November Is One of the Best Times to Catch a Big Mess of Delicious Crappie
It’s a very comfortable, cloudy November day on Weiss Lake in eastern Alabama. The birds have been migrating through for some time and the geese hatched this summer on the lake are big birds now as they fly over the dock at Little River Marina. We load the boat with our gear and coolers for drinks and other necessary fishing stuff.
We’re fishing for crappie on this fine fall day with Capt. Lee Pitts and because of this, there’s a very good chance we’ll catch some good crappie today. Captain Lee knows his stuff when it comes to fishing for crappie on Weiss Lake.
We step aboard Captain Lee’s boat, motor away from the marina and up the Little River arm of the lake. With the lake in winter pool, the lower water level exposes lots of stumps and other structure that is usually deep and safe under the surface. This lower winter water level makes navigation a little more interesting, but it makes finding and fishing the channels a lot easier.
When we arrive at our destination, Captain Lee slows and then stops the big motor. He puts the trolling motor down and we get started on the day’s work – fishing for crappie.
Captain Lee looks around and then he smiles and says, “They’re here! We’re going to catch ‘em today.”
Fishing for Crappie in the Fall
There are many ways to go about gathering up crappie when the year starts to wind down and the air and water get cooler. From the old traditional “dangle a minnow below a bobber” to dropping multiple jig rigs for bottom bouncing in open water, multiple approaches all work pretty well. For some fast catching with light tackle, there’s nothing quite like the dock shooting technique of which Captain Lee is a master.
“For some fast catching with light tackle, there’s nothing quite like the dock shooting technique of which Captain Lee is a master.”
We very quietly approach a dock that stands lonely and deserted this late fall morning. Captain Lee takes his position on the bow of his boat as it nears the dock. He bends over, takes his mini-jig in his left hand and pulls the line back so that his rod makes a sharp bend. When he is happy with his position, he releases the jig. The rod shoots the little jig far back up under the shadow of the boat dock and I hear the soft “plop” as the lure enters the water.
Lee lets the jig slowly sink and then he starts a slow retrieve, but he only gets to make a single little jerk to cause the jig to hop like a frightened shad or minnow before his ultralight rod takes another bend. This time, the rod bounces with the pulls of a good fish.
After a typically short fight, crappie are not known as hard fighters, a fine almost 2-pound slab crappie comes to the surface. Captain Lee lifts it into the boat. Our crappie supper has a very good start.
As I take some photos of Captain Lee and his first catch of the day, he tells me, “My key technique that I love in the fall is skipping a jig under a dock and watching that line jump.”
Rig Right to Shoot Right
Although dock shooting for crappie is a very fun way to catch some fine slabs, it’s a technique that requires some practice and the right gear in order for the angler to achieve success. A very important part of the whole shooting system is the rod. Trying to use the rod to shoot a tiny crappie jig far up under a dock requires a rod that has the proper action.
Even though Lee makes the operation look easy, I ask him what kind of rod he uses. As he bends and shoots another jig a long distance up under the same dock, he says, “For dock shooting, I prefer the Lew’s 6-foot Pro Series rod. The new Lew’s Pro Series rods not only look great, but they have enough backbone to land those big Alabama slabs and the soft tip to get that bait far under the dock where I need it.”
When Captain Lee makes his third cast up under the dock, he sharply sets the hook on another fat Weiss Lake crappie that can’t resist the slow fall and gentle action of the jig. Lee adds, “I also use 6-pound-test Gamma Line in high-vis. The high-vis line allows me to see the subtle crappie bites that often come when they’re holding under docks.”
As we use the trolling motor to move to the next dock, which shades water about eight feet deep, I look at the tiny jig that is gathering up the crappie. It’s obvious that Lee Pitts believes in these little soft-plastic jigs. He has several tackle boxes full of a rainbow of colors. Each day fishing for crappie is different. On some days, crappie are very specific about what color jig they prefer. It’s best to be able to give the slabs what they want when they want it.
