Hunting seasons are well in, and the thoughts of most area outdoorsmen are on deer, rabbits, pheasants, and waterfowl.  But fish are still biting, cold weather or no, and one of the most active now is white and black crappie.  These silvery, flatsided pansters are extremely popular each spring when they come in close to shore for spawning, and hundreds of anglers gather at local lakes to catch some.  But they bite 12 months out of every year, including through the ice, and they’re biting now.  Question is: where are they biting?

I found some answers at a last fall netting survey of Pleasant Hill Lake (Ohio) conducted by District 2 fishery biologists.  The men had placed 10 trap nets around the lake, and ran the nets for four days.  I went along on the last day, and that morning was an eye opener.  Trap nets are tied along shore, have a single hanging net leading out into the lake which fish bump into and are led into a trap with easy access, but nearly impossible escape.  The nets will catch almost anything that swims between shore and the trap, and are good for sampling specific fish populations.

The first net was set about halfway between the marina and the dam on the marina side, and it yielded a good catch.  There were 40 crappie, mostly 7-8 inchers, but with a good selection of larger fish in the 9-11 inch size, and a dozen or so bluegill and pumpkinseeds, but nothing else.  No carp, bass, saugeye, or other species.  “The crappie are in about 8-12 feet of water at this time of year”  one biologist said.  “And that’s where we’re catching them.”

As we headed toward the dam and checked nets on the lodge side, the catch dropped off to almost nothing.  The water here is rocky and drops off very quickly to serious depths, and it obviously wasn’t crappie country.  The first net had 16 very average fish, the second, 17 near a downed tree, and the third just 9.  It didn’t take long to figure out where to fish in autumn lakes.  They were gathered in areas where the shoreline and bottom sloped gradually, and best results were from mid-lake past the launch ramp and up into the shallow southeast end.

Pleasant Hill Lake is a fair drive from here, but the same tactics will work on lakes much closer to home.  Again, the fish will be deeper now, but otherwise they’ll fall to standard crappie tactics.  One good choice on a day with only light winds would be to lip hook a minnow, squeeze on a splitshot 6 inches above, and slowly wind drift along the shore in those 8-12 foot depths.  When you hit a fish, drop over a small buoy, anchor, and fish the bottom with gentle casts in all directions.  Do remember, they’ll be right on bottom, so fishing just a few feet down with a bobber won’t work.

Another good choice is to drift or anchor here and there and use small jigs with twister tails, maybe a 1/8 or 1/16th ounce in white, yellow, pink, or chartreuse.  If it takes a splitshot to get them down quickly, use one, and it wouldn’t hurt to add a very small minnow to the hook.  Then jig the bait gently along just above the bottom and as before, when a bite comes, stop and fish the area thoroughly.  The obvious ideal is to do your fishing with a portable little fish locator, and I’d recommend one of these to any boat fisherman.  Watch your screen as you move along, and just fish the blips as they turn up.  That’s easy.

Anglers who have no boat can still take crappie in lakes that hold them.  Fish with a slip sinker and floating Lindy, or a two hook bottom rig and minnows, make short casts only into that magic 8-12 foot depth, and keep moving, stopping in one place to fan cast with two rods for half an hour, then move on until you find some. A little tougher, but the tactic will produce.

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