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The Trophy Crappies of Fall

By Jason Halfen - September 30, 2020
Fall is a time of incredible angling abundance. Across the northland, musky hunters are buying every large sucker in sight, walleye anglers are testing headlamps and respooling trolling reels, and salmon specialists are trolling crankbaits in Great Lakes harbors for four-year old kings. Crappies, however, fly below the radar of many fall fishing enthusiasts is the crappie - and that's a mistake. Indeed, the fall months represent one of the prime calendar periods to tussle with your biggest crappies of the year.

No matter where you chase them across the Midwest, fall crappies follow predictable movements that will place them right in your crosshairs. In early fall, as water temperatures slip through the 60s, crappies will remain relatively shallow, often along the outside edges of weedbeds or associated with mid-depth fish cribs in 8-12 feet of water. As fall takes root and surface temperatures continue to fall through the 50s, crappies continue a general movement toward deep water, often roaming soft-bottomed flats that are 12-20 feet deep. By the time the first snowflakes fly in late fall, crappies will have completed their annual migration, often suspending over the deepest water in the lake - frequently in depths of 25-35 feet.

Shallow water crappie techniques in early fall mimic the presentations you employed during the warmer summer months. Compact soft plastics in the 1.5-2" range, rigged on 1/16 oz jigheads, will continue to produce. Finicky bite days call for live minnows suspended beneath bobbers placed with high-precision along weed edges.

Slower, more methodical techniques will pay big dividends as the water cools and crappies move deeper. When fish are roaming soft-bottomed flats, a drop-shot rig dressed with a live minnow can be highly effective. Start with an 18-24" dropper and a 1/4 oz weight when fishing these depths; if fish are obvious on your sonar but bites are infrequent, don't be afraid to lengthen your dropper to position your bait farther off the bottom.

Later in the season, when fish are firmly in their cold-water pattern and suspended over basins, don't hesitate to fish them vertically with a small Rapala Jigging Rap (#3 or #5) or even an ice fishing spoon dressed with a small minnow - the same techniques that you'll soon be using when fishing crappies through an 8" hole in the ice.

Jason Halfen
Dr. Jason Halfen is a long-time guide, tournament angler, and specialist in marine electronics. He owns and operates The Technological Angler, dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage hi-tech tools to find and catch more fish. Learn more by visiting www.technologicalangler.com.
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