Fall is an amazing time to target crappie. Fish are often active and feeding, but this doesn't necessarily mean that hits will be rod-jarring. Part of the challenge and fun of crappie fishing is that bites can sometimes be subtle and hard to detect. This is especially true when slabs vacuum in the meal, overtaking it while swimming up or forward. Here are a few things I do to feel more bites and stick more fish.
Sight Fish More
A good portion of the black crappie I catch in autumn are taken around weeds. Fish frequently suspend in the upper half of the water column. I target them with shallow-running hard-baits and slow sinking plastics that I can see during the retrieve. Using white or bright colors helps maintain visual contact. Many times I don't feel the strike when retrieving or pausing a bait. Rather, what frequently happens is I see a white yap materialize, then my lure disappears. This is the signal to quickly set the hook because crappie can spit out the bait as fast as they suck it in.
While sight-fishing works with short casts and high-riding lures, it's not practical for deeper tactics. The best way to detect a crappie's lightening speed hit is constantly maintaining a feel of the lure. This can be done many ways.
I follow spoons and other sinking lures on semi-slack line. When using jigs, I prefer bladed models, such as Bladed jigs, like the Road Runner Original Marabou Jig or the Northland Thumper Jig. In addition to attracting fish, the blade helps with strike detection. The sudden loss of its vibrations signals a fish has grabbed the bait and it's time to set the hook.
When using hard-bodied minnows and crankbaits I never abandon line management. Let me explain. When stop reeling to pause a bait in hopes to trigger a strike, I'll slowly sweep the rod forward to maintain semi-taught line. If the line suddenly goes slack, it means a crappie has the bait and is swimming up or towards the boat. Hard hits are easier to feel as ticks or jolts transmitted up the line.
Keep these tips in mind on your next crappie outing. Remember too that hook sets are free. If something seems off in the presentation trust your instincts and sweep the rod. Do this and you'll slide more slabs into the net.