How To Catch Crappie In Fluctuating Water Conditions
Phillip Gentry
Don’t let changing water levels during the fall and winter keep you from catching crappie. By following the water levels and paying attention to the terrain, there are still plenty of fish to be caught.
Whether due to drought or scheduled winter drawdown, fall fishing may mean leaving the shallows and resetting where you’ll be fishing.
Using old school tactics and a single jig pole, Whitey Outlaw likes to sneak up on draw down level crappie.
In times of rising water during the fall, guide John Harrison heads to the nearest green timber he can find, standing along the edge of a creek channel.

Typical fall fishing across the country means learning to deal with changing water conditions. At this time of year, many reservoirs are scheduling winter level drawdowns, so you can expect those shallow water areas that held fish earlier in the year to be up on the bank of the lake.

At other times, Mother Nature doesn’t care what the rule curve says and she decides she’s going to raise water levels, with little or no notice. This is often a draw-down, sudden spike in water level that sends both fishermen and fish scurrying back into shallow water or at least back into creek channels that access the shallows.

When he’s traveling on the tournament trail or even just fishing his home waters at Santee-Cooper, SC, B’n’M pro-staffer Whitey Outlaw will do some homework before hitting the water which gives him a leg up on finding crappie in fluctuating water conditions.,

“I’ll spend time pouring over lake maps,” said Outlaw. “I’ll go to the map and look for deeper channels and try to spot deeper structure, then once I’m on the water I can spend time in this deeper structure trying to locate specific areas that hold crappie. Trial and error really comes in to play where low water is concerned. I don’t overlook any small areas that could concentrate fish.”

Outlaw said that fall patterns, especially when the water levels are dropping off, either due to planned drawdowns, drought conditions, or both, are harder to figure out than during other times of the year, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

“An often overlooked factor during low water conditions is a crappie’s habit of holding on even the slightest of break lines,” said Outlaw. “Normal conditions may require a 5 foot or greater drop to be utilized by crappie as a travel route and staging area. Less water overhead makes a 1 -2 foot drop just as appealing. The best approach is to start deep on a travel route that you had marked on your topo map.

To sneak up on these often spooky, shallow water fish, Outlaw uses some tried-and-true old school tactics, using a single jig pole outfitted with a 1/16 ounce jig in one hand and a sculling oar or paddle in the other.

“I’m using either a bow mounted trolling motor, sculling oar or push pole, working my way along the break from the deep end, presenting my bait vertically on each piece of structure within reach as I work my way to the shallows. What used to be a deep brush pile is  now a piece of  isolated standing structure and should be worked in the same fashion. Start on the deep water side of the structure and methodically work your way to the shallow side.

A couple of states over in Alabama, Weiss Lake/Neely Henry crappie fishing guide and B’n’M pro-staffer Carlton Teague will leave the shallow water boat docks he’s been fishing and head out to the edge of the main channel to intercept crappie on the retreat from the shallows.

“Crappie will start to move out into deeper water once the water temperatures get below 70. By then, the thermoclines are gone and there is better oxygenated water through the whole depth range,” said Teague. “That’s also about the same time the water authority will start dropping the water levels.”

Unlike Outlaw, Teague puts away his single pole that he’s been working the docks with and puts out his tight lining rods and starts working the edges of the main channel at

“One thing most people don’t understand about Weiss is how much the water level fluctuates between normal and winter pools,” he said. “Neely Henry may vary by less than a foot across an entire year. On Weiss, the normal pool elevation is 564. By December 26, Weiss will be at the lowest of the year. That’s a drop of around 6 feet. Losing 6 feet out of Lake Weiss is a lot. That’s why the best locations to tight line are along the edges of the main Coosa channel and a few of the major creek arms that also have deeper water in them.

On the flip side of things, B’n’M pro-staffer and Grenada Lake guide John Harrison said at times Mother Nature will thumb her nose at the folks operating the dam and put more water in the lake than is being drawn out. When that happens, Harrison will head up the lake and look for green bushes growing right along the edge of the lake’s tributaries.

“When the water is up, these bushes will have 12 to 14 feet of water under them,” said Harrison. “During the winter draw down these bushes will be all the way out of the water. That keeps them alive and green through the rest of the year but that back and forth movement also washes out the roots a good bit and provides a great place for crappie to hold when the water is up.”

Harrison favors the single pole over the multiple rod approach in this situation and will work his way along a row of green standing timber with the jig pole.

“The fish will usually hold on one end of a clump of bushes. That’s because as the current washes around them, one end may get washed out and be a little deeper than the rest,” said Harrison. “Don’t overlook fishing what you can’t see either. Some of the bushes will be laid over on their sides under the water and they’ll hold more fish than the one’s standing straight up.”


Whether you favor a single pole approach or a multiple rod tactic for catching Fall and Winter crappie, B’n’M has got every rod in every size, length, and fit that you could ask for. To get more information, visit one of our retail dealers or look at our catalogue online at