the sides, provides the most realistic profile for matching a minnow or small shad. Any forward movement creates a slight side-to-side shimmy in the tail, matching a live minnow’s swimming action. Jigging makes the bait move straight up and down. This rigging is extra good for casting and trolling presentation and for subtle pitching, dipping and float presentations.
FLAT – Turning the Live Roam’R 90 degrees, so the flat sides are on the top and bottom, causes the bait to show up exceptionally well on live sonar, making it ideal for targeting roaming fish (hence the name, Live Roam’R) and other live sonar applications. Flat rigging also make the bait glide side to side on the fall, making it more erratic when jigged or pitched to imitate a dying baitfish. That said, when suspended with rod held still or the rod tip barely moves, the tail quivers vertically, creating a wonderfully subtle appeal.
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