North to South, a handful of crappie patterns occurs in fall. All of them have to do with winter crappies seeking their seasonal habitat. As a rule, they move deeper at some point during fall. In reservoirs, crappies take flight from shallow creek arms and main-lake bays to concentrate in and around the intersection of the creek channel and the main river channel. In shallow reservoirs and flowages, crappies move to the deepest holes, which tend to be in the lower third of the lake, if not right above the dam — which is similar to what takes place in smaller natural lakes, with a maximum depth of 25 feet or less, where crappies move right out to the center of the deepest basin. In larger natural lakes, crappies often find smaller basins, holes on flats or main-lake flats in the 20- to 30-foot range. The farther north you go, the deeper you find crappies wintering in big natural lakes — some down to 50 feet or so.
Crappies concentrate this time of year, as the needs of winter draw forage species closer together in predictable spots. In natural lakes and hill-land reservoirs down South, and in the flatland reservoirs of the Midwest, shad represent the primary forage. As water temperatures cool in September, gizzard shad move shallow, often feeding right on top. Crappies follow, often reversing the same migrational pathways they used to leave spawning areas earlier in the year. Routes leading crappies from deep to shallow can be weedlines, cuts, troughs, channels or simply depressions in the bottom. Large shallow flats (the best often encompass several thousand square yards) are good. Large shallow flats about 2/3 of the way back into a creek arm tend to be better. If that flat has stump fields, it’s crappie paradise. Shad group in tight pods.
But this foraging binge of 4 to 8 weeks, depending upon conditions, is followed by another migration. By late November or early December, crappies may move out and suspend in deeper creek arms, or they may move down to the confluence of the creek channel and the main river channel. Steep-dropping banks anywhere in this general area might hold fish, especially those near primary points and channel bends. Submerged or fallen trees and brush piles on these banks can concentrate crappies. In deeper hill-land reservoirs, most crappies seem to seek out depths of 25 to 45 feet.
Up North, a general transition among crappies takes place. Suspended crappies become bottom-oriented after the fall turnover, which takes place sometime between mid-September and mid-October, depending on latitude. In fall, crappies can be found along the base of main-lake structures, patrolling the edge, usually within a few feet of bottom in the 20- to 40-foot range, depending upon how far north you go, with 25 to 35 feet being most common. When fall and winter crappies suspend up North, it generally takes place within 10 feet of bottom.
At first, crappies can be found scattered over a large area at the base of main-lake breaklines. These pods of fish may eventually coalesce into one huge school. Prime methods for catching crappies during early fall tend to be less efficient for catching crappies later on.
From place to place and from time to time, the prime method for catching fall crappies can differ. We review two techniques right for crappies anywhere, sometime between September and December.
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