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September Awakens Lake Of The Ozarks Crappie

Phil Lilley

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by John Neproadny Jr.

When those first cool nights in September start to cool down the Lake of the Ozarks, crappie awaken from their summer siesta.

During the heat of July and August , crappie seem to disappear at the Lake of the Ozarks as they burrow into brush piles or drop into the depths of the main lake or creek channels. Dropping a minnow into the deep brush or drift-fishing channel drops and bluffs still catches some fish, but most of the crappie seem to be taking a summer vacation during this time.trans.gif

While September days can still be hot, the nights become cooler and the lake's water temperature gradually drops out of the 80-degree range. This drop in water temperature and the massive schools of newly hatched shad lure crappie out of their summertime doldrums and trigger a feeding spree that lasts throughout the fall and into early winter.

Crappie on the main lake can be taken in September as the fish suspend over brush piles around docks, but the best action begins in the tributaries and larger creeks. The shallower water in these arms tend to cool down quicker than the main lake. These cooler waters draw hordes of baitfish that arouse a crappie's appetite. Some of the best tributaries and creeks to try for crappie in early September include the Niangua and Little Niangua rivers, Grand Glaize, Gravois and Linn creeks. Later in the month, the action slows down some in the creek arms but picks up on the main lake.

Live bait and artificial lure techniques both work in September. When fishing the main lake during this time, I recommend using minnows or a jig-and-minnow combination. In the morning, a jig-and-minnow works best for me. Since the main lake is usually clear during this month, I favor using jigs in colors imitating shad, such as white, gray or blue, Since I want the lure to fall slowly for suspending fish, I select a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce marabou jig, which I tip with a minnow to make the crappie hold onto the bait longer.

Targeting docks and brush piles under the floating structures, I cast to these area first. If this fails to produce or if I catch some fish but the bite stops, I move up to the dock and present the jig vertically into the brush piles. The crappie tend to congregate around docks on main and secondary points 15 to 20 feet deep.

Later in the day, the sun and heat tend to drive crappie deeper into the brush, so I switch to a minnow on a hook. I stick the minnow on a 2/0 gold Aberdeen hook and place a split shot about 18 inches above the bait. Moving out to the deeper brush (18 to 20 feet), I drop the minnow straight down into the crappie beds. I vary my depth until I get a bite because some times the fish hold over the top of the brush and on other occasions they drop to the bottom. Using two rods at one time has helped me catch crappie during this month. I usually lower one line with a minnow and set it right above the top of the brush, while I keep the other rod in my hand and work the bottom with a jig-and-minnow combination.

The stained and cooler waters of the creeks and tributaries allows you to fish shallower for crappie. The key to finding crappie though is to locate brush close to deep-water structure such as points, mouths of coves and channel drops. On the upper ends of the creeks, crappie can be taken as shallow as 6 to 8 feet, but the key depth range in the rest of the creek is usually 10 to 15 feet.

Since the creeks contain more active fish, jigs produce just as well as minnows. My favorite lure for crappie in the creeks is a blue ice Bobby Garland Baby Shad attached to a 1/16-ounce jighead.

The same approach that I use on the main lake also produces in the creeks. Keeping my boat away from the brush, I cast past the cover and count as the lure falls, so if a crappie hits I have an idea how deep the fish are and I can present my lure at about the same depth on subsequent casts. When I reach a certain count (depending on the depth of the brush), I start retrieving the jig. The lure slowly falls to the top of the brush where I lift it through the branches. Most of the strikes occur as the lure falls into the brush or after it nudges a limb.

After making several casts to the brush pile, I position my boat over the top of the cover and present the jig vertically. With this presentation, I let the jig sit in one spot and rely on the movement of the boat to impart action to the curly tail jig. If this fails to trigger a strike, I jerk the jig up about a foot and let it flutter back down. This action imitates a dying shad struggling to the surface and then falling back down. Any crappie hanging around the brush can't resist such an easy meal.

An ultralight spinning rod-and-reel combination works best for all of these techniques. I recommend using 4- to 6-pound test line for the jig tactics and 8- to 10-pound test for dropping minnows into the brush.

While the water cools down in September, the crappie action heats up at the Lake of the Ozarks. For information on lodging and 162-page vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.

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