With cooler nights and dropping temperatures on the state’s reservoirs, the crappie fishing is getting ready to pick up from the doldrums of summer, when it’s hard to catch these tasty fish, unless you’re willing to stay out all night.
Expert anglers around the state are wiping the dust off of their ultra-light gear, and wiping down their frying pans, because with October comes crappie weather. Here’s a look at the techniques some of Georgia’s best slab hunters will be doing on three different lakes in October.
As water temperatures drop out of the 80s and down into 70s, and even into the high 60s in late October, the crappie will move up out of their deep-water haunts and nighttime feeding patterns, and they will scatter into the creeks behind the baitfish.
“It’s usually my favorite month of the year fishing isolated brushpiles,” said Russell fishing guide Wendell Wilson. “In October, you can catch them in all depths, but generally your bigger fish are still going to be in 20 to 22 feet of water, and we’ll fish anywhere from the bottom next to the brushpile up to 10 feet.”
Wendell said to keep an eye on the graph for brushpiles, natural and man-made, scattered through all the major creeks. He advised that the best ones are going to be on flats near the creek-channel dropoffs.
“The fish are there all summer on those deeper ones, but they bite better in the fall,” Wendell said. “And, the good thing about the fall is you can go up the creek on those shallower brushpiles in 5 to 10 feet and catch a lot of those smaller fish… You can get some action, and some of those quality fish.”
Wendell varies his techniques in the fall looking for whatever the fish like best on a particular day, but he always sticks with ultra-light tackle and 6-lb. test line. Typically, he will drop a minnow rig vertically under the boat to the deeper brushpiles for the larger slabs. If it’s action and smaller fish he’s looking for, he’ll back off of some of those shallower brushpiles and throw a minnow on a slip float. If it’s a jig the fish want, he prefers a Crappie Country curly-tail jig in junebug with a chartreuse tail. He’ll cast it out and swim it back past the brushpile.
“I don’t stay very long. You should get bit within a couple of minutes. If you don’t, you probably should move,” he said. “In my boat, this consistently produces 25 to 50 fish a day.”
Crappie guru Jerry Craft fishes Russell a little differently in the fall. He has been chasing crappie on Russell since the boat ramps opened to the public more than 20 years ago, and he loves October, when the fish come up and start chasing baitfish. When they move up out of the channels and into the creeks, that’s when Jerry packs up his night-fishing gear and starts trolling.
“Crappie are just like stripers; they’re real mean. They’ll hold that bait back up in there and try to demolish it,” he said. “Those crappie like those little bitty ones (baitfish). If they can get ’em hemmed in in the backs of those coves, they’ll keep ’em there.”
Jerry said sometimes at daybreak the crappie will feed like hybrids on the surface. They won’t be schooling, but he said to look for the way a crappie throws water when it flips its tail in the process of pounding a baitfish.
Jerry usually pulls 1/4- or 1/8-oz. Pop-eye feather jigs. He likes chartreuse, white, yellow and sometimes orange in the fall, and he tips them with live minnows. He said to watch the graph to determine what depth the fish are holding at, and to adjust the weight of the jigs and the distance you pull them behind the boat to put them about 2 feet above the fish. He mentioned Beaverdam Creek, Van Creek and Coldwater Creek as good starting points, and said to run island points, creek dropoffs, bridges, timber and other structure until you find fish.
“You ain’t going to find them on the bank in the fall of the year. You may find them a few feet off the bank, but they just don’t congregate together like when they’re getting ready to go on the nest and lay,” he said. “Start trolling and find them. You might have to troll a lot of creeks to find them.”
If Jerry notices baitfish and feeding crappie in the backs of the creeks, he will often change his tactics to target these fish feeding near the surface. It’s times like these that he wonders why no one has marketed small planer boards for pulling crappie jigs.
To make up for the absence of crappie-fishing planer boards, and to keep his minnow-tipped jigs near the surface, Jerry will put a torpedo-shaped float with a bobber stop about 3 or 4 feet up the line from his jigs. He’ll control the depth of his jigs using boat speed and sometimes use a few splitshots just above the jig head.