Dock shooting is a crappie fishing technique that requires some touch. It’s not easy to pull the rod tip back and hold the little jig between thumb and forefinger of the off-hand and then release it at the right moment and at the right angle. I’ve tried this technique and I either come very close to hooking my own finger or I send the jig far away and out of control. It’s not easy. I expect that bow hunters might be very good at this fishing technique since the basic principles seem the same, but Captain Lee tells me that there’s hope even for someone as awkward as I am.
He says, “Another product from Bobby Garland is the new Crappie Shoot’r. This bait hit retail stores in October and it will help the average dock shooter look like a seasoned pro.”
This new bait apparently has a “holding point and trigger” built into the lure that makes the precise release point much easier to achieve. I can’t wait to try this new lure out because I am not a good dock shooter on my own.
Captain Lee smiles as he says, “My favorite go-to baits in the fall are the Bobby Garland Baby Shad and Slab Slay’r. I also use a 1/32- or 1/24-ounce Bobby Garland Mo’ Glo jigheads in the new Sickle Hook style. This new hook makes it difficult for big slabs to come unbuttoned when you are fighting them out from under the dock.”
We only spend a few minutes at this next dock. Captain Lee says, “Nobody’s home here. We’ll go on down the line.”
That’s an important point for crappie anglers to keep in mind. Although to my eye, the two docks looked the same and the water they were in looked about the same, crappie will hold under one dock. They have their own reasons and they won’t be under a dock 50 yards away. If crappie are there, they’ll usually bite quickly in the fall. If nothing happens at a spot, don’t waste time working it. Move on and find a dock where the crappie are waiting for you.
What’s Happening with Crappie This Month?
While we use the trolling motor to move us along the shoreline, I grab my little 5-foot rod to pitch a borrowed jig up toward a couple of stumps that I can see in the low water. As I let the jig sink, I feel a gentle tap and when I set the hook, there’s a crappie on the line. I feel better now that I’ve contributed something to the crappie fish fry we’ve planned for supper.
“In November, crappie are ganging up on creek ledges, holding tight to structure in depths ranging from 10 to 18 feet deep.” – Captain Lee
Captain Lee says, “In November, crappie are ganging up on creek ledges, holding tight to structure in depths ranging from 10 to 18 feet deep. As Weiss has the winter drawdown, crappie love to hold tight to the deeper docks in the mouths of bays. We catch them around brush covers and poles too. Most of what I target this time of year is a wood cover.”
Crappie holds to these kinds of structure because as November goes on, the water cools and winter starts to set in. The last nice days of November and the still-warm water temperatures give crappie their last heavy feed before winter arrives. All of this wood structure in the form of stumps, brush piles and, of course, dock pilings gives crappie great ambush places to catch the small bait. They mostly gorge on shad while they can at this time of year.
As we move along the line of docks projecting from private yards, we find that when we get that first bite, we almost always get more bites. Crappie definitely tends to school in the fall. With a master dock shooter like Lee Pitts, our livewell starts to fill up with fine fat crappie, most weighing a pound or more.
As he drops yet another slab-sided spotted crappie into the box, Captain Lee tells me, “The key is locating the fish. This time of year, they tend to move quite often. The majority of the fish we catch in November are big fish that have big bellies on them.”
On Lake Weiss, as on most Alabama and other Deep South lakes, finding where the biggest schools of shad are located is the trick to finding where the crappie will be. In late fall, the crappie are following the buffet line and that means shad.
Pick Your Days
On this very nice November morning, Captain Lee, with just a little bit of help from me, managed to fill up the boat livewell with crappie. Not all days are as nice and productive as this one, Captain Lee explains as we clean our morning catch back at the marina.
“The worst conditions for dock shooting crappie are days with hard rain and wind. On some days, fog is also a factor. The best scenario is days with sunshine and a little breeze. The hardest thing for anglers in the fall is not being able to get out of the wind. All of your ledge fishing and river channel fishing leaves you in open water and high wind can really mess you up, but when that happens, the only option you have is to put down the long rods used for deep water crappie fishing and go to shooting docks where you can usually get out of the wind.”
As I found out this morning, that’s not such a bad thing at all.
Important Contact Information:
Bobby Garland Crappie Baits
Capt. Lee Pitts
Little River Marina and Lodge- Pitt Stop