Drifting flats with longlines is a great way to cover territory and find fish in fall, especially in the North where real spider-rigging is illegal. As the autumn winds build into the “gales of November,” using the wind to good benefit becomes logical and highly effective. Have a wind sock or two along to slow the boat and control drift speed.
The best areas for drifting are flats. Crappies will persist on shallow flats 15 feet deep or less right through September up North, and into November or even December in the deep South. Crappies are still spread out, and not as concentrated as they become in late fall. Later, as crappies move to deeper flats, drifting appeals to suspended fish best, because it takes the lines away from the boat when fish are up high in the water column. When crappies are pinned to bottom, drifting covers lots of territory.
Each scenario demands different rigging. It’s possible to drift shallow flats with light jig-and-plastic combinations. In open water, a small-bladed spinner harness dressed with one or two crappie minnows tends to work best. Weight one or two rigs with a split shot or two and leave one rig unweighted, to cover different depths. On bottom, a Lindy Rig, or similar bottom-dragging setup, can present minnows on floating jigheads or longline finesse rigs. When sonar indicates that crappies appear to be scattered through the water column, these methods can be combined.
I drift flats with 7- to 9-foot light-action rods and 4- to 6-pound line. When drifting a bait rig on bottom, a long rod allows you to feed the bait to the fish longer while dropping the rod tip back. When drifting with jigs or harnesses, a long rod provides quicker, easier depth control and spreads the lines farther out. A simple lift will set the hook, and crappies can’t straighten a 9-foot bend, so fewer fish come free on the way to the boat.
Turn the boat sideways to the wind and, if the wind is strong, put out a drift sock amidships, so the boat stays perpendicular to the wind. The classic crappie drift rig in open water is somewhat similar to a walleye rig — clevis, spinnerblade, beads, and a single 2-hook harness. But a crappie harness employs Aberdeen hooks and a size #00 to size #1 blade. Bait each hook with a 2-inch minnow and drop it in beside the boat. Control boat speed until the blade barely turns, then drop each harness back there 30 to 100 feet, depending on the clarity of the water. Weight each line differently so it swims through a different zone in the water column. Without wind it becomes necessary to use the trolling motor or backtroll into the breeze.
If it’s flat calm, get small suspending baits like the Excalibur Ghost Minnow way back there and slowly “snap troll.” Twitch the bait forward then create long pauses by slowly dropping the rod tip back as the boat moves forward, keeping the line tight. If crappies are deeper, troll them with small floating minnowbaits, but weight the line with split shot or create a three-way rig with a small bell sinker for deeper water.