by Tim Huffman
When the water begins to cool it’s time to be versatile
Fall fishing is a time to be open-minded and versatile. When water starts to cool, crappie change mood and location so fishermen should, too. Trying different places, searching for shad and using proper techniques pay huge dividends in fun and action.
Timber vs. Open Water
“Baitfish schools are a factor in the fall,” says Charles Bunting, three-time national classic champ. “We don’t always pay attention to them when fishing timber because we are focusing upon the wood. But when the shad move into the wood it’s for sure the crappie will be there too.”
“Baitfish are more important when fishing open waters like Grenada, Sardis and other big waters. The crappie follow the baitfish so we have to find them too, then follow along.”
Bunting says fall baitfish and crappie will be anywhere from three inches to ten feet deep and will change depth often. Therefore, paying attention to the locator during the day is important to keep baits at the right depth.
“Baitfish often just roam around but later in the fall they’ll start following ledges. We always start out looking with our side imaging to find schools of bait then switch over to Humminbird 360 to follow them. We are after big fish so we are still using bigger baits like a [Grizzly Jig Company) Muddy Water jig with a minnow.”
Pitching to Ledges
Missouri tournament fisherman Steve Hockett, says he spends a lot of time fishing bluffs in the fall because that’s where the baitfish are usually located. “There are not many tournaments in the fall so we catch fish for fun. We are usually fishing on bottom in about 15 feet of water. We look for fast drops and sheer ledges.”
He says depth is critical in the fall but most of the fish will be at one depth once you learn the zone. Catching can be as simple as using a short pole and just pitching the jig out and dragging it back to the boat.
Spider Rigging/Slow Trolling
Spider rigging is a popular year-round technique. Multiple poles give the advantage of numerous bait offerings to increase odds of more bites.
“In the fall we are chasing schools of baitfish,” says Kevin Jones, American Ethanol pro staffer and a regular on the Crappie Masters Tournament Trail. “The crappie are actively feeding up for the winter.
“We spider rig wherever we go and every season. We have confidence in that technique. Electronics is a key to success and we use the Humminbird with 360. We fish around different areas and watch the graph. We look and follow the baitfish.”
Jones says, “Find a pattern in the fall that includes baitfish and you can catch fish. The pattern usually holds for several days or weeks so that’s a big advantage.”
“Fall is feeding time and fishing picks up tremendously,” say Mississippi guide and tournament fisherman, Brad Chappell. “Feeding is in full force. The crappie are fattening up preparing themselves for wintertime. They gorge during the day on shad making it possible to catch a lot of fish.”
Chappell pulls jigs. He says jigs are so much easier than buying, keeping and baiting with minnows. He uses Bobby Garland Stroll-R jigs and pulls 0.8 to 1.4 miles per hour in the fall.
“Cover a lot of water. Look for big balls of shad and pay attention to concentrations of very tight schools. I don’t like schools that are scattered. Tight balls are being fed upon and the shad will get tighter as the crappie feed on them because that’s the shad instinct. I don’t worry about seeing crappie on the locator because they’ll be there if the bait is there.”
Mike Baker, tournament fisherman from Missouri, says he is pulling crankbaits or shooting docks. Crankbaits are a great way to cover water but docks concentrate fish. Baitfish often hold under and around the docks.
“Shooting docks can be very productive in the fall. You have to form a pattern just like using any other technique. I like to start with a 1/32-ounce, shoot it in and bring it back high in the water. Next time I’ll let it fall and continue going deeper until I find the right depth.”
A dock can have special features including drop-offs, natural covers and manmade brushpiles. A dock can hold fish even when big schools of baitfish are not present. However, when the baitfish come in the action is guaranteed to be fast and hot.
Fall fishing is fun. One of the best ways to guarantee success is to find schools of baitfish. The experts agree that using electronics to find and follow the bait is a key to catching fish. So, chase the bait this fall and you’ll have plenty of action.
(Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie fishing writing and photography since 1988. He is currently the Editor/Senior Writer for Crappie Masters Magazine, freelance contributor to four magazines, book author and Senior Writer for CrappieNow Digital Magazine.)