“When they start up into the backs of those creeks, they’re going to go up just as far as they can go until they can’t go any farther,” Jerry said. “When they really start coming in, they’re going to be mostly hand-sized because the big boys will be somewhere else.”
Oconee guide Doug Nelms said the crappie begin showing up in the creeks on Oconee as soon as the cool nights drop water temperatures into the 70s. Although he likes fishing for the big slabs the lake is famous for in deep winter, he said you can catch a boatload of smaller fish in the middle and end of October.
“By and large, those things start showing up in Richland Creek up around a place we call the duck blind as soon as we get some cool nights,” Doug said. “They’re going to be chasing some of the shad, and they’re going to come out of the real deep water and out of the timber, and they’re going to stay right there, probably through February.”
Doug said the fish will be found on 6- to 10-foot-deep flats with sandy bottoms near creek-channel ledges. He said the morning bite is typically better, but he advises his clients to plan on fishing most of the day. When the bite turns on, it can be fast action, but you have to be on the water when it happens.
“This is spider-rig fishing in wide open, open water. You’re catching these fish hanging off the edge of a creek, and sometimes they’ll be in the creek, and you’ll have to drop your line a little deeper,” Doug said. “The fish you’re going to catch are going to be a pound to a pound-and-a-half… When you get into January and February, we’ll start catching what we call those brokenecks, just big, huge slab crappie. You might see some of those in October, but it’s really sketchy.”
The good thing about October is the numbers. Doug recalled an October a couple of years ago when he took out a boatload of clients and caught 174 crappie. He went back to the same spot the next day and caught 147 fish.
To catch these fish in Richland Creek, Doug likes to push minnow-tipped jigs, as opposed to pulling them. He puts 10, 16-foot rods off the front of the boat and pushes them around very slowly.
“Keep an eye on the graph. They’ll move so you have to chase them and keep up with them,” Doug warned.
He tips a 1/16- or 1/8-oz. jig with a minnow, and rigs it similar to a Carolina rig. He ties the jig off to a 2-foot, 4-lb. fluorocarbon leader, and puts a glass bead ahead of a 3/16-oz. bullet weight above the swivel. He uses 6-lb. monofilament for his main line. Doug likes Hal Flies in black/blue or purple/black, and he also fishes a jig he called a “red baby.” He couldn’t recall the name of the manufacturer, but he said it has a red, sparkly body with a chartreuse tail.
Crappie guide Billy Bragg has figured out a different way to catch Oconee crappie in the fall. He doesn’t push jigs, he pulls them, and he doesn’t require a reel to do it. It’s the way he fishes year-round.
Billy runs 18, 14-foot poles off the sides and back of his boat, and he ties about 16 feet of 10-lb. test to the ends of the poles. He fishes a 1/16-oz. jig and adds a 1/8-oz. split shot at least 12 inches above the jig, to keep from stifling the jig’s action. Above all of that, Billy puts a small 2 1/2-inch slip bobber to control the depth of his jigs.
He trolls the rigs slowly over flats and creek channels in Richland Creek and tries to keep his jigs just above the depth where the fish are holding.
Billy gets his jig heads from Crappie Country, a company based in Elberton. He likes chartreuse, orange, red or blue jig heads and also fishes a variety of colors for the Triple Ripple bodies of his jigs. Black, blue and chartreuse are all colors he likes.
Billy doesn’t bother with tipping his jigs with minnows. The only time he fishes minnows is at night under lights during the summer.
Where to fish is a no-brainer as far as Billy is concerned. He sticks to the Richland Creek side of the lake, and said it is the place to be in the early fall.
“Richland Creek is always the best part of the lake to fish in October, to my notion,” he said. “What it is, is that little creek runs into the lake up there, and the water cools down quicker. But the main thing is, shad will start running up there, and those crappie will turn loose from that structure and be running those creek channels chasing the shad.
“We’ll be tearing them up up there as soon as the water cools off a little.”
Billy is looking for water temperatures to drop into the low 70s, and down into the mid 60s for the bite to really pick up.
