By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
The first warm days of spring may be the only time many fishing enthusiasts hit the water with crappie in mind, which is a shame because the fall can be just as productive for those seeking the slabs, and can be even more fun.
According to Keith Sutton, author of “The Crappie Fishing Handbook,” during the post-spawn summer, lake crappie typically hang out in or near the thermocline, the thin transition that separates the oxygen-rich circulating upper layer of water from the cold, non-circulating layer below.
“This changes when fall begins,” Sutton says. “Cool weather begins lowering the surface water temperature. As the upper layer cools, it becomes heavier and sinks. This action forces warmer, lighter water back to the surface. This water subsequently is cooled, just as the previous surface layer was, and descends as it cools.” The result of this process, as far as the crappie are concerned, is that with the water the same everywhere, they’re now free to go anywhere – which is where the challenge comes in.
Follow factors, find fish
“Factors such as oxygen content, light penetration and food availability still greatly influence a crappie’s choice of living quarters,” Sutton says, adding that the key to finding fall crappie is finding their comfort zone.
When lakes begin to turn over with cool water descending and warmer water rising, the dirt and debris whipped into the mix can send crappie looking for clearer waters. In the same vein, decaying plant matter swirled through the water column can cause a rapid drop in oxygen levels. Crappie find clearer water at the mouths of tributaries, Sutton says, and can locate waters high in oxygen in the wind-whipped shallows, two areas worthy of the fall fisherman’s time.
Other fall tips from Sutton include:
• When all the water is stained, crappie cling tighter to cover. Minnows and jigs must be worked closer to cover to catch them as a result.
• When the water eventually settles and clears, the crappie will go deeper. Small lures and jigs on tight lines are the ticket here.
• Trolling a spider web of lines presented at different depths is a great way to located suspended columns of fish. Once you catch one, adjust all of your baits to that depth target the area for good results.
For more on crappie and many other freshwater species, visit Sutton’s website, www.catfishsutton.com.