Crappie fishing during the fall is a lot like spring fishing, minus the crowds. Here are 4 overlooked places to find slabs when the leaves are turning.
To say a particular fishing location or pattern is “overlooked” makes the assumption that other folks are fishing, just not in the prescribed location.
However, crappie fishing in the fall generally means the entire lake is overlooked, since most folks are out sitting in a tree, a football stadium or in front of the TV.
Nonetheless, there are particular locations that hold respectable numbers of crappie that other anglers simply either don’t fish or aren’t aware of their fish-holding potential.
One thing each of these places has in common is they find favor to crappie that are seeking asylum from the fall turnover and/or are an easy stop between the fall migration from deeper water to shallow.
Brad Taylor of Greenville, past president of the Magnolia Crappie Club and a tournament angler, has fished oxbows most of his life and looks forward to the fall when oxbows along the Mississippi River provide some of the best action in the entire state.
“Fall water levels are more stable in these oxbows,” Taylor said. “However, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the water levels of the Mississippi before heading out to an oxbow, because the true oxbows that are connected directly to the river by a ditch or canal fluctuate with the river levels. If the water gets too deep coming in from the Mississippi River it will scatter the fish and make them harder to catch because there’s deep water everywhere and not just in the main runs.”
Don’t overlook them
Taylor said oxbows tend to get overlooked in favor of larger, more-popular lakes. Anglers can expect to catch both white and black crappie in oxbows, depending on the location.
“River specks will be down in the brush, most of which is man-made stuff that’s been sunk along the edge of the oxbow channel,” he said. “These fish will almost always be right in the brush or at least around the tops of it. It’s pretty common to get 20 to 25 fish in a day’s fishing, and they’ll be big, healthy, green-tinted black crappie. A pound-and-a-half speck is really something to see in a blackwater oxbow.”
“White crappie are typically the better fish and are found relating to brush, but (they) nearly always suspend somewhere up in the water column,” he said. “Get out in deeper water and look for shad on your sonar, then follow the bait and you’re almost guaranteed to find some big white crappie.”
Tournament angler Kent Driscoll, a member of the B’n’M Poles pro staff, said a lot of people don’t fish riprap because they can’t see the forest for the trees.
“Crappie will always relate to riprap, no matter what type of lake, river or area you’re fishing,” he said. “It’s also a great place to fish, because the rocks provide a big current break for the fish and a big wind break for the fisherman. Also, as the weather and water start to get cooler, all that rock will warm up in the late-afternoon sun, and that gradual warming will heat the surrounding water up a degree or two, enough to draw both baitfish and crappie.”
Driscoll said the combination of food, deep water and slightly warmer temperatures make riprap a great place to load up on crappie, and it’s not hard to fish.
“Fishing riprap is like fishing a stairwell with a gradual slope,” he said. “You first have to figure out what depth level the fish are using, as it tends to change based on conditions. Most riprap will be at nearly a 45-degree angle. That means if you’re 5 feet off the bank, you’re in about 5 feet of water; if you’re 10 feet out, you’re in 10 feet and so on. Most riprap will extend out at least 25 feet under water, and that gives you a wide range of depths to locate fish.”
Brad Whitehead, a guide on Pickwick Lake, said fishing boat docks can be a year-round tactic, but he finds the fall can be as good as the spring when it comes to catching crappie around them.
Whitehead looks for boat docks that provide access to deep water. Those docks with at least 12 feet of water off the front end are ideal. Boat docks with large roof coverings or canopies create a large area of shade.
To catch these fish, he’s going to shoot the docks with a slow-falling, 1/24- to 1/32-ounce jig.
“It takes a bit of practice,” Whitehead said. “You bend the rod over and hold the jig between your thumb and forefinger under the reel. Release the jig and simultaneously release the line, which sling shots the bait forward, parallel to the water, causing it to skip up under the boat or dock or whatever you’re shooting at.
“Watch your line as the jig sinks. Any twitch, movement or sudden stopping of the line means a fish just sucked your jog in. That’s when you need to set the hook” he said.
John Harrison, a guide on Grenada Lake, is well known for catching big crappie from reservoirs, but he admitted that crappie-fishing in a river is a great way to find crappie that get a whole lot less pressure.
Harrison said finding a good river to fish is as simple as motoring all the way up to the headwaters of a reservoir and fishing the flowing waters there — or by putting in at one of the many rivers that cross the state.
“It’s not really that different from fishing a big reservoir, where crappie live in river arms that have been impounded,” Harrison said. “Crappie will hold along the edge of the river channels, and they will congregate around some type of structure that breaks the current and also attracts baitfish. In the spring and fall, they will move out of the main river and work their way into smaller tributaries and shallower water.”
Unlike reservoir fishing, where most of the successful tactics involve fishing multiple rods, Harrison said river fishing is almost entirely a single-pole event.
“It’s almost 100% jig fishing, whether you’re in the main river or one of the offshoots,” he said. “You might get away with trolling the deep end of a slough, but you’ll get hung up a lot because there’s so much debris on the bottom of most rivers. I like a good 8- to 9-foot graphite jig pole to jig with. I’ll use that to work a 1/16-ounce jig around visible shoreline structure or working a deep-water stump field.”
More oxygen equals more crappie
Steve Coleman, an eight-time national champion crappie fisherman, said the best way to combat low oxygen levels that often occur during the fall is to find areas that provide more oxygen.
He pointed to the headwaters of a creek.
“Look for moving water,” said Coleman, from Tiptonville, Tenn. “Any time you have current, either from dropping lake levels for winter pool or where you’ve got water coming into a lake, you’ll have better water quality. That moving water, especially if it tumbles coming into the lake, will have more oxygen and crappie will always gravitate to the better water quality during the fall.
Coleman said you can tell when a lake is turning over in areas that are calm and still. The water will have a dark or murky look and you’ll often see dead shad on the surface. Moving water keeps the water stirred up and doesn’t affect the fishing.
He scoffs when anglers say they’ve never caught crappie in water with current.
“Crappie don’t like having to fight the current, but they do like to eat, and that’s another reason they’ll head to moving water,” he said. “This time of year, baitfish migrate into the backs of creeks, they’re also looking for better water quality.
“Crappie won’t spend much time in fast moving water,” said Coleman. “Typically, they like to hide behind a current break and dart out there and eat baitfish that are swept past.”