Mastering the Fall Bite: A Winning Strategy from Florida’s Crappie Trail

November 8, 2023

By Greg McCain

The fall crappie season in mid-to-south Florida, which roughly parallels the pre-spawn in other parts of the country, is in full swing.

Tournament circuits take advantage of the hot late fall bite that leads up to the spawn in Florida. ACC Crappie Stix pro staffer Nick Whitten loves the opportunity for some of the best fishing of the year, and he and regular tournament partner Michael Kirkland racked up a win in a recent Sunshine State Crappie Trail event.

Fishing under near ideal late fall conditions, Nick and Michael combined for a 7-fish, 9.44 lb. limit of black crappie that topped a competitive field.

“We fished Lake Marian, which is a new stop for most of us,” Nick said about the small bowl-shaped lake about 45 miles south of Orlando. The waters of Marian eventually connect to the Kississimee chain through a series of creeks and other lakes.

Nick, who lives in Lakeland, FL, fished Marian earlier this year for the first time and found crappie loaded on fish attractors. While he and other tournament competitors anticipated the fish moving toward spawning areas, he said the crappie were still situated around the attractors.

Florida Fish and Wildlife personnel place the structures at strategic locations around the lake and make public the GPS coordinates to find them. That idea “definitely makes them community holes,” Nick said.

He continued, “It was a boat race to see who could get to the attractors that were holding fish. We won the boat race but ended up sharing one attractor with another boat. We kind of beat around each other all day long and had a good time cutting up. We wound up catching 9.44. The other boat had 8.55.”

While the weather indicated fall in Florida, Nick said the fish were still in summer mode compared to many years. The specks in Marian and other lakes in the region typically feed heavily on grass shrimp around the grass.

“We’re still at least a month out from having a good spawn,” Nick said. “The fish were feeding very heavily on small shad. My grass shrimp colors were not working. Only the natural bait colors were getting bit.”

Nick caught his fish on a 1/8 Fearless jig “with a super small profile on it.” He fished the jig with a 13-foot ACC Crappie Stix jigging rod. Nick added one caveat to the successful day on Marian.

“The specks were extremely finicky,” he said. “They wouldn’t hit a plain jig. We had to tip with a minnow. If we hadn’t had minnows, we wouldn’t have weighed 7 pounds. That’s the first time I have used minnows in 8 years. I went over there Thursday and had several big fish look at my jig and not eat it. I knew I had to do something different. I think it might be the fishing pressure on those attractors.”

The addition of the minnows was the ticket to the tournament win and a fitting end to a great fall day.

“The fall schedule presents us the opportunity to fish in some really nice weather,” Nick said. “I love to catch specks in the summertime in Florida because the pattern doesn’t change much, but it’s scalding hot. You don’t want to spend hours and try to keep fish alive in that type of weather.

“So it affords us the opportunity to be able to fish in some wonderful weather – high 70s, low 80s during the day, mid 60s when we take off in the morning, just beautiful weather. The only downfall is that most of the time the wind is blowing.”

Nick said his crappie brakes and Ultrex trolling motor allowed him to maintain boat control in gusts up to 20 mph during the tournament.

The event marked the 3rd stop of 7 on the Sunshine State Crappie Trail schedule. Nick said he looks forward to the other events, which conclude in April 2024.

“It’s just a great time of the year to fish,” he said. “You can beat the heat and catch a lot of fish.”

For more about Florida crappie fishing, check out Nick’s personal Facebook page or @crappie_adventures on YouTube and Instagram.