When most avid anglers think crappies, they think spring. And it’s certainly understandable. During spring—March and April in some southern locales, May and into June farther north—crappies move into shallow water as they prepare to go through the annual spawning ritual. Generally speaking, if you find structure like stump fields or fallen trees in three to 10 feet of water, you’re going to find crappies.
We’ll take this a step further. Crappies, though a habitually schooling species, are often nomadic during all but the spring spawning period. A small group here and a small group over there is typical, and prove awfully frustrating when the task at hand is locating these schools over, say, a 10,000-acre impoundment. Spring concentrates fish at prime spawning habitats. Anglers know this and can be found congregating around historical spawning beds or structures.
This is all well and good if it’s April, but what happens when the calendar turns ‘round to late September or October? To understand fall crappies, let’s first take a second look at spring. With the water temperatures between 55 and 58 degrees, schools of specks or papermouths, as they’re sometimes called, move into the aforementioned shallows to spawn. The males come first, and the larger females lag a bit behind. Procreation complete and with water temperatures rising, the fish slowly vacate the shallows. However, they usually don’t go too far, only far enough to reach and suspend in deeper water. Here they’ll stay, roaming a bit, through the summer and into early fall.
So there, essentially, lies your answer. Starting on or near already-discovered spring spawning structure and using your electronics, locate the nearest drop-off, creek or river channel. Trace these new-found depths with your equipment until you’ve located structure, be it timber, stumps, rock piles, old duck blind—hell, even a sunken ’36 Chevrolet. Leadheads and plastics allow you cover the most water, while minnows fished under slip-bobbers offer the ultimate in natural presentations and up your chances of connecting with non-target, though desirable species such as channel ‘cats, walleyes, and yellow perch.
Helpful Hints from a Man Who Knows
T.J. Stallings’ business card introduces him as being in charge of “Marketing and Crazy Ideas” for the Alabama-based TTI Companies, who include among their children Tru-Turn, Daiichi, and X-Point Hooks, as well as the Blakemore Fishing Group, creator of that time-honored crappie favorite, the Road Runner. For those who aren’t familiar, the Blakemore line is to panfishing fanatics what Halloween is to ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. For a complete run-down of all the Blakemore products, visit their website at www.blakemore-lure.com
In the meantime, T.J. was kind enough to offer up these not-so-crazy panfishing tips for those looking to hit the water this fall.
1. Slow drifting at various depths is the best way to find crappie.
2. Look for “slicks” or “rips” on the water’s surface. This is a sign of hidden structure like underwater creeks and old roadbeds. Set your drift up to follow the edge of this structure. For you new-school folks, electronics can help you both find and stay on this type of structure.
3. Many professional crappie anglers choose the ¼-ounce Road Runner when drifting. They would rather see the rod tip bend (with the weight) than have the lure bounce around.
4. These same anglers often choose the Bleeding Bait hook/Road Runner head because of its narrower profile for deep drifting. Many pros will change the blade to a tiny Willow for an even slower/deeper presentation.
5. Better crappie anglers will mix body colors to achieve more contrast for better visibility.
6. Road Runners in 1/16th and 1/32nd ounce sizes are best for fishing structure. These sizes tend to “bounce” off structure rather than hanging up.
7. While crappie love shade, they don’t like the shade of an angler’s boat. Keep well away from docks or other structure the fish are stacked on.
8. The flared tail design of the Crappie Thunder Road Runner really shines in shallow presentations.