Crappie time is the fall

While fishing in bass tournaments keeps me busy throughout much of the year, I truly love to catch whatever wants to bite and I always have an appreciation for big fish of any species.
The good thing about fall is the bass tournaments eventually finish up, opening up a bunch of time to target other species.
It’s a great time of year to catch just about everything that swims in our lakes as fish bulk up before the long winter.
One of my favourite fish to catch in the fall are crappies. Although they are not native to our part of the world, they have established themselves in many bodies of water across the region, likely through unregulated stocking.
Today we have some of the best crappie fishing in North America on some of the big lakes like Lake of the Woods, Rainy, and Wabigoon, as well as in countless smaller lakes scattered across Sunset Country.
My experience with crappies is that they generally are tough to catch during the summer months because I think in many waters they suspend in vast weed beds, where they are hard to locate with electronics or by fishing.
When they spawn in shallow water in the spring, they are very easy to see and catch.
In the early fall, crappies make predictable moves to the deeper basins in the bays or lakes that they live in—and that is where they’ll spend the fall and winter.
In most of our lakes, anglers want to be looking for crappies in 25-35 feet of water, but they could be slightly deeper or shallower depending on the body of water.
Once you find where the fish are, usually with the aid of electronics, they typically are pretty easy to catch and they seem to use the same spots year after year.
The secret to finding big crappies is to fish places where they don’t get a lot of pressure. It seems like the community spots that see a lot of fishing pressure throughout the year still have good fishing, but those big fish disappear for the most part.
Although they are a prolific fish, those big one over 14 inches in length take some time to get that big.
Growing up, the limit for crappies was 30 and I saw a lot of buckets full of limits get taken by anglers, including myself. The problem is that the majority of a population in a particular area will school up in these fall and winter spots, so they are very susceptible to overharvest.
It really doesn’t take long to clean out a great spot when we keep our limits every time we go.
Fortunately, in what I think is one of the best moves that our Natural Resources folks have made in our area, they dropped the limit to 10 crappies per person per day.
The reality is that you get a fillet about the same size as an eater-sized walleye from a mature crappie. So if you keep 10 fish, you have a big bag of meat.
When it comes to catching fall crappies, a simple jig and minnow is tough to beat. But in the past five or six years, I haven’t once even used live bait.
Rather, I usually just use a small 1/8th-oz. jig tipped with a small soft plastic like a 3” Impulse Smelt Minnow that I like to bite about one inch off of to shorten it up a bit. Small spoons work great, as well.
The secret is not usually the lure as much as simply finding schools of fish.
They are fun to catch and great to eat, so if you want to get out fishing again before the season finishes, go and find some crappies!