Fall trolling for crappie

Matt Freeman fishes at Isabella Lake.

By Matt Freeman

Lake Isabella is widely known as one of the premier crappie fishing waters in all of California. We have both black and white crappie, and fish more than 3 pounds being caught each spring is not uncommon.

Crappie are very structure-oriented and love tree and rock cover most of the year. Primarily known as a species that is specifically targeted during the spring spawn, crappie at other times of the year can be hard to target because they adjust to changing weather patterns and water levels post-spawn.

Fall, however, is a magical time to catch this species using a tactic more common in trout fishing: on the troll. Crappie school up in the fall to target Lake Isabella’s large threadfin shad population feeding heavily in preparation for the colder winter months, and they can readily be found in open water away from their normal haunts.

The best way to target these fish is to focus on break-lines between shallow and deep water, looking for drop-offs and finding bait balls of shad on your sonar. Recon is important and can pay off over the long haul because often these areas provide good fishing year after year.

Once you find these areas, target the crappie at depth with small Rapala’s and Kastmasters and Rattletraps — basically anything that looks like a threadfin shad and isn’t too big. Usually, the fish are pretty shallow, but if they’re deeper use a downrigger.

Just watch your rod tips — crappie often will hit the lure and not be large enough to dislodge the line from the line clamp, but you’ll see the hit. This is a great way to target late-season crappie as they’re schooling up and chasing those shad; and once you find them, you can keep trolling the same spot and picking up fish on each pass through the same area.

Some of these fall crappies can be quite large too; and you could also pick up trout and even the odd largemouth bass, anything that is going after those shad schools.

The lake isn’t open yet but it will be soon, and fall is a time when the weather is perfect. The winds are down, temps are comfortable and the fish are very actively looking for food in preparation for winter. Go make a day of it out there!

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