Pleasant Surprise #2 Not that Crappie a day
By Daniel Kiazyk
Well I've written about this before and it's worth returning to for a second look. Previously I had written about having seen limited success for crappie on a particular reservoir and basically had been pleasantly surprised by an alternative species: walleye. However this past fall I finally encountered what many people had described to be this particular lake's extraordinary bite. Did I expect to "hammer ‘em? No. In fact, after reading a number of reports on the crappie bite, I was at best incredulous about what I'd read. Why did I head out? – Well, if you don't try it, you'll never know! So it was this past fall, that Dwayne (another regular fishing buddy) and I would head out and giver' a go only to be pleasantly surprised by a rather good bite.
Arriving a bit later and after putting in our small craft, neither of us had high expectations. Simply, we had been here before and had gone away disappointed. After the first hour and a half with only one crappie boated we started thinking we weren't going to be doing anything at all, much like previous trips . Initially we watched to see what other boats were doing. Herd mentality isn't all that bad an idea when you don't now where the bites happening. But on this given day, it sure wasn't a successful strategy. We watched others and ourselves catch few if any fish.
It goes without saying that after two hours of not doing too much, we weren't especially fired-up to continue seeking out our target species. By the way we weren't the only ones wondering what had happened to the crappie that day. Other boats which had been there already upon our arrival we starting to trailer out of the lake. Well, we had one of three options. Do what we had done before – target walleye or continue on with our "crappie objective" or just go home.
Before arriving at a final decision about what to do we starting talking about what a conservation officer in the area had said about the number of crappie in this particular lake. His opinion was that this lake and its population of crappie have cycled over the years and perhaps our last outing had been during a low part of the cycle. According to this C.O. crappie will cycle high and low where the fish will sur-populate an environment to such an extent that they will eat themselves out of house and home. So given this background and recent reports of action on this lake we decided to continue on with our objective. Who knew what we were in for….
Part of what unfolded for the rest of the day corresponded with what we later found out is standard crappie behaviour (or so we would read later). Being a part of the bass family crappie will move up to spawn in the spring and will move down to deeper water over their summer depths during the summer. Some crappie at the same time remain shallower next to deeper weed lines, bull rushes, but a larger number will suspend off such areas in intermediate depths. Structural components between feeding areas and these intermediate depths can at times produce numbers but fishing just off the edge will be best. As fall approaches and turnover occurs crappie will be once again present in shallower areas where they hadn't been for the prior couple of months. 10 – 12 foot depths in the morning and evening will hold fish that weren't there throughout much of the summer. Fish will also suspend over deeper water through the day but at about the same depth as they would be at the 10-12 foot depth mentioned. Moreover as fall progresses, crappie will start to spend most of their time suspended out over the deepest parts of the reservoir and then they will progressively move deeper down the water column. It was just a matter of making the connection with these patterns of behaviour that would give us success we had not yet seen on this particular lake.
Well, on that particular day we moved form the shallow area where no one was having much luck to an area where there was access to deeper water - and it was over deeper water in 9-12 feet over 25-35 feet that we would start to spy "clouds" of fish. Every time we would mark a school in the 9-12 foot range, we would end up hooking up with a number of fish. Where were the other members of the herd while we happened ito this pattern, well the whole flotilla had given up by 2:00 p.m. that day and had pulled out. No other boat was left on the lake save us. Where would we spend the rest of our day? As already mentioned we kept on drifting through those schools / wherever we could find them! And continued to catch fish for most of the day. In the evening we also noticed a movement of fish into the shallower areas and found fish would hit on almost anything we'd throw at them.
In retrospect (writing about this about three months after the fact) we found that as the season progressed those schools of fish that bit (at 9-12 feet) were found at progressively deeper levels as the fall progressed --- much like they are supposed to do by their nature. That shallow evening bite that we experienced earlier on in the fall disappeared as well as the season progressed. As for some of the slabs we ended up catching, we found most of these fish bit further off shore or a little deeper than the majority of other fish we would catch.
What about baits? We still haven't refined that part of our approach but in general we had the greatest success using smaller jigs tipped with power baits in a variety of colors. Some colors worked better than others but I'll leave that with you to figure out on the day you're out there. Some other fine tuning elements we included in our presentation was to "shot" our lines with as much weight if not more than the weight of our jigs. Actual amounts would depend upon wind velocity – more wind would require more shotting to get that jig down into the zone.
Finally, the other one component of our approach was to depend upon sonar to find fish and even more precisely "active" fish. As time progressed, we found that fish at a particular level were active. There were other clouds of fish at different levels but if we lowered our offering down to them we found nary a bite! Not having a depth finder in this context would have not allowed us to establish this pattern. Important for effective sonar use was to put the unit "off" automatic and to a manual setting, set to show "clouds" of fish.
Well to put it in a nutshell, we finally caught our intended species for the lake and were pleasantly surprised as we had "finally found what we were looking for"and were pleasantly surprised by the experience.