Targeting Fall Crappies

By Ted Peck - November 1, 2009
With so many hunting and fishing options crappies are all but ignored between now and first ice, even though some of the year's best opportunities for a nice sack of slabs occurs over the next 30 days. I would rather fish crappies on a river system than a lake. Chasing slabs in the fall is typically a boom or bust scenario. But wood is always part of the strategy. On a huge river like the Mississippi crappies like to suspend about four feet down on woody cover with a bottom depth of 10-14 feet. On small to medium rivers check snags and driftpiles next to-but not in current.

On Ol' Man River target primarily running sloughs and backwaters off of the main channel. Many of these running sloughs have rip-rap in the form of closing dams at the upstream end with generally deeper water, more current-and more crappies-inc close proximity to the rip rap. The difference between ideal bait placement and snagging up is about one-half inch. If you aren't getting hung up occasionally you simply aren't fishing where the fish are.

Since you can't catch any fish with your line out of the water re-baiting and getting back to business quickly should be the focus. A 10 foot "crappie commander" rod, spinning reel spooled with 20 lb. test FireLine, pencil float, split shot, light wire hook…and pail of minnows will make you a serious player. The long rod enables both accurate bait presentation and the ability to snake those slabs out of cover once they send the bobber skittering across the surface. In the stained waters of a river system heavy line doesn't inhibit crappie aggressiveness. Hang that minnow just above their heads amidst the brushy tangle and your string will get stretched in a minute or two if crappies are home. If they aren't, plop the bait in another ambush site. With this method you can effectively cover potential crappie haunts on a large fallen tree in less than 20 minutes, including time to pull free from hang-ups and re-bait.

For this kind of presentation hooking minnows under the dorsal fin usually works better than impaling the bait thru the lips. But in a drifting or burst-trolling presentation which is more effective in lakes lip-hooked minnows or tiny plastics have an edge.

On basin lakes like Kegonsa and Waubesa on the lower end of the Madison chain-and Crystal Lake near Lodi-remaining green weeds are attractive to crappies. On any given day either drifting or casting to the deep weed edge will produce fish.

Lakes which have steep dropoffs like the southeast corner of Delavan or Lake Redstone in west-central Wisconsin crappies tend to stack vertically and close to cover within 5-6 feet of the bottom.

With vegetation dying back crappies are on the move. Bottlenecks between shoreline points and steeply breaking narrows are migration routes which are prime areas to locate fall crappies.

Once you find 'em with the electronics allow the habitat parameters to dictate whether a slow, controlled drift or a vertical presentation is the best approach. Locating fish is the tough part. Sometimes the electronics will only reveal structure-or structure with baitfish hovering above it. There is a good chance crappies will be tucked tight in the cover and are simply waiting for an easy feeding opportunity.

Because a crappie's eyes are located near the top of the head these fish almost always find feeding from below the most effective way to dine. Present your bait 1-3 feet above electronic marks which indicate either fish or structure, tweaking the presentation until the action is fast and furious.

Bait profile seems to be more important than lure color for fall crappies. It's hard to go too small with lure selection. One-eighth to 1/64 ounce baits will put you in the ballpark. Tiny ice jigs with small soft plastic tails can be deadly.

Crappie anglers now have a broad spectrum of options to choose from in electronics, terminal gear and lures. But on any given day Grandpa's basic technique of a long pole, and small minnow presented below a split shot and hook is usually the quickest route to a heavy stringer.

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.