Lake Claiborne is full of crappie, and this die-hard angler knows all you need to catch them this month are good electronics and the right tactics. Here are his tips for success.
Crappie fishing is simple in the fall on Lake Claiborne.
“Find the shad and find the crappie,” said Steve Danna, a veteran angler who goes chases the panfish for fun and as a seasoned tournament fisherman. “That’s true just about all year long, but it is especially true when you are after crappie this time of year.”
A good place to start that search this time of year is in open water around sunken tops, Danna said.
“The pattern on Claiborne is to start in the sloughs, head to the edges of the creek channels and to the deeper water out from boat docks,” he explained. “When fall gets here, the fish are ready to move down the channels and follow the shad to deeper water all the way down at the spillway.
“But that’s still a few months out. For right now, they are mostly hanging in the sloughs and creeks over tops or other structure.”
OK, that sounds easy — but those spots aren’t marked on the map.
So finding them requires the right tools. For Danna, that starts with his Lowrance HDS-12 Gen 3 tweaked out with sonar, side imaging and down imaging.
All three serve different purposes in locating fish.
“To catch crappie consistently, you need actual sonar showing schools of shad and fish, as well as a screen with clear, high-resolution images of brush piles and depth variations,” Danna said. “There are lots of makes and models, but I’ve been using Lowrance since shiners learned to swim.
“Down imaging shows you trees and tops just like you were looking at a picture in a book. Side imaging helps you find fish out to the side of the boat, as well.”
The angler said the equipment is worth the investment and has really upped anglers’ ability to pound on fish.
“It’s amazing what today’s modern technology has done to help crappie anglers make the best use of their time and catch more fish,” Danna said. “Such equipment is expensive, and using it takes time and practice. But when you learn to use the tools, the results are amazing.
“It almost isn’t fair. We have come so far so quickly that it is sometimes overwhelming, but units like these give you a definite advantage. I wouldn’t want to go fishing without it today.”
The proof is in the pudding. Danna locates and works across areas showing tops and fish on the edge of deep water.
What usually happens next is like a billiards pro calling his shot.
“We should get bit right here,” Steve said as we drifted over one area.
Within seconds, the B’n’M poles showed tiny bends, and the hooks were set on a nice crappie.
The 6,400-acre Lake Claiborne has several major creeks coming into the main lake, and they all have good deep water that hold crappie in the fall.
Danna’s favorites locations include Horse, Bear, Beaver and Sandy creeks.
But don’t overlook boat houses down on the big lake.
“The thing about Claiborne is that it does have lots of boat houses,” Danna said. “Some of them have tops but are too shallow. But a lot of people put tops out 40 to 50 yards from the boat houses, too.
“That’s where you can find fall crappie.”
Most of the water in which he concentrates this time of year is 12 to 15 feet deep out from boat houses and 15 to 25 feet deep in the creeks and sloughs.
Fish usually suspend above or beside the tops.
Danna also said that when you find one fish, you’ll find more. You can often catch 10 to a dozen crappie off a top before moving on to find others.
And you can often circle back to previous tops to catch even more.
Of course, not all tops hold fish, but that’s where good electronics can really help you.
Danna’s favorite baits are jigs trailed with BoneHead plastic bodies. Good fall colors include black/pink, brown/chartreuse, pink/chartreuse, black chartreuse and orange/chartreuse.
If you notice a common “chartreuse” theme, there is a reason.
And he won’t put a jig in the water without a Berkley Crappie Nibble (yes, in chartreuse) on the hook. In fact, he has come up with a very creative solution for managing crappie nibbles.
He picked up a plastic “Viewtainer” nut and bolt canister from Home Depot and cut a slit in the top of it.
The container is about 4 inches long and 2 inches around. He put a lanyard on it, fills it with three bottles of nibbles and keeps it around his neck when he goes fishing.
It’s easy to just shake one or two out, it won’t turn over and spill and you don’t have to go looking for the jar every time a bite leaves you needing a nibble.
Danna also wears gloves on his hands and long-sleeve shirts almost every time he goes fishing, no matter what time of year.
His other go-to gear includes 6-pound line and B’n’M 12- to 16-foot graphite poles and Pro 100 spinning reels.
“When I find the fish, I will set waypoints on the Lowrance, and I will go back and forth to the tops where I’ve caught fish,” Danna said. “It’s important to know where you’ve caught them before and make sure you stay the same depth.
“I fish slow, and I don’t move the jig up and down. I just either troll slowly over the cover or, if the fish are sluggish, sit over the fish and hold the jig still.”
The perfect crappie boat
Every fisherman is proud of his new fishing rig. Steve Danna is no exception, but he didn’t just pick out a boat he liked.
Instead, Danna helped design his boat.
Working with War Eagle owners Mike and John Ward, he helped develop what he said is a perfect boat for crappie fishing.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we are both excited about it,” Danna said about the new 191/2-foot 2016 War Eagle Predator.
“We set this boat up with the crappie fisherman in mind,” Danna said. “It’s a solid, stable boat to start with, and we’ve got everything placed right where it works for the crappie or bass fisherman.
“It is configured to easily handle two crappie fishermen on the front deck when spider rigging. It even comes with sturdy color-coordinated pole holders, a trolling motor and a depth finder within easy reach of the boat operator. It’s also get extra tackle storage and storage for long poles like crappie fishermen use.”
Years of tournament experience and recreational fishing helped lead to the new boat.
“It’s already becoming a popular model, and I’m just tickled to death to work with War Eagle to help develop it,” Danna said. “Needless to say, feeling comfortable in your boat is a big part of being confident in catching fish.”