A Pitch For Crappies

Pitching -- No method of catching crappies is more fun than pitching light jigs and feeling them take it. When crappies move shallow in September, the only method more fun that pitching is fly fishing with streamers tied to imitate shad.

Many horizontal presentations work, because crappies have the feed bag on and become much less selective about what they will or will not strike. Small suspending minnowbaits, such as a size #4 Rapala Husky Jerk, can be dynamite from late summer through mid-fall. Small crankbaits and floating minnows work, too. Whether tossing hard baits, jigs or flies, horizontal presentations shine for finding fish quickly on shallow flats.

Once the general area crappies inhabit is narrowed down, however, few things can outfish pitching with plastics on jigs. Tubes would be the first call for many, but I prefer auger-tail grubs, like the Yamamoto 2-inch grub, and small swimbaits or shad-style bodies, such as the little 2-inch Stanley Wedge Tail or the small Berkley Micro Power Minnow.

The early shallow movement in fall is most pronounced in systems where shad represent the main forage, but it happens in natural lakes, too. In this case, where the shad or shiners go, the crappies go. Shad can be seen dimpling the surface in the right areas, especially during low-light periods. The best shallow flats tend to be extensive, with some sharply graded slopes into deeper water nearby. Crappies can be way up in very shallow water during low-light periods and at night, but concentrate on the edges of the flat near those sharp drops during the middle of the day.

When it comes to crappies, pitching is just casting. So many techniques for crappies today call for trolling, drifting, rigging and bobber fishing that it can be quite refreshing to simply cast. And crappies become aggressive in fall, so it's not hard to find them on shallow flats with aggressive baits. If crappies inhabit fallen trees or brush piles, try a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce spinnerbait, such as the Blue Fox Big Crappie Spinner. If they locate over the tops or along the edge of weedbeds, try a small suspending jerkbait. Ultralight crankbaits, like the Yo-Zuri Snap Shad or Norman Deep Tiny N, are good tools for crappies suspended 3 to 6 feet below the surface. Hard baits find crappies quickly. Keep an eye on the water behind the lure as you retrieve it, as crappies often follow.

Once the fish are located, I generally switch to a 1/32- to 1/16-ounce ball-head jig tipped with an action-tailed plastic body and present it on a 7- to 7 1/2-foot ultralight rod coupled with a light spinning reel and 4-pound line. This combination casts for distance and comprehensively covers a small area at a slow pace. If the crappies are near the surface, use a light jig and reel moderately fast. If crappies are hovering on rock or brushpiles in 10 to 15 feet of water, let the jig fall to bottom and reel very slowly. Actually it's a slow process at any depth. The idea is to simply reel the jig in while keeping it on a horizontal plane. No stopping, no jigging -- just a constantly thumping plastic tail that screams "easy meal" like an air-raid siren. When you're wired to the critical location, nothing works better. Strikes can be distinctly felt, followed by hooksets, bent rods and tight lines. And, sometimes, that description fits every cast for an hour or so.

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