Ahh, yessssss — crappie fishing in the fall!
Lots of co-operative fish, some good eaters and a shot at some really big, slab-sided fish as the waters continue to cool. Actually, it’s not even really that cold yet for what many savvy panfishers consider “good” crappie fishing weather.
Me, I like cool, overcast and even misty, rainy conditions with a slight breeze that puts a good “bobber chop” on the surface. Bright, sunny days can be tough, but once fish are located it can be fast and furious fishing.
Our most recent efforts for these delicious fish turned out to be really crappie, er, I mean good fishing trips. On some occasions we had high numbers of medium sized fish and other jaunts yielded fewer, yet bigger fish.
On our kayak trip to a southern Pennsylvania lake we caught close to 100 fish on a variety of 1/32 and 1/16th ounce hair jigs and plastics suspended with a small bobber and some were taken on straight retrieves as the jig would fall on a tight line.
The strike of a fall crappie can vary from one day to the next. If they are actively feeding, strikes are often solid “thumps” as fish will really inhale the jig. Other times the bite is more subtle, perhaps just a heavy sensation as if you snagged a leaf. And then again crappies can take slack out of your line and give you an “up bite.” Having ultra-light gear and sensitive rods with quality 4-pound monofilament is basic recipe for crappie fishing success in our smaller lakes and ponds across the Mid Atlantic region.
For their size, crappies have a relatively large mouth and can take 1/8th ounce jigs without a problem. I have even had fish as small as 8 inches hit a #5 Mepps spinner intended for bass. So, if one size jig isn’t producing don’t be afraid to either up or downsize in order to find the proper profile to trigger strikes.
Lines can aid in upping the catch rate. We like 4 or 6-pound test monofilament and I have recently gone to the bright yellow and gold lines simply because I can see it to tie and manage. Plus, you can see “jumps” and “ticks” in your line with the bright hues.
Does it bother the crappies? I think not, as I have not noticed any difference in the catching with high-vis versus clear lines. In many circles of crappie anglers throughout the south, expert crappie fishermen have been using the high-vis options for years, with excellent success.
Jig colors can be a tough choice, but most crappie fishing conditions will see chartreuse, pink, black, light blue and white as prime hues for attracting the fish. The “electric chicken” combo of chartreuse and pink has been a standby for years and pearl and light green can score heavy at times as well. It pays to have a variety of colors in your small plastic arsenal.
The Bobby Garland Baby Shad patterns have been a long-standing favorite among tournament crappie anglers for over a decade. When it comes to jig fishing with small plastics, sometimes size is more important than color, as crappies tend to feed heavily on whatever the available baitfish forage is.
At times, crappies will key on a specific size rather than color and if you can’t match the hatch than you might not catch a single fish. The Berkley Gulp! one-inch minnows have been a godsend when paired with a 1/64th ounce jig head and suspended below a small, sensitive float. Then again, crappies will often show a preference for a larger offering in the 2- to 3-inch range ... something you might use for bass even.
So, what is considered “eating-size” as opposed to big or even trophy-class crappies? Well mostly, that depends on what part of the country you are in. Throughout the southern and central portions of the nation there are quality waters that routinely produce fish averaging 13 to 14 inches, with trophy-class fish of 17 inches showing up annually. In our region, the tidal Potomac is very close to that standard with fish that will occasionally exceed 2 pounds.
All of our local drinking water reservoirs have yielded 14- to 15-inch fish as top-end catches with a rare giant over 16 inches showing up now and then. However, most waters yield 10-inch class fish as the average size for eating with 12-inch fish considered as “slabs.”
Some waters hold only smaller fish that run but 8 inches or so. If you are catching 10-11 inchers, you are doing well in most regional lakes.
As the weather continues to cool and water temperatures drop, crappies will be increasingly active and good catches can be had. Keep in mind that Maryland has a 15-fish limit per day, per angler for these fish and Pennsylvania has an “over the top” limit of 50 fish per angler, per day.
Crappie numbers can be fished down in heavily pressured lakes, so it pays to harvest wisely, letting the majority of the big fish go and keep more numerous smaller fish for the pan. Good times and good fishing are coming, so get out and enjoy!