Two of the best crappie guides tell us how to find slabs in north Alabama lakes.
Just a few weeks ago, the lake’s surface was the scene of all kinds of activity. Jet skis, ski boats and all kinds of noisy and disruptive watercraft made fishing difficult during the long, hot days of summer. Now it’s fall and kids are back in school. The water is calm and quiet. Many anglers who are also hunters are off the water and in the deer woods. Now it’s time for serious anglers to start their crappie fishing and get about their business in peace.
For many Alabama anglers, November is a great time to get the crappie gear ready and head out on the lakes for some fast and productive crappie fishing. Even though the surface of the lakes may be calm and quiet, the action under the surface can be fast and furious when a school of hungry crappie is located, and an angler gives the slabs what they want.
Although most Alabama lakes have good populations of crappie, two of the most widely-recognized lakes for big slab fishing are Lakes Weiss and Lake Pickwick.
Pickwick consistently produces great numbers and some good-sized crappie. Weiss, “The Crappie Capital of the World,” is famous for its great crappie fishing. Particularly, Lake Weiss has had some of the best crappie spawns ever recently.
The ten-inch size limit that has been enforced for the last 15 years is paying off. This past year, most anglers were catching not only their limits of legal fish but also lots of sub-ten inchers, which indicates the crappie population in Weiss is thriving.
However, even though crappie fishing populations are high and when found, crappie will usually bite, visiting anglers can spend a lot of time and outboard motor fuel looking for fish if they don’t know where to go and how to fish in a specific lake. It never hurts to find and use some reliable local knowledge, and we were able to find some of the best sources of local fishing information.
We talked to a couple of Alabama’s best freshwater guides who shared their long experience and knowledge with us. Captain Brad Whitehead guides on Wilson Lake and Pickwick Lake in Northwest Alabama, and Captain Lee Pitts guides on Weiss, Guntersville, and Neely-Henry Lakes. Both are highly-regarded fishing guides on Alabama’s big lakes, and they provide Great Days Outdoors readers with some very good advice when it comes to finding and catching fall crappie.
How Should We Rig for November Crappie on the Big Lakes?
Captain Lee Pitts says, “You can go crappie fishing in several different ways in the fall, but two techniques that I really key on for putting size and numbers in the boat for my clients are dock shooting and a vertical technique called bumping bottom.”
Pitts continues, “While dock shooting with artificial baits, I prefer a 1/32 or 1/24 oz jighead with a Bobby Garland Baby Shad or Bobby Garland Slab Slayer. I prefer these baits and size heads because they are excellent at getting accuracy and distance under the docks. Both of these lures skip over the surface extremely well.”
The skills involved with dock shooting require some practice, but most anglers are able to learn how to “slingshot” their lures far under docks to reach crappie that are hidden and protected from most anglers.
For live bait fishing, Pitts says, “I prefer live bait with my vertical bottom bumping in deeper water, but I also use the Bobby Garland artificials as well.”
Captain Brad Whitehead says, “Normally, I get serious around Thanksgiving. I like to start with a simple minnow rig. A B’n’M Capps and Coleman setup works perfectly. This is a pre-rigged two-hook minnow rig. I use the 1 oz size which allows me to cover water fast. All of my rods will have 1 oz minnow rigs.”
Captain Brad will usually have several rods out when minnow fishing and the action can get intense when a hot school of crappie shows up and multiple rods go off at the same time.
When crappie fishing in November use artificials, Captain Brad says, “I use a Southern Pro Hot Grub two-inch body on a homemade hair jig. I’ll put two of these jigs on each angler’s line. They’ll be about two feet apart on the ten-pound test line. Generally, we’ll fish these jigs two to three feet off the bottom. Any color works, but the jig needs to have a chartreuse-colored tail.”
Captains, Where Do We Find the best Crappie in November?
Captain Lee says, “The key to finding crappie on the deeper ledges and drop-offs is bait and cover, and when you find the two together, you have a deadly combination for fall crappie. This is where good electronics really pays off. When using good electronics, you can see the fish positioned over the cover and you can recognize the bait balls clearly.”
“The first place to start looking is what they eat—minnows! This time of year, bait is everywhere.”
November crappie fishing is one of those fishing situations where good fish-finding gear can save a lot of time searching for the fish. The crappie will move from day to day, and spots that were on fire yesterday may be ice-cold a day later. Good electronics can really cut the find-time down.
Captain Brad Whitehead says, “The first place to start looking is what they eat—minnows! This time of year, bait is everywhere. Be ready to move until you find the most productive depth that is holding active fish. If the weather has turned cool, most of the crappie will be on the edge of the major channels. What I mean by this is you need to work the main creek channels inside the creeks that empty into the lake.”
Pickwick Lake has some big creeks that empty into the main lake body, and by keying on these bigger creeks, Captain Brad can usually locate good concentrations of feeding fish rather quickly.
