Fall fishing is fun for everyone

Gil Woodis of Philadelphia shows off some nice fall crappie caught on Barnett last fall.

Nothing beats a cool breeze when pulling crankbaits for crappie

Can you believe it? September is here. Dove season is upon us. And, as you know, dove season ushers in the ever-popular deer-hunting season.

Mississippi is definitely a hunter’s haven.

I think deer hunting and football have got to be the two biggest sports in Mississippi — don’t you agree? I guess it’s time to hang up the ole crappie pole and dust off the shotgun, and get out the cow bell or the rebel flag.

Certainly, with the record-breaking cold front the last few days of July (that’s right now, as I put these thoughts to paper), one can’t help but reflect on the upcoming shorter, cooler fall days. You know: The time when every outdoorsman stops fishing and starts hunting.

But, hold the phone, Maggie, some of us can’t wait for the shorter, cooler fall days to go crappie fishing — every chance we get.

I’ve said it here before that my favorite time to crappie fish is during the fall. And, although September in Mississippi still brings hot summertime temps — indeed, real-feel temps in September can reach triple digits — the crappie begin their transition toward their fall patterns.

As I pen these thoughts, it is July 30. We just had record low temps in all areas of Mississippi. Jackson beat a 117-year-old record, registering a 59-degree mark at the airport this morning.

I couldn’t stand it, and hit the lake soon after sunup.

I admit that, as I age, I just don’t have the want-to as much as I used to have, and hot summer days certainly deter me from pursuing my favorite pastime — crappie fishing. So, today, feeling a breath of cooler, less-humid air out on the lake was truly a pleasurable time.

I could say that I didn’t really care whether I caught anything or not, but you would know that I would be telling a lie — wouldn’t you?

Let me tell you about the morning.

The first area I started fishing produced nothing. I mean not a bite — not even one of those little, pesky blue catfish.

I was pulling crankbaits, and I swapped out several cranks to get deeper and then back to medium-running baits with no success. “Hmmm — this cold front has given these fish a bad case of ‘lock jar,’” I surmised.

After an hour of zero success, I moved to hole No. 2. It took a few minutes, but I finally found the fish.

Studying my electronics, I noted that the surface temperature was 81 degrees. Folks, that’s 10 to 12 degrees lower than normal for this time of year. I set the fish finder to its highest sensitivity and headed out over 25-foot and deeper water to see what depth was holding the thermocline.

I found no thermocline. What I found was fish stacked from absolutely the very bottom to within 6 to 8 feet of the surface. And, I was seeing tons of shad at all depths. Hot dog, I knew I’d struck gold, friend!

Setting my trolling speed at 1.5 mph on my Terrova 101, I put out eight rods running cranks from 8 to 12 feet deep.

I soon had to reduce the number of poles to six.

And, as I moved over the sweet spot, I found it impossible to keep all the baits in the lake. I mean, dang, these cooler temperatures had put these fish in a feeding frenzy, and I was constantly reeling in fish — multiple fish on at one time, time after time.

Although I caught fish on every lure I had out, I believe the Cotton Cordell Wobblers that troll at around 11 to 12 feet were getting the most action. But, while I was catching them on the Wobblers, at the same time a Bomber 4A that was running 3 to 4 shallower was nailing them, too.

And this felt just like fall fishing. Cool, but not too cool, with a slight breeze to make a little chop on the water — perfect, friend, perfect.

What a gift! What a morning in late July catching them as big as they grow, as fast as I could.

Fall patterns

OK, let’s get ready for the fall crappie season — truly one of the most-productive times to catch big crappie. Granted, the wall hangers come in late February and early March just before those Big Mamas go through their annual hatch. But, for numbers and overall quality, fall crappie fishing is hard to beat.

I believe shorter days trigger a change in the entire food chain in our Mississippi lakes. Things and creatures move from where they were during the long, hot summer to different locations in the water column, relating to different circumstances and structures.

It’s obvious to me that whatever a shad eats must move as the days get shorter and the water temps get cooler because darn near every shad in Barnett Reservoir swims upriver out of the main lake to the Highway 43 bridge area. That’s only a slight exaggeration.

At Grenada Lake, they tell me the really big fish dig deeper in the fall, and catching 2 ½ pounders 20-feet-plus-deep is not uncommon. Prior to the fall cool down you couldn’t catch a crappie deeper than 12 feet or so at Grenada. Diminishing thermoclines have something to do with this deeper migration, I imagine.

At Chotard/Albermarle, crappie annually locate in the upper end of Albermarle and put on the feed bag. Usually hitting in late fall, huge river crappie chase shad and minnows fished no deeper than 5 feet in water depths from 12 to 20 feet deep. And when I say “putting on the feed bag,” friend, I mean these stout fish take on the mind set of a linebacker. It’s like they’re mad at the bait when they slam it, often high-flying out of the water at the end of my 14-foot-long minnow poles before I can react to the bite.

Regardless of which of our many crappie lakes are your favorites, take the time to enjoy catching some of the heaviest, meanest, hungriest fish of the entire year this fall.

Tournament time

The Magnolia Crappie Club begins our annual tournament season in September. The 2014-15 season kicks off Sept. 6 at Wolf Lake. This coming season features not one, not two, but three Big Mama Opens.

Our BMOs are open to everyone — no club membership required — and you’re fishing for one big fish. Top Cash Prizes can be as much as $2,500 for that Big Mama.

Check out more details at www.magnoliacrappieclub.com.

Join us this fall catching crappie as big as they grow.