November 06, 2021
You can have a crappy fall or a crappie fall; the choice is yours. If thoughts of tasty fillets inspire you toward the latter, we have a handful of pointers that’ll help deliver the goods.
Stay With The Bait
Wally “Mr. Crappie” Marshall knows the fish will be following migrating shad schools into the backs of pockets and tributaries where they’ll find cozy retreats for winter’s forthcoming harshness. As fall progresses, so will the bait migration. Because he wants the fish coming to him, Marshall intentionally tries to run past them so he knows the progress line.
“What I do is go up those creeks and start using my Humminbird 360 to look for baitfish and submerged logs and timber that you can’t find with the naked eye,” Marshall said. “I keep going until I don’t see any more baitfish or crappie. Usually, the crappie are with the baitfish, so if you don’ see any baitfish, there’s not going to be any crappie farther up the creek, so I turn around and start fishing my way out.”
The Right Angle
Consistent crappie action depends on keeping your bait on the fish’s radar. Favoring a 1/32- to 1/8-ounce Mr. Crappie ball head jig, Louisiana crappie pro Dennis Tietje said a 90-degree eye is essential for maintaining that vertical posture he needs for effective presentations.
Consider also how your line angle impacts bait posture. Specifically, check your knot frequently to ensure it’s centered at the top of the line tie. If it slides too far forward or aft, it can affect bait posture. (Easy fix—use a loop knot.)
Dial In The Depth
Because crappie almost always feed up, fishing below the fish is wasted time. Electronics removes a lot of the guesswork, but Tietje often employs an old-school technique for pinpointing the fish’s strike zone.
“If the spot you’re fishing is deep enough for you to be able to put your boat over the fish, drop down to the bottom and then slowly lift your rod—to the point where your rod is extended over your head,” he said. “Crappie always have a strike zone and lifting that jig very slowly with your arm, you actually come up through that strike zone.
“As it’s leaving, those crappie think that (bait) is swimming away. This technique will double your catch rate, versus just putting your bait down there and jigging it.”
Marshall’s a fan of one-pole, vertical jigging over the brush and wood he encounters. For this technique, he’ll use his signature 10-foot jigging rod with his Mr. Crappie Solo reel—a large arbor reel that allows him to quickly pull out line, as needed.
Once he locates a promising piece of cover, he tosses out a marker and works all around the structure, while monitoring his Humminbird 360 for signs of bait and fish. Snags are part of this game, but he knows a disciplined response usually salvages the moment.
“Don’t panic if you feel your jig hit something,” he said. “Don’t jam the hook into the brush or wood; just wiggle your rod tip until it pops loose.”
In shallow river scenarios, Tietje can’t always position his boat over the fish like he would in a lake’s greater depths. Cane poling offers one option, but Tietje prefers suspending his jig beneath a float.
“When you’re casting away from the boat, a cork just offers you the ability to hold that bait in the strike zone,” he said.
Essential here, is adjusting the cork rig to fit a given scenario. For example, a shallow brush pile with minimal overhead clearance may require only a 1 1/2-foot leader; whereas the bases of cypress trees might require a 2- to 2 1/2-foot drop.
Tietje’s float strategy also works around the various well head structures found throughout the southern Louisiana marshes. It’s not wrong to make a few casts to these structures, but when crappie hold close to capitalize on local bait schools, a float keeps your bait in the strike zone.
“With a lot of these well heads, people have put brush around them,” he said. “These areas and any treetop in those oilfield canals are good, as opposed to the open areas.”
Cold fronts are part of the fall season and, while the shifting weather can stimulate feeding, the post-frontal period is tough. When bluebird skies dominate the day, Marshall shifts his focus to deeper laydowns and docks where sulking crappie often gather.
Going super subtle with his bait choice, Marshall strives to minimize his movement. “A lot of times, you can just hold it there and they’ll just knock the fire out of it.”
Tietje often sweetens his jig with a Berkley Powerbait Crappie Nibble—an easier and less involved option than minnows. Those scented gels, pastes and sprays offer similar stimulation for hesitant crappie.
When the fish are snapping, such enhancements are unnecessary, but when the bite is tough, the extra scent and taste will often push a hesitant fish over the edge.