A few secrets to catching tasty fall crappies

If some of you fish heads across Sunset Country have not been out in the boat over the past week-and-a-half taking advantage of all the fantastic weather we have had, you have missed out–big time!
I cannot remember four days of flat, calm water in October like we over the past weekend. And then to add the warm temperatures, we have been blessed.
Over the past week, I have been fishing for a variety of species: walleyes, bass, pike, and crappies. Although fishing has been good for all species, fall is crappie time in my opinion.
Let’s take a look at some secrets to put these tasty critters in the boat before freeze-up.
The first thing anglers need to do is find crappies. Many of you have your favourite lake or spot, and this time year you usually can rely on memories to find success.
Crappies typically drop into the deep water basins of the bays they live in (usually these spots are in 20-40 feet of water). They will be relatively close to where they spend the winter so if you have a good ice-fishing spot, you probably can catch them nearby right now.
Good electronics make finding fish much easier. I was out on Sunday with my dad and Dean Howard, and we were able to quickly drive around in an area we know has a good population of fish until we marked them on my Humminbird 1197 unit.
Crappies typically show up really good on electronics because they usually are suspended a couple of feet above the bottom.
We spent about five minutes putting around until we noticed fish. When we did, we dropped a marker over the side to mark the school and then started fishing.
We had a tripleheader within a minute—it was amazing!
First, ditch the live bait. The traditional jig-and-minnow works, evident by the crappies my dad caught on Sunday with the “old-school” method, but you can catch more and bigger fish with artificial baits.
Eventually, the water will get cold enough that the activity level of crappies will diminish significantly, at around 45 degrees F, but right now they are generally active.
There are three types of artificial baits that will work. A jig tipped with a variety of plastic tails will work (just try to keep the package under two inches).
Small jigging spoons will really shine on extra aggressive fish. I sometimes add a feathered treble as an attractor, but you generally don’t need to tip your spoons.
My favourite is an 1/8 oz. Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon.
The third bait many anglers probably don’t carry with them is a horizontal jigging bait like a Jigging Rap or Puppet Minnow. These baits are designed to be used by ice anglers, but they excel as a deep-water presentation for crappies, as well as walleyes, in open water and are seldom used by anglers.
The advantage to using artificial lures like the ones mentioned are they get to the fish much quicker than the traditional light jigs and live minnows. When fish are active, they want to eat, so the sooner you can drop something in front of them with some flash, the more fish you will tempt to bite.
If you keep a few crappies to eat, make note of what they have been eating when you clean them and match the colour of your bait to the natural forage they are chasing.
Some of the crappies I cleaned on the weekend had small perch in their stomachs, which is likely why the bright-coloured chartreuse and orange spoon I was using was getting their attention so well.
One thing to keep in mind when you do find crappies at this time of year is to make note of the depth they are in. Crappies are the most feeble of any fish I have caught when they come out of deep water.
If they are caught in more than water beyond 28 feet, which is the case on many area lakes, they are unreleasable. They might swim away but chances are good they are not going to make it.
So if you choose to fish them in deep water, you might as well keep them.
The key here is to only keep what you plan to consume. We kept four crappies each when we went the other day and had our fish quickly, then decided to fish for bass and walleye the rest of the day.
Although the limit is 15 crappies per person, it does not take long to literally fish out an area if people keep their daily limit on a regular basis.
Crappies are relatively fast-growing, but I have seen many area waters have their crappie population crippled for years because they have been over-fished.
Keep a few but remember to leave a few, as well.

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