Slammin' Sneaky September River Slabs

By Ted Peck - September 1, 2008
Ron Barefiled with a nice slab.The Mississippi can be described as a dark mystery wrapped up in an enigma. Sometimes fish seem to be everywhere. Sometimes they just disappear. Crappies certainly fall into this category-easy as pie under late ice, May and October but tough to find as summer morphs into fall. Bear in mind these critters are never tied up. This is especially true in a river system where dynamics of their ecosystem are in a state of constant change. By early June the silver slabs are done spawning and swim away from shallow woody structure to find food and ensure survival.

Often these needs are met back in the weeds. As weed growth sees geometric increase as summer arrives in earnest, the number of places crappies may hide in increase too. Until the first cool evenings of August arrive, crappies are where you find them.

Panfish tend to school up in greater densities than gamefish. Catch one and odds other many others are close at hand. Catch one nice crappie "by accident" in the summertime and its generally worth the effort to switch tactics to target this fish. But one fish does not make a pattern. If several more aren't forthcoming in short order, go back about your business.

Many weed species start to die off when cool evenings of August arrive. Crappies begin to move back into heavily wooded cover in deeper haunts which are in close proximity to-but not in-faster water. Since crappies' eyes are positioned near the top of their heads it is more efficient to feed from below. Their bite is anti-tug rather than a tug on the end of your line-often a sensation akin to slack experienced when your sinker hits the bottom after being lowered vertically beneath the rod tip. The tendency to feed from below means you will almost always find crappies suspended rather than tight against the bottom. When October rolls around this is a predictable four feet down in wood over at least 10 feet of water.

Between now and then you're more likely to find crappies suspended twice as deep over twice as much water. Using standard spinning gear to cast a slip bobber into heavy brush set to present the bait eight feet down over 20 is an exercise in futility. A 10 foot "Crappie Commander" pole marketed by HT Enterprises is major key to crappie-catching when slabs are hanging in the wood. These long poles are sensitive. You can use this sensitivity to your advantage by putting the tip of your index finger on top of the pole as you lower the line straight down thru the limbs of a sunken tree. Even a sensitive wand won't enable detection of the subtle anti-tug bite of a big crappie. Slack line may be your only indicator. Detecting slack in 2 lb. fluorocarbon at the end of a 10-foot pole is a virtual impossibility with eyes playing the back nine after 40 years of age. Crappies in a stained water environment like the Mississippi aren't impressed with your fluorocarbon technology, anyway. This is why I use 10-14 lb. test hi-vis FireLine-and a light wire hook. If you aren't getting hung up on a regular basis you simply aren't fishing where the fish are. With 10-14 lb. FireLine and a light wire hook getting back to business takes mere seconds rather then the minutes required to re-tie.

Once a crappie gernips your offering the next move is back into the heavy tangle which is home. If you don't lift the pole immediately another crappie sandwich will get away. This is why I add a sensitive spring bobber (like ice anglers use) to the tip of my Crappie Commander. When coupled with fairly stiff, zero stretch FireLine the distance between rod tip and hook is essentially one big strike indicator. Conventional wisdom says small minnows are the ultimate crappie bait. I haven't used minnows for crappies for several years for several reasons: crappies can sneak them off the hook without your knowledge, they tend to attract smaller fish-the VHS bugaboo has made livebait use an expensive, impractical hassle.

With water temperatures still in the 60-75 degree range crappies still prefer a little "meat" over tiny feather or hair jigs. Sometimes Berkley PowerBait will outfish waxworms. Sometimes waxworms will outfish PowerBait. It is wise to have both offerings close at hand when chasing September slabs. A month from now catching crappies will be a simple matter of tying on a Lindy Little Nipper feather jig or maybe a marabou and leaving the livewell lid open. But success on sneaky September river slabs requires a little more finesse.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.