Fall is prime time to catch big numbers of slab crappies and prepare for ice fishing in the process. It’s easy, too. Armed with a few basic tenets of autumn fish location and behavior, you can score great catches now while laying a solid foundation for hard-water success.
In many northern systems, crappies often keep to their summer ways throughout September. But the first cold fronts of October typically push the fish away from near-shore weedlines into deeper water. “On small lakes, look for the deepest water available,” says legendary iceman and longtime Lindy pro Dave Genz. “Other areas that can hold fish include narrows between sunken islands and shore, and inside turns where deep water cuts into a flat.”
MOST PROBABLE CRAPPIE HOT SPOTS FOR SMALL LAKES
On large lakes, Genz often targets north-end bays, where the water tends to be warmest. “Cold northwest winds pile cool surface water on the south and southeast sides of the lake, while warm undercurrents circulate back to the north,” he explains.
I’ll add that on some of my home waters in central-Minnesota, the October bite starts along points tapering off from weedlines into deep water. Fifteen to 25 feet is a good range to search. As fall progresses, the fish school in deeper water, gravitating to depths of 30 feet or deeper about 200 yards from the point. However, in one particularly shallow, bathtub-like basin lake that produces monster catches at first and last ice, “deep” is relative and I’ve enjoyed fantastic fishing in 6 feet of water. Keep in mind the lake maxes out at 7. The key in shallow featureless waters like this is often finding areas where large crappies waylay baitfish migrating out of shallower marshes.
MOST PROBABLE CRAPPIE HOT SPOTS IN LARGE LAKES
Suspended Animation In general, Genz looks for suspended crappies. “I’m often fishing 20 to 30 feet down over deeper water,” he says. His go-to rig is a Lindy Ice Worm, hook size 6, 8, or 10, fished on 4- to 6-pound monofilament line under a Thill TG Waggler float. “Fishing such light tackle in deep water, a sensitive float is key to strike detection,” he adds.
Genz balances his float with double-cut soft shot 7 to 10 inches above the Ice Worm, for maximum castability. He adds just enough shot so the trademark red and yellow bands on the float’s tip ride above the surface, a key point for visibility in all light conditions. “Watch those colors, because some bites are lift-bites and all that happens is the tip rises an inch or so when a crappie grabs the bait on the rise,” he notes.
Minnows and waxworms are standard tipping fare. Genz impales minnows through the lips, eyes, or tail depending on what the crappies prefer at the moment. “Each one causes the bait to behave a bit differently, but such subtleties can make a big difference on the number of fish you catch,” he says. Waxworms, too, call for experimentation. Often, Genz T-bones or threads them on at one end, “so they flop.” When using the smallest Ice Worms, a tiny spike or maggot might get the nod.
For my part, I prefer spoonfeeding fall crappies beneath my boat’s sonar transducer. A 1/16-ounce Frostee Jigging Spoon is ideal, paired with a minnow hooked in the back or tail. Half a crappie minnow, hooked to hang head-down, or a tiny bit of plastic like a Techni-Glo Tail can be good, too. Genz also uses spoons, but he likes them under floats. “Dance a spoon by raising and lowering the rod to give the spoon a lift-fall dancing action,” he adds.
A final point on deep-water lure selection is to choose a light-emitting color. Genz favors Lindy’s Red Glow, chartreuse or black.
Oranges and chartreuse shades tend to produce better in shallower water. With its highly seductive marabou tail, the Fuzz-E-Grub is another stellar performer in the abyss. Tip standard leadheads with a lip-hooked minnow.
Jigging or spooning, the fall crappie bite is too good to pass up. You often have the fish to yourself, and can squeeze in some solid scouting for the ice-fishing season ahead. One last tip: the lures and tippings mentioned here for fall are equally deadly once the water’s surface solidifies.