Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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In search of bull ‘gills and massive autumn slabs

By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer


Too many anglers overlook the incredible bluegill and crappie fishing opportunities that develop in the fall. Big bluegills or slab crappies that tip the scales at a pound are active now and will continue that activity into the coming weeks.


Just about every species of fish in the lake schools in the fall, including panfish. After a couple months of less aggressive behavior, scattered lifestyles, and warm water, big bluegills and crappies put on the feed sacks as the nights lengthen and water temps dip.


If catching bull bluegills and plate-sized crappies on a consistent basis is your fall objective, do something first before considering location and how-to factors: investigate the lake.


Not all water bodies can grow jaw-dropping panfish. So, if you want trophy-caliber bluegills and crappies, go where they exist.


Big fall bluegills begin to leave their summer spots – deep, main lake structured areas – and move into shallower locations for one last open-water feeding binge. Though deep water can be the ticket on some lakes, a thick stand of vegetation will hold better numbers of quality fish. Look for weeds, cabbage preferably, in less than 12 feet on most lakes, but as shallow as 6 feet on others.


Find the greenest vegetation. Even as the fall fishing season winds down and these weeds begin to die-off, pods of big bluegills will hang in there as long as those weeds continue to provide cover and forage.


If a given lake is void of rich vegetation but holds large bluegills, a shallow mud flat or bar and mid-depth rocks are worth finding. These bigger fish usually don’t travel from summer haunts to eat in the fall, so look for these locations surrounded by deeper water.


With the right lake in your back pocket and a basic understanding of where to look, the catching isn’t that difficult. Just as in the spring, big blurgills have just one main objective in the fall: To eat as much as possible.


There’s no need to finesse fall bluegills. A small jig tipped with live bait or small plastics usually does the trick. They also rarely spook, which means there’s an opportunity to sit on top of the school and pluck them up by fishing vertically.


Watch two distinct areas for fall slab crappies. Both provide a prelude to the upcoming ice fishing season, which means in order to cash in now you have to have an idea where these fish are heading for the upcoming winter. 


Initially, before water temperatures really drop, the biggest pods of large crappies  will relate to any remaining weed cover. The depth of this vegetation varies depending on the lake, but a healthy patch of cabbage or coontail weeds will hold crappies.


As the weeds die back, crappies again start to move. While some will stick around the weeds, the mother lode of bigger crappies will head off to the deepest water once water temperatures hit the mid-50-degree range. That’s where they’ll spend their winter – suspended and feeding aggressively in big numbers. Focus on spots that, in the past, have held crappies at first ice.


Electronics are crucial to  finding and catching big, fall crappies. Again, they’ll be suspended and easy to see via electronics. Without them, it’s the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack situation.


Once located over deeper water, sit right on top of them and work vertically. Keep your presentation above the fish and force those active feeders to come up and chase it.


 Minnows or plastics under a float are the most traditional way to pluck big crappies in the fall. But removing the float and jigging over the boat side with tubes, paddle tails, or other small plastics generates movement and gives you another option.

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