Andy Gass is understandably all smiles with a pair of slabs caught on Tennessee’s
Kentucky Lake as the fall colors begin to shine in October. (Photo: Steve McCadams)
October Crappie – Overlooked and Underrated
by Steve McCadams
When there is frost on the pumpkin there ought to be crappie in your cooler!
Autumn has been overlooked and underrated by legions of crappie fishermen all across the country, yet the season has a long list of attributes. If you happen to be a charter member of the “spring only” slab seekers fishing club you’re not alone.
Odds are a poll taken of panfishermen from across the nation would likely reveal a large percentage of perch jerkers falling within that category.
No doubt the influence of spring fever, as winter loses its grip, has a strong tug on the hearts of crappie fishermen. Just the thought of hitting the peak of the spawn as dogwoods bloom and scream spring has been known to reverse the aging factor among our ranks.
However, if you’ve neglected your favorite lakes during the fall season and given the cold shoulder to October crappie fishing, you’re missing out and depriving yourself of some great opportunities. Crappie don’t just dry up and disappear once spring has come and gone. You shouldn’t disappear from the lake either and there’s several reasons why.
For starters fall is a season with a reputation for stability. Generally speaking, weather patterns are more predictable than spring as are lake levels on most of the country’s top crappie producing reservoirs.
Overnight floods and uninvited cold fronts can drastically alter the fishing scene overnight. Lake levels swell with muddy water or temperatures fall too much too quick, upsetting the apple cart of fishing.
Our ranks despise bone chilling north winds that push cold fronts right smack dab down the middle of a lake. White caps dictate where we can go, altering our intended route and often taking away a big percentage of the lake simply because we can’t hold the boat over open water spots or troll and drift the way we’d prefer.
Fall fishing is the cat’s meow as patterns hold up from week-to-week. That’s something anglers can’t say about most other seasons of the year. With stability of weather, lake levels and light and variable winds not only can you venture out and about on the lake to look for fish but once you find them, odds are good they’ll be in the same locale next week.
Transition time arrives once cooler days descend, lowering surface temps which stimulates movement of baitfish, namely shad. Hot on their trail once cooler days enter the picture will be crappie. Surface temps falling from the mid 70’s to the mid 60’s and below becomes is a game changer
Known for following their forage crappie begin to stair step their way toward shallow venues, putting deeper summer hideouts in their rearview mirror. Moving to midrange or shallow flats and back into bays is the norm.
Productive depths can range from 12-to-15 feet on warm, bright sunny days to 3-to-6 foot depths if cloudy and rainy skies take over. Obviously that depth range varies on small lakes but you get the drift.
Schools of baitfish buffets seen on the sonar screen help anglers blaze the trail but visual observation of threadfin shad flicking the surface at times further signals meandering morsels that bring fish to shallow water. Fall increases the range of comfort zones and shad meander, often at the surface, like nomads in their quest to find and feed on zooplankton.
Guess who’s not far behind?
Locating submerged stumps and brushpiles or stickups and visible timber in some reservoirs will be the ticket to success. It’s somewhat trial and error but deeper depths may produce during midday whereas shallow zones turn on in early morning or late afternoon as lowlight conditions stimulate the bite.
Seeing crappie move from the deeper side of a ledge up to the shelf or even on top of a ledge can occur during the day. Don’t be too stubborn to experiment while monitoring your sonar screen.
Light sensitive crappie, especially in clear lake conditions, may take on a sluggish or lethargic moods at midday only to turn on at other times. An approaching low-pressure system, associated with a thunderstorm or front can indeed trigger feeding sprees. Movement takes place throughout the food chain stimulating even finicky crappie to thump a jig or jerk a minnow swimming bobber down into la-la land.
Fighting fish and not the crowd is another feather in the cap for fall fishing. Once Labor Day weekend holiday passes and the trees start to fade the recreational navy of pleasure boaters diminishes. Placid waters return. Jet skiers sort of hibernate. Fishermen retake the fort.
As to patterns, you can pretty much take your pick. Vertical fishing a 1/16-ounce jig over manmade fish attractors with the jig skirt color of your choosing will pay dividends sooner or later once you find the right color combination of lead head and skirt.
Laying off the spot and casting ultralight with twister tail grubs or perhaps tossing slip bobbers that not only help detect light strikes but regulate depth; these techniques have a place in the arsenal of fall fishermen.
Not spooking finicky fish in shallow water is another consideration in support of casting presentations. It helps cut down on noisy boats and trolling motor disturbance.
All these ingredients help formulate a recipe for success during fall fishing expeditions. Jacket mornings and shirt sleeve afternoons. Melting morning fog paints a picture of seasons in transition where crappie really haven’t dried up and disappeared once pages on the calendar turned.
Still waiting are hungry pole bending crappie. Don’t overlook them any longer!
Steve McCadams is a professional guide and outdoor writer from Paris, TN. At 69-years-old, he’s been living and writing about the outdoors pretty much all this life and has been Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Legends of the Outdoors. He shares a home with his wife Linda and their Labrador retriever, Avery.