Fall crappie: when one pole is enough

A crappie’s fall habits and locations make vertical jigging with a single pole a great technique. These experts certainly think so.

Over the years, crappie fishermen have become spoiled, catching slabs in big numbers while trolling with multiple rods. 

Even with the trolling revolution, a lot of anglers still prefer to fish with just one pole. Call it single-pole, jig-fishing, jigging — whatever suits your taste — fishing for crappie with one pole in hand is a lot of fun and, especially during the fall, it can also produce a lot of quality fish.

It’s important to understand some key elements when single-poling in the fall that will greatly increase your crappie fishing success.

Fish tighter 

John Harrison of JH Guide Service on Grenada Lake, a B’n’M pro staffer, said the differences between trolling and single-pole or jigging for crappie goes way beyond just the fishing rod.

Harrison said the key to catching crappie in cooling, and in many cases, falling water from fall through winter is to keep that jig in the water next to vertical structure at all times. That’s something that’s much easier to do with a single pole than using the shotgun approach of multiple poles, which tends not to concentrate on tight-quarters fishing.

“Any lake that holds crappie will hold crappie on vertical structure, whether that’s boat docks, brush piles, stake beds or just natural stuff sticking up out of the water,” he said. “I have found that the clearer the lake, generally the deeper the water the fish will hold in, but on muddy water lakes, it’s not unusual to catch crappie in 8 to 10 feet of water all through the winter.”

Tools? Harrison opts for a 1/16-ounce jighead on 6-pound monofilament. He uses an 11-foot, ultralight jig pole. 

In water that gets deeper than the length of the jig pole, or in windy conditions, he’ll upsize the jighead to a 1/8-ounce version. He pairs the jighead with a minnow-imitating plastic bait and will switch colors until he finds one the crappie prefer. It seems each lake has it’s favorite “go-to” color and he may ask around at a local bait shop if he isn’t familiar with a starting color.

“Don’t overlook anything,” he said. “You may not see that little stick that no bigger around than your thumb and only sticks up 5 or 6 inches, but it’s usually the tip of the iceberg, especially if it’s in 8 to 15 feet of water and off by itself.”

Look for bait

Veteran angler Tim Blackley, from just across the state line in Union City, Tenn., said he rarely leaves home this time of year with more than one rod in the boat.

“This time of year, crappie get on a real predictable and dependable pattern,” he said. “Fish are moving out of deep water into the shallows. It’s very similar to the spring spawning run, except they are not moving in to spawn; they’re following baitfish in to feed.”

One advantage for single-pole anglers over trolling multiple rods is the ability to put baits into tight places that hold crappie.

Blackley said that on some Mississippi lakes, anglers can expect crappie to be scattered up and down a tributary arm. On other lakes, the fish will be moving but in more of a leap-frog fashion, staging on brush piles, stake beds and natural wooden cover along the route.

“Right now, single-poling is the best way to go,” he said. “I’m using a B’n’M Sam’s Super Sensitive rod and a 1/8-ounce Strike King jighead in pink with a tube jig. I am literally picking the bigger fish up on my sonar and moving the bait out in front of the boat to that fish and catching him right off the tops of whatever structure I’m finding.”

While Blackley has a pretty extensive list of brush piles and stakebeds located in different lakes across the state, he said first-time anglers to most any Mississippi reservoir can also locate fish with a decent set of electronics.

“Find the bait, find the fish,” he said. “Then start looking for structure where crappie will be holding and waiting on those baitfish to swim past.”

Find the current

In many lakes, fall means lakes that have stratified will start turning over. The turnover can last from two to several weeks, depending on the location, and the turning water often scatters crappie or puts them in an ill mood. Pro angler Brad Taylor from Greenville suggests finding some current, either from water entering lake or areas where water is moved by natural or man-made forces.

Guide John Harrison suggests not overlooking any visible structure when jig fishing, especially structure standing out away from the shoreline.