How Should We Handle our Boats for Best Results?
“First of all, with dock shooting, I prefer a Minn Kota trolling motor with variable speeds,” Captain Lee says. “This allows me to slow the prop down so I won’t blow the fish out from under the dock. Minn Kota has several options that are all durable and reliable for a full day’s fishing.
Another main factor in dock shooting is boat positioning. Come into a dock slowly, factoring in the wind, current and boat traffic to stay far enough off the dock but still able to present the bait in the strike zone. One mistake anglers make when crappie fishing is to come upon a dock too fast so that when the trolling motor is reversed, current is pushed under the dock, which is not normal and this spooks the fish.
Pitts continues, “Another mistake anglers make when fishing crappie in the deeper ledges is to sweep the bait across the structure. This will get you hung up in the brush. You want to drop your bait straight down and bump the brush, keeping constant feel with your bait. Many times when we get hung up, we can drop straight down and the weight will put pressure, dislodging the hook, and we can pull it straight through and free.”
Captain Brad tells us, “No question; I’m going to be side-pulling. My trolling motor is mounted on the side of my WarEagle 754. This is great for guiding clients to fish because we are all fishing fresh water all day. I team my boat with a four-stroke Yamaha because it saves me a lot on gas.”
Captain Brad’s side-pulling technique must be seen and experienced to appreciate just how effective it is. The boat is handled easily with the trolling motor. And because each angler has a “private” section of water that is covered, each angler has just as good a chance as any other angler to load up on big November crappie.
What Weather and Water Conditions Should We Expect for November Crappie Anglers?
Captain Lee Pitts says, “For Weiss Lake and the Coosa chain of lakes, fall starts the normal draw-down for water levels. This draw-down opens up more opportunity for dock shooting because it makes the structure more visible. With dropping water temperatures, the crappie bunch up around wood covers such as dock poles or brush piles. Another key factor which stimulates fish to feed is current. Since the dams on the Coosa River are hydroelectric generators, this means that water will be drawn and this creates a good current in the lakes.”
“After a frost, the fish go crazy. The cold temperatures kill the shad and dinner is ready for the crappie. Go fishing if a frost hits!”
Captain Lee tells us that as long as the wind is not blowing 20 miles per hour, anglers can catch November crappie in any type of weather. Sunshine will help the dock-shooting technique because the bright light tends to concentrate the crappie in shade. But as long as the boat can stay on the water and not be blown away, anglers can go crappie fishing this month.
Captain Brad Whitehead says, “You know, usually the water is clear, and that’s good. I hate high water because this gives crappie so many places to move. In November, the lake water levels are dropped to winter pool, and the fish are used to this change. What I’m looking for is the first true frost. After a frost, the fish go crazy. The cold temperatures kill the shad and dinner is ready for the crappie. Go fishing if a frost hits!”
Captain Brad continues, “This year it looks like November may be cold. That will be a very good thing because a cold front after the third week of November will create a shad kill, and this gets the crappie going.”
Where Can Visiting Crappie Anglers Stay when Fishing Your Favorite Lakes?
“Weiss Lake is a 32,500-acre lake with over 500 miles of shoreline,” Captain Lee says. “There are many places all over the lake where anglers can safely launch boats with plenty of parking. Some of the key areas that I prefer are in Leesburg; the Leesburg City Ramp. In Centre, I prefer the Weiss Mart Marina, Riverside Campground, or the Public Boat Access on Highway 9. For access in Cedar Bluff, I prefer Little River Marina. Some great places to stay in Leesburg would be Chestnut Bay. In Centre would be Weiss Lake Lodge, and in Cedar Bluff is the Light House Motel.
“Another great place for anglers with RVs is Curlee’s Cove in Cedar Bluff which has its own boat launch. It’s a great place with great people. Anglers can obtain information on these places by contacting the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce or by contacting Lee Pitts at 256-390-4145.”
Captain Brad Whitehead tells anglers visiting the Wilson/Pickwick Lakes, “I like to have all of my clients stay at the Coldwater Inn in Tuscumbia. Take advantage of this time of year. The lakes are bare, and you can learn plenty about fishing on tough days. If I can help anglers with questions or take you fishing, give me a call at 256-483-0834.
Alabama Crappie Fishing Rules and Regulations
In major lakes of Alabama (not state-owned public fishing lakes), it’s illegal to keep any crappie less than nine inches long. Lake Weiss has a ten-inch minimum length requirement. The daily limit of crappie is 30 per angler.
For crappie anglers who like to use “spider rigs” or other multiple rod and reel setups, remember that it is illegal on Lake Weiss or Lake Neely-Henry to fish with more than three rods at a time.
There is no closed season for crappie fishing in Alabama.
Important Contact Numbers:
Captain Lee Pitts
Little River Lodge and Marina
Captain Brad Whitehead