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.
6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi
Like the Bordeaux region grows world-class wine grapes, the Arc of Slabs is famous for producing giant crappies. Grenada, Sardis, Enid, and Arkabutla — it's a tossup which of these reservoirs might be best for giant white crappies during March and April. Jigging in brush and spider-rigging are the best bets. Wading, too, at times. Contact: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999.
2 Lake Erie, Ohio
The best opportunities are between Port Clinton and Vermilion, says Ohio fishery biologist Travis Hartman. Many marinas and backwaters have excellent crappie fishing in the spring, peaking in late April to early May, and occasionally in the fall. Good open-water spots are East and West harbors and Sandusky Bay. Check connected rivers, too. Lots of fish to 12 inches, with 14-inchers not uncommon, Hartman says. Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters says Lake Erie is a surprisingly overlooked crappie fishery, considering the numbers of fish caught, up to 18 inches, as big as any in the state. Contact: Erie Outfitters, 440/949-8934; Ohio DNR, dnr.state.oh.us
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Guide Billy Blakley says the crappie forecast for the 'Earthquake Lake ' is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11„4 pounds and catches up to 23„4 pounds. The lake contains both black and white crappies. From March through May, spider-rig and jig around underwater wood, and jig around exposed cypress stumps. The bite picks up again in the fall. Top-notch lodging and food at Blue Bank Resort. Contact: Guide Billy Blakley at Blue Bank Resort 877/258-3226, bluebankresort.com
7 Weiss Lake, Alabama
The crappie outlook is very good for 2013, reports Alabama district fisheries supervisor Dan Catchings. Samples indicate one, and possibly two, strong year-classes of crappies in 2010 and 2011. Expect good numbers of harvestable-size fish from the 2010 spawn this spring, with the 2011 year-class contributing to the fishing in mid- to late 2013. Fishing picks up in February as crappies move shallow. March through early May is best, with April being the peak. Contact: Guide Richard Green, 859/983-0673, or book through Little River Marina and Lodge (256/779-6461); Guide Mark Collins, markcollinsguideservice.com
8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee
Anglers look forward to the 'Crappie Capital ' living up to its name in 2013, says guide Steve McCadams. Expect numbers of quality fish with a shot at slabs over 2 pounds. While action during the spawn in late March into April is outstanding, don't overlook May and June, when stable lake levels and weather patterns find crappies concentrating around fish attractors at midrange depths, he says. Contact: Guide Steve McCadams, stevemccadams.com
9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina
Numbers of crappies from 1 to 13„4 pounds with a chance for 2- to 3-pounders. Once the spider-rigging bite wanes in shallower creek channels by April, action turns to jigging deeper brushpiles. Contact: Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381.
3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma
This shallow reservoir boasts numbers of crappies in the 2- to 3-pound range, with 37-fish limits common. In spring, the action is shallow, doodlesocking flooded buckbrush in high water, or working rocky banks and brush cover in low water, says guide Todd Huckabee. Crappies move to deeper brush later in spring. Contact: Guide Todd Huckabee, toddhuckabee.net
; Guide Barry Morrow, barrymro.com
; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528.
5 Lake Fork, Texas
Numbers of slabs from 11„4 to 21„2 pounds tend to get overlooked in this lake famous for lunker bass. Mid-May through June is guide Terri Moon's favorite time for crappies, when the fish head to brushpiles and bridge abutments in 20 to 24 feet of water. Pitching Fork Tackle's Live Baby Shads on 1/16-ounce jigs is a top option. Ivan Martin and Rick Loomis also guide clients to Fork's crappies in November and December, when fish are on points and in deeper brush. Contact: Guide Terri Moon, 903/383-7773; Guide Ivan Martin, 918/260-7743; Guide Rick Loomis, rickloomis.com
; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle, lakeforkmarina.com
1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario
The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett, davebennettoutdoors.com
, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, brucescanadianangling.com
10 St. Johns River, Florida
The stretch of the St. Johns River south of Lake George offers outstanding fishing. Crappies from 2 to 3 pounds are caught regularly, with average catches well over a pound. This was the scene of an In-Fisherman television episode that airs this spring. Weedflats hold fish that can't resist tubes fished under a float. Or troll channel edges using jigs or minnows. Contact: Lodging at Castaways on the River, 352/759-4522, castawaysontheriver.com
; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861, cflfishing.com