Fall has arrived. It is a season of changes; green leaves turn to brilliant shades of amber and crimson, resident waterfowl feel primal urges to gather in large numbers and fly south. Many outdoor enthusiasts contemplate trading their boat seats for deer stands.
Yet across the changes, beneath the water's surface, fall walleye, bass and crappie go on feeding frenzies, driving them to pack on the pounds in advance of winter's grip. Now is the best window on the calendar to tangle with a toothy trophy walleye.
Short days and cooling water temperature elicit changes to aquatic ecosystems as summer pivots to fall. In some lakes the most noticeable of these is a reduction in the volume of vegetation available in the shallows. As weeds die back, baitfish which successfully evaded predators in lush greenery all summer now find themselves vulnerable, causing them to school up and head to remnant green weed edges and open water.
Fall walleye can be found concentrated along steep breaklines (areas where shallow water drops into deeper water) as well as deep humps (underwater islands or sections where the lake bottom rises gradually) during the daylight hours, marauding on baitfish that have been displaced from the shallows. Feeding fish will typically position themselves on the upwind side of structures. Keep a close eye on your fishfinder's display for the telltale of walleye below. Typical depths will often be in the 20-30 foot range.
Anglers can also find success with fall crappie. During the fall, a lot of anglers welcome diversions including the World Series, football and other sports. However, we anglers need more than a good football game to watch indoors in autumn — we need to be outdoors fishing.
Recently, I talked to a crappie fisherman who had a limit of crappie from Stockton Lake. Many crappie anglers have found fall fishing for slab-size fish can be very good if they learn how to pinpoint the fish during this transition time.
There are two keys to catching fall crappie:determine the depth where the crappie are holding, and finding active fish.
Suspended crappie are inactive and nearly impossible to catch so you need to focus your efforts on breaklines. Available food, along with light and cover, dictate where the fall crappie hold. Food is the magnet drawing the fish to a certain region while light and cover dictate the depth the fish prefer.
On the areas big lakes, threadfin shad spawn in late summer or early fall. The spawning grounds usually are coves off the main lake and these new fish draw the crappie into coves like a magnet.
Crappie move up and down the water column depending on the available light. On cloudy days or when the water is off color, look for the fish in shallow water; but when the sun is bright or the water is very clear, check out deeper water.
To find where the fish are holding, check your graft for suspended fish. These fish are not the ones which will be hitting, but it will tell you what depth on the breaklines the fish will be and these the fish that should be hitting.
The final key to pinpointing crappie in the fall is cover. Where there is no cover, the fishing will not be good. Cover like brush or stumps at the same depth as the fish usually produces some good fishing.
Since fall is a transitional period and the crappie move up and down a lot, you may need to modify your techniques to match the conditions. Some productive methods include vertical jigging and casting jigs. If the crappie are positioned on a bunch of stumps in 20 feet of water, vertical jigging would be the best choice.
Using balanced gear will catch crappie in the fall as well as other times. Heavy lines on stiff rods while jigging will work against you. Heavy line causes the line to fall too fast while a stiff and heavy rod hampers your ability to feel subtle hits.
I have watched crappie anglers fishing off docks with heavy gear get strikes and not even know it. Balanced light gear maximizes the effectiveness of your presentation and prompts more bites.
The most productive lure for fall crappie are small jigs. They fall through the water looking like natural bait. Veteran crappie anglers know lightweight-matched equipment is the way to go for autumn crappie fishing.
If you do not want to start off winter without crappie in the freezer, use the right methods to catch slab crappie. Pinpoint crappie hideouts by finding baitfish and the depths where the fish are holding. Target breaklines and choose tactics that match the conditions and be sure to balance your fishing gear.
October is growing in popularity as a good month to go crappie fishing as anglers bring in nice strings of fish. It is also another great month to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports, both as a journalist and participant. His column appears weekly.