“Current can be a good thing, because it congregates crappie around structure; they will often use planted brush piles or other woody debris as a current break,” Taylor said. “You can get too much current at times when the water is moving too fast, which happens a lot in oxbow lakes tied to the Mississippi or flood-control lakes letting water out. The current really pushes and often washes brush piles away or moves them for you.”

In areas of modest or temporary current, crappie will often use available structure to break the flow and provide them with both rest and an ambush point. One noticeable advantage of areas that provide current versus more stagnant areas is the level of dissolved oxygen. Moving water may tend to fall on the cooler side, and cooler or “fresher” water, as in runoff, may hold more oxygen. Both baitfish and gamefish are drawn to areas holding more dissolved oxygen.

Change your line

Current will often attract schools of crappie into run-off areas to find more oxygenated water.

One aspect of crappie fishing that has remained relatively unchanged through the years is the use of monofilament line for single-pole fishing. Mike Morgan, tournament director for the American Crappie Trail, said with the changing of times, it’s time to change your line.

“When I’m single-pole fishing, I’m actively using my sonar in forward scan, so I want to see my line and my bait,” he said. “I use 15-pound braid for my main line and then attach a section of 10-pound flourocarbon to that. Just past the knot between the main line and the leader, I thread a 1/8-ounce egg sinker and use a small bobber stop on either end of the weight to hold it in place. Below the weight, at a distance of a foot, I will attach a 1/32-ounce jig in a natural color.”

Morgan said the sinker is not for additional weight; both the weight and the jig will show up on the sonar as he’s fishing. That allows him to distinguish the jig from a lot of other small particles in the water that he might mistake for his bait. By knowing exactly where the weight and the jig are, he can lower that bait slowly and put it right above the fish.

Changing the game: Garmin LiveScope

Anglers in general and crappie anglers in particular are always on the lookout for that one thing, that one bait, rod, tactic or piece of gear that will help them catch fish better than anyone else. 

The introduction of live-time, forward-scanning sonar has changed the tide in crappie tournaments, with many anglers opting to fish with just one pole.

According to Kent Driscoll, a B’n’M pro staffer, that one thing is the Garmin Panoptix Live Scope sonar system.

“This thing is a game changer,” Driscoll said. “The tournaments I’ve been fishing are all being won by boats equipped with these units. Single-pole anglers are winning tournaments with them.”

Panoptix gives anglers the ability to see all around the boat in real time and in three dimensions. Whether idling around, graphing or fishing, Panoptix transducers are available in Forward and Down configurations, with mounting styles to suit the anglers needs.

“I’ve been a big fan of side-scan sonar for years, and it’s still hard to beat for scouting new areas and finding structure that holds crappie, but once you have located something you want to check out — a brush pile or a stump field or just open water — there’s nothing like this,” Driscoll said.

Adjust to your fishing needs

According to the Garmin website, it’s easy to adjust the transducer mode to fit the angler’s desired fishing techniques. Forward allows you to see remarkably clear images of structure and swimming fish around your boat, and the Down allows you to see directly below your boat. The view automatically updates on a compatible Garmin chart plotter. 

“One of the things that really stood out to me when these Garmin units started showing up on tournament anglers’ boats is that single-pole anglers started winning tournaments,” said Driscoll, who said it took him a little bit of fine-tuning to figure out the best way to approach crappie he was marking on his unit. 

The sonar distance on the Garmin can be adjusted further out or closer in. Driscoll said when he’s scanning an area, he sets the distance at 40 to 50 feet, what he considers search mode. Once he marks fish, he will pull in to 22 to 26 feet for fishing.

“I can see the structure on the scope, and I can see the fish; I can even see which way he’s facing, so I pitch my jig out on a single pole past the fish and slowly bring it into view,” he said. “With this unit, you can watch a crappie in real time come up to your bait off a piece of structure or even just suspended out in open water, and you’re catching that fish.”

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Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 377 Articles
Phillip Gentry is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer who says that if it swims, walks, hops, flies or crawls he’s usually not too far behind.

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