In September, Keith Pace of Gainesville was already starting to pick up some Lanier crappie on the shallow flats up in the Chestatee River arm of the lake. He said that by October the trolling bite should really be on. Ideal water temperatures for trolling on Lanier are between the low 70s and high 60s, and Keith said the creek channels and flats up in the Chestatee, at Yellow Creek and around the Toto Creek bridge are good areas to fish.
“I would look for crappie trolling flats from 2 to 10 feet deep just following shad schools,” Keith said. “Looking in water less than 15 feet deep, any of the flats off the main channels should be good.
“Usually we can catch them on some of the downed trees and stuff, but the water is 10 almost 11 feet down right now, and those trees are way up on the bank.”
The crappie will also be pulling away from the structure and chasing shad, so they will be scattered across the flats, which makes trolling the best option for catching good numbers of fish. Keith said a 100-fish day is not uncommon in October.
Keith and his wife Jessica own a company called Crappie Micro Spoons and Jigs, so they make their own lures, and that’s what they pull when they’re trolling. When the fish are shallow, as they sometimes are in October, they use their largest spoon, a 1/32-oz., willowleaf spoon to troll about 2 feet deep.
When they want to get their spoons a little deeper, they fish a tandem rig, which consists of a 1/16-oz. jig — which they also make — coupled with the same spoon tied about 18 inches behind the jig. The tandem rig gets down to about 10 feet when trolled at 1 mph. Fished tandem or alone, Keith said one of the best things about his micro spoons is they have a good fluttering action. He said when he tips the spoons with minnows, it gives them a lifelike action.
For colors, Keith likes chartreuse, green, chartreuse/red or green/orange. He fishes 4-lb. test, which helps him get his jig and spoon a little deeper.
“I’m just kind of pulling them around. I like to pull them near the edge of the channel. If there’s some brushpiles I know are there, I’ll troll over the brushpile,” he said. “But generally, I’m just wandering around the flats, never really in a straight line.
“I’m continually turning, varying the depth. When I turn, my inside baits are going to go deeper and my outside baits are going to raise up. As I keep doing that, I’m covering more of the water column.”
Trolling may be the most popular fall crappie technique on Lanier, but 25-year veteran of the lake, Wyatt Wilson, said his October game plan is a lot like his summertime technique. He said during the first half of October there will still be fish holding under the deeper docks on the middle part of the lake.
“Usually the first of October is good. When the leaves start falling around the 15th of the month, the fishing gets bad on Lanier until the water rolls over,” he said. “It usually breaks around Thanksgiving and gets good again.”
Wyatt likes to shoot docks in early October.
“I’d shoot docks. For some reason they’re not on the brushpiles, they’re on the deep docks,” he said. “Lanier’s a little bit different than most lakes… It’s primarily a dock lake. You’ve got to key on docks.”
Wyatt mentioned Gainesville Marina, Sardis Creek and downriver of Clarks Bridge as places to find these docks, which would normally be in 20 to 25 feet of water, but are now in 15 to 20 feet with the water level so low. He said to look for docks with beaver trash around them.
“If you find beaver trash, you’d better stop and fish it. I’ve never found a beaver brushpile I didn’t like,” he said. “They’ll really hold some fish.”
For shooting, he uses 1/32- or 1/24-oz. Hal Flies or tube jigs on 4-lb. test line. He’ll go down to 2-lb. test if the fish are finicky. For colors Wyatt will try everything until he finds the color the fish like best. Usually that is something light with a chartreuse tail on Lanier.
“If they’re real finicky for some reason, you need to get the right kind of line, the right kind of jig and the right kind of color to get them to bite,” he said. “That’s why you have two or three people in the boat and everybody fishing something different. Once you key on that one, it’s a blast.”
From the traditional dunking minnows on brushpiles to methods that are a little more refined, the techniques these experts use to catch October crappie are as varied as the colors of jigs made for catching them. There is no doubt, however, that the cooler weather of fall will have the crappie biting again, and it’s a good time to fill the freezer — no matter how you choose to do it.