Falling nighttime temperatures trigger crappie to begin merging towards shallow habitat. Its fall and the leaves are turning colors along with water temperatures dropping. For anglers it becomes an opportunity to catch crappie shallow like they did earlier in the springtime.
During this time schools of crappie can be found around brush piles, lay downs, boat docks and other types of shallow water cover. Crappie are simply following the schools of baitfish shallower and shallower.
On large U.S. Army Corps of Engineer reservoirs catching crappie moving shallow can be challenging. Most have numerous feeder creeks and coves that unite with the main lake channel along with at least one river arm, but usually more flowing into it. Altogether that equals into hundreds of miles of shoreline at normal pool.
One of Missouri’s best known crappie lakes is Mark Twain Lake. Mark Twain Lake is located from a short distance from Hannibal, Missouri, and impounded by the Clarence Cannon Dam. It’s renowned not for trophy sized crappie population, but an abundant numbers of crappie.
“When I talk about crappie fishing on Mark Twain Lake, I will always tell people or anglers coming to Mark Twain Lake that it’s an eating man’s lake and not a trophy crappie lake,” explained Lynn Tharp (Lynn’s Guide Service). (Anglers going to fish Mark Twain Lake should take the time to research and understand the culling rules on the reservoir).
Late fall is the optimal time to fish Mark Twain. In mid-September the crappie can be caught there shallow and even shallower yet later on in the year.
Mark Twain Lake like most southern U.S. Army Corps of Engineer reservoirs can be divided in sections. The river arms that flow into the reservoir with some standing timber left when impounded is one section. The main lake section has a deeper average depth with little standing timber remaining.
Crappie fishing in the river arms is different than on the main lake on Mark Twain Lake. “There are three river arms that feed into Mark Twain Lake, the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork. All of them have standing timber. So, I will fish them vertical by jigging in the 8- to 12-foot range and concentrate on the flats with standing timber where the water temperatures will cool off during the fall,” revealed Tharp.
His two rigs for catching crappie vertical a lead jighead with a live minnow hooked on it or a jig that has a body like the Mr. Crappie Slab Daddy (www.TTIBlakemore.com
) in a bright, contrasting color and live minnow.
When fishing the main lake area of Mark Twain Lake, Tharp will begin by fishing the ends of lay downs or deeper edges of brush piles early in the fall. Tharp will also fish just inside the mouth of coves with standing timber fishing vertically like he would up in the river arms. He keeps his jig in the 15- to 20-foot since that is where most of the crappie will be caught.
Later as the water cools down, Tharp will start fishing the shallow ends of lay downs or shallowest parts of brush piles as crappie move super shallow following schools of baitfish.
Since the strike zone and cover is shallow it takes a different presentation to catch these crappie. Instead of vertically jigging, Tharp will cast towards cover using a spinning reel lined with 6- or 10-pound test fluorescent green fishing line and a Slab Daddy jig. “What size line I use depends on the size of the jig. I will use 6 pound test line when I fish with a 1/16-ounce jig. On windy days or when wanting to fish deeper, I will use a heavier 1/8-ounce jig on 10 pound test line. Both of these set ups will fall at a rate of one foot per second,” explained Tharp.
Before making a cast with a Slab Daddy jig, Tharp always slides two Berkley Crappie Nibbles up the shank of the hook past the bend. “Basically, I have tried everything to catch them, but nothing works better than sliding on a couple of Crappie Nibbles up on the hook on a jig. Truth is the crappie here on Mark Twain Lake just won’t bite it without a couple of them on the jig,” insisted Tharp.
During the next couple weeks, Mark Twain Lake and other reservoirs will be going through lake turnover. Tharp acknowledged that it’s a tough period to catch schools of crappie, but noted they can still be caught. “After the lake turns over crappie are aggressive and easier to catch,” pointed out Tharp.
“Really the key to catching them is always keep on the trolling motor, keep moving and fish a lot of places,” advised Tharp.
It’s wise advice for catching crappie not just on Mark Twin Lake, but other U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs that are located by you during the fall period.