Drifting flats with longlines is a great way to cover territory and find fall crappies, 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.
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