Fall is a great time to fish on the Lake of the Ozarks, and the Missouri Department of Conservation offers a few tips for anglers hoping to bring in a mess of crappie.
Fall—try the docks
Crappie are generally very predictable and aggressive in October and November. Docks are a prime location for fall crappie, where they can be caught in the upper 10 feet of the water column.
Cast into the back of a boat slip or along the edges, letting the jig sink for 2 or 3 seconds, and then retrieve slowly. Crappie will also move into shallow water on warm days in the fall, where you can catch them in the same brush piles they inhabit during the spawn.
Winter—enjoy some of the best fishing of the year
Unfortunately, many anglers stow away the boat and fishing tackle before the first snow flies. Those who don’t can experience some of the best fishing of the year and have their favorite lake all to themselves.
You can find crappie in deep water (20 to 40 feet) in the winter, but they will move into shallower water during a string of warm days. The key to catching crappie in the winter is to use a very slow retrieve. In cold water, crappie will not chase a fast-moving lure like they will during the warmer months.
In addition, winter crappie tend to congregate in large, dense schools near structure instead of scattering in loose schools over a large area. Casts to one side of a brush pile may yield nothing while the other side may produce a fish on nearly every cast.
Tackle and technique
If you talk to a dozen crappie anglers, you will likely get a dozen different opinions regarding the best way to catch them, the best jig color, the best line to use, and so on. In reality, two anglers in the same boat can be using two completely different techniques and baits, and they will both be catching fish. The key is to not get stuck on any one approach. Experiment until you find a technique that works for you.
Crappie are attracted to woody cover regardless of the time of year. A good rule of thumb is to fish shallow during spring and fall, then fish deep during summer and winter. However, a string of warm days in January can send fish into water less than 5 feet deep, while a strong cold front in April can send them to the depths for a few days. When trying to locate crappie, target brush piles or other cover at a variety of depths, and let the fish tell you what depth they prefer on a given day.
When crappie are active, they will hit a bait presented in close proximity to cover. When they are not so active, you may need to get your bait down into the brush to be successful. The two most effective ways to do this are vertical jigging and casting. A weedless jig works best for these types of presentation.
To fish a bait vertically, simply drop it straight down into the brush until it hits bottom. Then slowly reel up until you get a bite. Note the depth at which you get a bite and concentrate on fishing at that depth. Another productive method is to use a very small jigging spoon. Fish vertically over deep brush and raise and lower your jigging spoon 1-2 feet. Crappie will often hit the spoon on the fall while it is fluttering. This is a good technique to use when you run out of minnows or simply get tired of re-baiting your hook.
When fishing shallow brush or in very clear water, you may need to back away from the brush and cast. Toss your bait past the brush and let it sink to the bottom on a tight line. Slowly retrieve until you contact the brush. When you feel your bait come over a limb, let it sink again. Keep doing this until you clear the brush. By doing this, your lure is actually penetrating down into brush instead of just skimming along the outer edges.
These are not just for young or inexperienced anglers. There are days when crappie will only pick up a jig or minnow that is hovering nearly motionless. Again, you may need to experiment with the depth of your bait to find the fish.