I love crappie autumns, in fact, the crappier the better! When I say this to my non-angling friends they look at me like I am crazy. My fishing buddies, on the other hand, simply smile and nod their heads in agreement.
I am talking about black crappie fishing in Northern Ontario, of course, and it is getting better and better by the day. As a matter of fact, I was out last week checking on the conditions and found the big beautiful slabs are pulling away from shore and moderately deep structure and cover. They are heading toward deeper basin waters where they will eventually spend the winter. When they finally get to where they are going in another couple of weeks, you will find them in nice tight schools, like clusters of juicy grapes, where they will fight one another to get to your bait.
where are the crappie hiding this fall?
Right now, however, they're chilling out as they slowly drift towards those mid and late fall locations. So, instead of finding large schools of fish that resemble Christmas trees on your sonar screen, you'll typically spot one crappie here and another one over there. And if you don't recognize what is happening, you can wind up wasting a lot of your time searching for pods of fish that don't yet exist.
I like that, as I find it much more challenging and a lot more fun to fish for the onesies and twosies. I call it sharpshooting for crappies and it is as simple to put into effect as it is deadly.
Looking for crappie on sonar
I always start by setting my Humminbird Helix on split screen mode so I can see traditional 2D sonar in one panel and down imaging in the other. Then, I troll as slowly as possible across an area until I see a fish on the screen. That is when I pop the motor into reverse, back up a foot or two following my bubble trail and drop down either the smallest Acme Hyperglide or Rapala Jigging Rap. For their small size, these unique lures are super heavy, so they fall like stones, especially if you use light, four-pound test, ultra-thin, gel spun line. Because the lures spin, however, I always add a small barrel swivel to the end of the braid and attach a short 4-pound test Maxima Clear monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.
You might wonder, too, about tossing out a marker buoy to pinpoint the fish and then circling back around. I use to do this in my early sharpshooting days, but I only do it now if I mark more than two or three fish.With individual crappies you just waste too much time over the course of the day, lobbing out and picking up the marker. Far better to simply back up over top of the fish and drop your lure straight down.
What's A good strike ratio for crappie?
It is interesting, too, that when I am sharpshooting for crappies, I am happy to catch six out of every ten fish that I mark. Some days my strike ratio is a little better, other days a little worse, but at least you catch about half the fish that you see.
I think the modest strike rate is a reflection of the fact that the fish are spread out and more or less alone, so the competitive spirit isn't as fierce as when you find a cluster of crappies. Then the early bird gets the worm and you catch the fish. Still, if you mark 30 or 40 crappies over the course of a beautiful Northern Ontario fall morning or afternoon, you're going to catch 15 to 20 of them. I'll take those numbers any day.
Instant attraction is key when fishing for crappie
It is interesting, too, that most times you will know immediately if a fish is interested in your lure. So, after it falls to the bottom, reel up the slack and hold it in front of the crappie's nose. If you don't feel a bite within a few seconds -- a minute at the most -- the odds are slim that it is going to take the bait. In my early sharpshooting days, I'd find these fish annoying and would often sit over them for several minutes trying to force the issue. I would change baits and switch colours thinking that there had to be a way to entice them to strike. But I've learned since, that for the few fish you catch spending an inordinate amount of time, you are far better off to motor on and find more willing individuals.
So, if you have never gone sharpshooting before, add it to the agenda of your next Northern Ontario fishing adventure. It will give a whole new meaning to enjoying a crappie autumn.