It’s getting close to that time of year when the crappies will school up and relate to vertical structure. In come cases, they will suspend in deep water making it as if they are relating to their own vertical column created by hundreds upon hundreds of fish.
Lakes here in northern Illinois are loaded with slab sized crappies. We may not be able to find them or even catch one by chance throughout the spring and summer. But come fall, the big crappies and be found and better still, caught.
Now this article is not about any one lake in particular, but rather about catching fall and early winter crappies. Read on and you’ll find some information that you can take to the lake.
First of all, the fishing will be best by boat and putting your depth finder to work. Many lakes in our immediate area have deep water. Where the crappies are found, the water can be about twenty to thirty feet deep. While moving about look for some deep water spots, keep your eyes open for a big band of suspended fish.
There is always a chance that they could be bass, walleyes, perch or some other panfish. But quite often, the suspended fish will be crappies.
My go to lure that really works well for catching crappies and perch is the Cubby Mini Mite II. I like using four pound test line and fluorocarbon line helps, especially on days when the fish are a bit skittish. I would drop the Mini Mite down to the school of fish and hold it as still as possible just above them or to the side of the school if possible.
Watching the LCR was critical. It was very important to monitor the depth of the fish as I did not want to fish in the middle of the school. Chances are that nothing would bite from the core of hundreds of fish. However, if a bait was jigged lightly above or to the side of the school, a daring crappie on the outside edge would go after the bait.
I have my own theories on catching fish from in the middle of a school. Whether it holds water or not, I really believe that if a fish is caught in the midst of the school, it will spook the other fish, break up the school and turn off the bite. I believe that the fighting fish will give off some chemical or signal that other fish will sense as something wrong and then will not go after baits. True or not, this theory of mine makes me do all that I can to catch fish from the top or edges of the school. Actually, I think that they’re more active on the outside edges anyway.
Anchoring over a school of crappies can be difficult, especially if they’re moving. So the use of an electric trolling motor is necessary. Movement to keep over them must be slow and quiet. I have a Minn Kota Terrova with spot lock. This has really helped me in stay on fish. I lock in the spot I want to fish and by letting the trolling motor keep me in the right spot; I can concentrate on the fish and not maneuvering the boat.
Another reason why you must stay on top of the fish is so that you can fish for them vertically. But how do you know how much line gets you to twenty or twenty five-feet deep?
Controlling the depth is easy. Place a slip bobber knot on your line. By hand, just measure off the number of feet and remember where you set the slip knot.
Let’s say for example you measure off twenty feet. Drop the line overboard and let it out until the knot reaches the water’s surface. If you see that the fish drop down some, you can lower your rod tip more and let the knot sink a foot or so below the surface. Same deal goes when the fish come up the water column. Just raise that line so the knot comes out of the water by a foot or two. This is an easy way to adjust your depth to whatever is necessary and always know where your lure is below the surface.
So where can you see crappies stacked up like cord wood in the Chicagoland area? Lake Calumet is a favorite of mine. The main lake outside all the barge bumpers has water that’s over twenty feet deep. You can see crappies stacked up on your depth finder.
The water is deep at Shabbona Lake by the dead trees. Crappies will be found there with their noses up to the dead wood. There are some barge areas off the main channel of the Illinois River that will have slack water that is deep. In the Fox Chain, water will be shallower but look for structure in the water and you will find crappies. Watch your graphs and look for suspended fish. You’ll find them for sure as they will either be suspended or have their noses right up to the vertical structure. You’ll find a lot of crappies close to home here in northern Illinois because great fishing is not that far away.