Crappie fishing an underrated fall highlight

There just isn’t time during the fall to do everything a sportsman desires.

Choosing between deer hunting and duck hunting is hard enough. Throw in fall fishing, and it can be downright unfair when having to decide how to spend a warm November Saturday.

But when the fall crappie bite is on, anglers can stay busy filling freezers with fillets.

I enjoy crappie fishing all year. My favorite is when the fish are up close and personal with the bank. I’m not a fan of going deep for panfish. If you like fast action panfishing in shallow water, then fall is a great time to be on the lake.

As main lake water temperatures continue to drop, crappie are drawn to the warmer shallow water along the shore and in the back of bays.

Standing timber in shallow water should be one of your key targets. Fallen trees, brush piles and man-made structures, like docks or water intakes, are also prime locations to find fall crappie.

Personally, I’m a bobber man. Grandpa used to get all fancy with his slip bobbers. He’d use these long, tall finesse jobbies. I believe he thought of himself as some sort of panfish master, making his own jigs and all, but I don’t think one needs to make it so complicated. Just stick with a nice, simple slip bobber.

My preferred bait for targeting fall crappie is minnows. I usually fish them between two and four feet deep. Rusty Collier, owner and operator of J&R Guide Service, swears by his Southern Pro Jigs, though.

Rusty fishes both Lake Monroe and Lake Patoka regularly, and he’s a crappie-catching machine. He sits up front and casts those simple jigs toward structures, lets it sink down for a couple of seconds, maintains a nice slow, methodical retrieve, and hauls them in one after another.

You can’t doubt his tactics, but for me, there’s just something about watching a bobber dance. So whether you like casting or you like pitching minnows under bobbers, both methods work extremely well when the bite is on.

As far as specific locations on either of these lakes, you’re going to have to do some exploring. A tip I tend to follow when targeting a big body of water is to break the lake down into smaller lakes. There are crappie all over on Monroe and Patoka, so what you want to do is pick a cove or a finger and dissect it. Learn it. Know it. You’ll be way better off having a thorough knowledge of a particular area than a general knowledge of the whole lake.

In other words, specialize.

It’s hunting season and I assume many of you are busy chasing critters. It’s a shame November can’t last all year. Don’t overlook the crappie fishing just because there are ducks and deer to pursue. Many of my most memorable Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners included fresh crappie.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler writes an outdoors column for The Tribune. Send comments to jmorey@tribtown.com.