Joe Watts laughed when the volley of shotgun blasts erupted a mile or so from where he stood, turning the handle on his spinning reel and looking up at the bent 6½-foot ultra-light rod over his head.
“My neighbors are shooting doves, and the ones on the other side of the lake are all up in trees with bows,” said Watts, who was then lifting up a big redear from the waters of the 50-acre lake. “I bet I’m having more fun than they are.”
It would be hard to argue, watching the Canton jeweler as he slid the bright green and yellow fish into a rapidly filling 48-quart cooler.
“What’s that, like 50 or 51?” I asked.
Said Watts: “Shoot I quit counting at 50 half an hour ago. It’s got to be more like 65 or 70 by now. We’re killing them.”
The guy is an avid hunter, equally adept at stalking squirrels, wing shooting or chasing trophy bucks. Watts will spend a lot of the fall months in a tree or in the woods. But ...
“It’s actually one of the best times of the year for big chinquapins (a.k.a. redear or shellcracker), and even some big bluegill,” Watts said. “I use long-casting spinning gear and light line, a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce weight and throw as far as I can to reach water 10 or 12 feet deep. I tightline on the bottom with a big piece of nightcrawler and let it sink.
“Believe me, these fish are just like bass. They know winter is coming and it’s time to eat. I can stand on the end of a pier and throw as far as I can and eventually I will find a place where they will be holding in a wad. I use three or four rods and cast around until I find the hot spot, then I saturate that area.”
Watts adds a warning.
“When you put a rod down either on the bank, in a boat or on a pier, make sure it is braced down pretty good,” he said. “A big chink will snatch that thing right into the lake. When they are aggressive and feeding and in a wad, they hit and take off to get away. It’s fun and let me tell you, a fresh meal of fried bream is a big hit at a deer camp or at Thanksgiving.”
Many a deer camp meal centers on crappie, and they don’t have to be frozen holdovers from the spring or summer months.
“They can certainly be fresh, never frozen,” said Pete Mayfield of Vicksburg. “Some of the best limit-out days I’ve had on Chotard, Albermarle, Eagle Lake and Lake Washington were in the fall or winter when I was the only boat or one of a few on the water.
“What I like about crappie fishing this time of year and later on through the winter is that they gang up in big schools under big wads of shad, usually suspended deep in deeper water. The key is using electronics and finding the big schools of shad, and under those big schools will be crappie. I set my troll lines with a mix of bare minnows and minnows on jigs and work a school until it plays out. Then I just look for another one.”
Mayfield said he no longer worries about water level, which historically has been what triggered fishermen activity on river-connected oxbows.
“I’ve caught them on a fast rise, a slow rise, a flat lake, a slow fall and even a fast fall,” he said. “I think the reason why we never fished for them on fast rises and falls is that we didn’t know how to find them.
Technology has taken care of that. They can’t hide from sonar.
“And I think what separates crappie from all over freshwater game fish is that they will eat no matter what. You put what they want where they want it and they bite.”