By Tim Huffman
LARGE FLATS…Why discuss these in November? Just a few weeks ago two northern teams came down to Grenada Lake Mississippi and beat the homeboys on their own lake during the Crappie Masters National Championship, the Super Bowl of crappie fishing. It was a big feat to top 190 other anglers with many of them having logged numerous days and years of fishing on the lake. This Seasonal Structure will discuss flats and how to attack them like the classic champs.
What & Where
A flat is simply an area with little or no contour changes. It’s flat. The required depth is based upon the lake, clarity, baitfish and water temperatures. It’s sometimes very difficult to determine exactly what depth crappie will be holding.
Trollers typically want flats to be 20 feet or deeper. That’s the depth where fish in many popular lakes will want to reside. They may be near bottom but more likely 12-18 feet deep in the summer.
What about now? Cranks will still work until the water gets cool. It’s possible some lakes will produce all year long but speeds and techniques must be adjusted to make it work. The classic big fish depths on the flat were 9 to 11 feet in water 14 to 18 feet deep.
The overall area of a flat can be small or very large. The larger flats, like Grenada and other similar lakes, make trolling easier because you can make longer runs. The flat might have a channel meandering through it, but for trolling purposes it’s still a flat.
A flat looks boring. It’s not usually something that gets you excited when you look at your electronics. Another problem is that fish are often suspended up in the water making them very difficult to catch with slow, typical methods.
Fall crappie are often chasing schools of shad in the flats. It’s a good time for feeding in the cooler water after the hot summer. Long trolling runs take you through these schools or you may choose to find one school and make repeated passes through it.
Everything that happens depends upon electronics. The minimum requirement is a sonar and GPS. The sonar gives you depth, fish depth and if fish are stacked. Use a GPS for a speed indicator, to mark schools of fish, and to display successful trolling paths for repeated runs.
You are in luck if you also have Humminbird Side Imaging or similar unit. Side Imaging shows you up to a 240 feet scan instead of a 4 to 6 foot path with the sonar. One pass with Side Imaging shows shad schools and fish that it would take dozens of passes to find with sonar.
The classic pattern was pulling crankbaits with planer boards. Many teams pre-fished with crankbaits but did not have success. Trolling required planer boards to get the baits away from the boat. The boat and/or motor spooked the fish and they either moved or wouldn’t bite.
Planer board fishing would take several in-depth articles to describe. The short version begins with setup. Find the large flats with hard-copy or electronic maps. You can scout and fish at the same time, or, run around at six miles an hour using Side Imaging to mark top spots.
Set up includes selecting the line length to put baits at the depth you want. Let the line out, clip on a planer board and let the line out to the distance you want the board from the boat. The board runs about 45 degrees back.
Your baits can be any of the many choices available. This years winners were using Berkley Flicker Shads, primarily size #6 and a few #5s.
The champs and runner up team went up wind in the creek all the way to the timber. They stopped, set up, went with the wind, put out their planer boards, crankbaits, and caught fish.
A huge change they learned during practice was the fish wanted the crankbaits at 1.0 mph instead of the normal 1.6 to 2.2. The moral is obvious; it’s important to try different things until you learn the pattern what the fish want.
Do planer boards make a difference? The teams caught their fish on the outermost boards in practice and during the tournament. Other teams who practiced pulling cranks out the back or off the side of the boat had no luck.
Wind: The good thing about crankbait trolling is that wind doesn’t bother it as much as when fishing slow techniques. But, wind too strong makes fishing impractical. Also, planer boards are a little susceptible to the wind than when longlining the baits.
Rain/ Sun: Most crankbaiters prefer sunny days but the fish can be unpredictable.
Cold Front: Changes in barometric pressure definitely cause the fish to feel the change. The deeper the fish the less the pressure bothers them. Also, reaction bites from crankbaits are sometimes easier to get then when using slow presentations.
Fishing Pressure: When fishing flats with planer boards you can have a problem because the boards take a very wide trolling path. Trolling behind the boat, or pushing out the front, when fish will hit these methods, makes trolling runs much easier.
Falling Water: Grenada Lake had fallen around nine feet in three or four weeks. The bite was terrible due the water and maybe the fronts. It’s no different in other lakes; crappie do not like falling water.