Unseasonably warm weather in the Kawarthas this fall has really opened up opportunities for the “not so hardcore” angler to take advantage of some of the best fishing of the season without having to brave the elements. This time of year typically requires the angler to wear the thermal gear. Not the case so far! There is plenty of open water fishing still to be had and all species are biting exceptionally well in preparation for winter.
The region offers a multitude of angling opportunities and species to target. An often overlooked or underrated fishery present is that of the black crappie. Not only are they present in the region in high numbers, but also in trophy size! A fish of 15” is not uncommon, especially this time of the year. Not to mention they are considered one of the best eating fish available. While they are not as tightly grouped in schools during the fall as they are during the spring spawning season, once located they are not difficult to entice.
There are a few essentials that you’ll need to get started. A lake map or mapping device that includes the bottom contours of the lake that you will be fishing. This is imperative as we are looking for staging areas that these fish will hold to. Specifically we are looking for the first major “basin” adjacent to the spawning grounds. Nine times out of ten the bottom type will be a soft mud. All of the baitfish in the area will migrate to this bottom type in search of food and as such the crappie follow suit. The basin will be much deeper water in comparison to surrounding waters. Often 20 feet or more in depth.
This is a Navionics image from an app for an Apple device. The crappies spawn in the top left shallow area and transition out to the first basis highlighted by the cursor.
Once you have located this area, a depth/fish finder is required. I will simply idle over the basin in a zig-zag pattern until I start marking fish on my graph, making note of the position within the water column they are holding as often times they will be suspended at a specific depth.
Now that we have located some fish, it is time to discuss bait and tackle options. I prefer a 7’ ultra-light action spinning rod paired with a small 1000 sized spinning reel spooled with 5lb braided line. My preference is to use a braided line for its sensitivity, especially when fishing for light biting deep fish. I tie a 3 lb fluorocarbon leader to my braided line, in various lengths depending on the technique used as this has increased my success considerably given the fluorocarbons transparency.
It is important to remember that crappies feed “up”, meaning they eat bait that is in front of, or directly above them. That being said, a presentation of your bait of choice should be above the fish marked on your fish finder. Due to the feeding nature of this fish, bites feel different from your typically rattling panfish strike. In most cases you will feel the fish bump slack into your line. Don’t wait to feel the weight of the fish when this happens. Remember, it has pushed your bait upwards, by the time you feel the weight of the fish they will have often spit it back out, so set the hook right away!
When selecting the appropriate bait I tend to lean towards slightly larger than what would be considered normal panfish-sized offerings. Keep in mind that we are at the tail end of the open water season and all of this year’s baitfish are fully grown in size.
There are several effective techniques to be utilized when targeting crappie during late fall. My personal preference is a vertical presentation. Instead of casting and retrieving, I will sit directly above the fish I am targeting and drop my offering down to them. My top three choices are all baitfish imitations and include;
1. A 2 1/4-inch soft plastic paired with a 1/16 oz jig head. I will drop this bait down to the fish and gently twitch the offering about 12 inches above them.
2. A small spoon. I keep colors simple. Gold or silver usually does the trick. I will drop this down to the fish and give it slight snaps of the wrists to make it flutter directly above them.
3. One of my absolute favorites is a drop shot rig paired with a 1/4-ounce weight and small soft plastic bait. I love this rig because I can set the tag end weight depth according to the depth I am marking fish, ensuring I am presenting the bait slightly above the fish. I drop this down and quiver it ever so slightly to entice a lot of bites!
Late fall crappie fishing is a lot of fun and there are several terrific lakes within the region that should be on your list to visit. My top three lakes for the best crappie fishing are:
Be sure to add these to you list of “must fish” locations for fall crappies this year. Your next trophy “Slab” awaits!