By Darl Black
When I was a youngster, our family’s Thanksgiving tradition involved two major activities: hunting and eating. Thanksgiving morning I would accompany my Dad on a hunt across the fields and woodlot of our “back 40” in search of pheasant, rabbit, squirrel and ruffed grouse. We would return in time for a mid-afternoon meal prepared by my Mom and Grandma.
However, by my late teens I became more enthralled with fishing while gradually losing interest in hunting. When Marilyn and I married, we started an entirely new Thanksgiving tradition: fishing instead of hunting.
Vertical jigging of blades and spoons has produced the best crappie catches in the deep water of Conneaut Lake during the late fall. Marilyn’s favorite bait is a Heddon Sonar.
“While others watch TV parades or enter Turkey Trot Runs, we have made Thanksgiving an official Fish-Together Day,” says Marilyn. “Of course with our wide-ranging angling interests, we have extended this through the four-day holiday weekend – assuming the weather cooperates. At least one of those four days will be spent fishing for crappies.
“During late November in northwestern Pennsylvania the only guarantee regarding weather is the uncertainty of what to expect! It may be 50 degrees with sun and light breeze to 30 degrees with a howling north wind and big snowflakes falling – or anything in between. We’ve fished for our Thanksgiving crappies under all conditions.”
Here are three examples of recent November crappie fishing on different waters employing different presentations in order to catch fish.
Conneaut Lake: This 925-acre 72-foot deep natural lake not far from our home is a frequent destination for quick trips when we don’t have much time or when weather is threatening. On this November day, we woke to a beautiful sunrise and clear skies but the weatherman warned of changes coming later in the day. Water temp was in the 40s. Our rods were rigged with jigging spoons and blade baits in the 1/4-ounce size. These would allow us to vertical jig straight down while sitting right over a school of crappies located in 25 to 35 feet of water.
It did not take long to locate a school off a mid-lake hump. With lures clearly visible on the sonar, we jigged among the fish but none seem interested. Moving from one mid-lake hump to another, we caught a couple nice crappies but certainly not enough for a family fish fry. When the wind picked up and heavy dark clouds began rolling in from the northwest, we headed for the ramp. Snowflakes were falling before we reached the take out.
As we came out of a 45-foot basin near the landing, the sonar lite up like a Christmas tree when we hit the 25-foot depth! Even though heavy snow was falling, we stopped and dropped metal. A little pump is all it took. Every drop back to 25 feet resulted in a fat black crappie. The approaching storm had triggered a strong bite!
In the meantime, the large wet flakes blanketed the boat’s carpet, and when I skidded on the front deck nearly losing my balance, we decided it was time to go in before I fell in. Thirty crappies in less than 20 minutes – a Thanksgiving to remember!
Shenango River Lake: My good friend Ken Smith had alerted us to a strong crappie bite going on at Shenango in November on the edges of the main river channel which meanders through the reservoir. With this Army Corp flood-control lake under drawdown, Ken had advised the magic depth was around 18 feet. Unusually mild weather for fall was extremely inviting, so Marilyn and I made plans to head Shenango Lake way.
Initially we started out with our favorite ¼-ounce Heddon Sonar blade bait, jigging the edges the old river anywhere we noticed stumps and baitfish on the sonar. But we only managed to lose several lures.
Ken had recommended slowly swimming jigs, so we switched to jigs which incorporated a small flashy spinner in the design. Marilyn opted for a Slider Whirly B while I tied on a Road Runner. The lake was flat so it was relatively easy to stay on spot while casting the jig, counting it down and slowly swimming it back to the boat.
The honey hole for us was a spot where a secondary feeder creek joined the main river – a classic structure for bass. Only today this spot was loaded with crappies hovering around a couple brushpiles someone had planted. A warm, windless day and hungry crappies made for another memorable November outing.
Pymatuning Dam Outflow: November is unpredictable but there is one thing for certain: unusually pleasant weather late in the month will be paid for in a future year with early winter cold. Several years after the Shenango Lake outing, the arrival of extreme cold in mid-November put a thin layer of ice on the bays and boat ramp inlets of area lakes. Marilyn thought finding a spot to continue our Thanksgiving crappie-catching tradition was going to be difficult. Fortunately, I had an ace up the sleeve.
We headed to the outflow of Pymatuning where a higher-than-normal volume of water was rushing out of the dam and down the Shenango River. Carefully walking down a muddy riverside trail for several hundred yards brought us to a newly formed backwater pocket in the swale of a seepage creek. The quiet pool was now a temporary holding area for some of the river’s crappies, bluegills and yellow perch which sought to get out the strong current. The pool had not skimmed over with ice because of the constant current in the cut and the discharge water from lake being too warm. However, the water was very clear and fish very spooky.We suspended a 1/64-ounce hackle jig about 18 inches under a small clip-on bobber, cast to the far side of the pool and very slowly retrieved the rig, pausing the bobber every two feet. About every third cast, one of the panfish species would engulf the tiny jig during a pause. The crappies were on the small side, but crappies nonetheless. The dozen or so crappies caught that morning were released. But we had successfully continued the tradition of catching crappies during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Make a holiday resolution: go fishing. Happy Thanksgiving!