Winter hit us a bit early this week, with dustings of snow across much of Kansas providing a different sort of "October surprise" as people began mailing in their ballots and heading to the polls.


However, the sudden drop in temperatures appears to have done fairly little to cool off the crappie bite across the state, which has reportedly been pretty good at times this week for many Kansas anglers. Some anglers reported good numbers of big, hungry crappie stocking up on shad and other baitfish ahead of the winter slowdown, while others noted more hit-or-miss conditions in areas like Clinton Reservoir or Melvern Reservoir.


Lawrence crappie guide Joe Bragg has been putting people on fish all month, including Madison’s Rob McDonald, a Logan native, who he helped find a new personal-best white crappie, which measured over 16 inches and they estimated to be over 2 pounds.


"The picture didn’t really do it justice," Bragg said. "The dang thing was as fat around as a beer can."


McDonald said the fish were initially pretty finicky as they were fishing between fronts.


"I don't know how many we saw," McDonald said. "We were fishing with LiveScope, so you could see they were suspended in brush piles ... I mean down in them. We were trying to jig them out of there, we dropped minnows into 'em and they were pretty tight-lipped."


But eventually, they figured out a presentation of dropping the lure into the brushpile and then slowly, steadily retrieving it up while the crappies followed. He said if they stopped the retrieve, the crappies would dive back down into the brushpile.


"All the fish we were catching were all thick," McDonald said. "We've seen lots of bait fish. In all the lakes I've fished this summer, I think that high water had lots of forage fish last year when we had that flood."


Bragg said he’s seen good consistency at Perry Reservoir, but noted Toronto and Pomona had a lot of good slabs this year during the tournament season.


Topeka tournament bass angler Thomas Heinen also jumped on some slabs this week while fishing at Lake Jivaro.


Both Heinen and Bragg use Z-Man’s finesse products to target crappie, an often overlooked strategy as they are sometimes incorrectly considered bass-only lures. Bragg uses Z-Man’s TicklerZ while fishing vertically above brushpiles.


"I fish those TicklerZ a lot," Bragg said. "I fish the Slim SwimZ. Those would probably be my top two, followed by the Trick ShotZ. I fish it all vertical. I am strictly a vertical jigger. I'm either in brushpiles or in the trees with them. You've gotta use those heavy heads, though, especially in this wind. I use quarters (ounces) and fifths. And braid, braided line is a must, especially in the brushpiles."


Heinen, meanwhile, uses a wide array of Ned Rig trailers to fish from the bank.


"Lately I have been noticing that the crappie are starting to fire up," Heinen said. "I have been throwing jerkbaits and Z-Man Ned Rig-style baits to try to pick up a few finicky pre-winter bass. I have been catching some good bass doing it, but the crappie are also just inhaling it. Last time I was out bass fishing, I caught over 25 crappie in the same spot mixed in with nice largemouth."


Other good methods for catching crappie during this time include live baits such as minnows, small shad or wax worms; marabou or feather jigs with Crappie Nibbles on the hooks, which can be fished under a panfish float; small trout spinners fished in open water above schools of fish, or more typical plastic crappie jigs such as Bobby Garland Baby Shads fished vertically above brushpiles or other cover.


If you’re looking to stock up on some new gear or learn some new techniques for crappie fishing, the Crappie Expo also is taking place this weekend in Branson, Mo., with adult admission $10 per day and kids 15 and under getting in free. That event runs through Sunday, so if you have some time to take a trip down to Branson, it’d be well worth the drive.


Top Secret sale


As an extra bonus, a longtime Topeka lure maker is temporarily making crappie jigs again just in time for the holidays.


Topekan Brandon Manis announced on Facebook he would be selling his Top Secret Jigs for a limited time only.


"Mainly in case people wanted some for Christmas gifts or for the winter bite," Manis said.


He is taking orders by Facebook Messenger at this time and asking people to pay through PayPal unless it’s a local pickup.


Pump out at dock


For those looking to fish at Lake Shawnee’s heated dock this weekend, there may be a snag in those plans.


Mike McLaughlin, communications and public information supervisor at Shawnee County Parks and Recreation, said Friday morning that a water pump was out at the dock.


"It is day to day as to when a part will come in so it can be repaired," McLaughlin said. "We’ll place a sign on the door letting people know that the dock will open as soon as the pump is repaired. Fortunately, we’re in for a string of warm days so the dock may not be missed."


Pre-holiday plans


Those looking for an opportunity this upcoming month to do some competitive crappie fishing are in luck, as the Kansas Crappie Club is hosting its annual Veterans Day fundraiser tournament Nov. 8 on El Dorado Reservoir.


Entry fees for that event are $150 per two-person boat, and it is a single-fish tournament. Registration begins at 5 a.m. at the boat ramp, with takeoff at 7 a.m. Weigh-in will be at 1 p.m. for Division II and 2 p.m. for Division I. A total of $25 per team goes to KDWPT Veterans License Fund.


Later next month, the KCC also will host its Benefit Toy Drive tournament on Clinton, as well, which is an awesome way to donate toys for kids in need ahead of the holiday season and is a good final opportunity to get in some open-water crappie fishing before the lakes start to freeze in late December or early January.


The entry fee for the toy drive is one toy per team to donate to Topeka Toys for Tots. Registration for this tournament also begins at 5 a.m. the day of the tournament, Nov. 29, with takeoff at 7 a.m. Weigh-in is 1 p.m. for Division II and 2 p.m. for Division I.


For more info on those fundraisers, contact Joe Bragg at 785-220-6404 or KansasCrappieClub@gmail.com.


For those who enjoy shooting sports over fishing, there will be another holiday-related event Nov. 8 in Topeka as Ravenwood Lodge hosts its Veterans Day 2-Person 50 Scramble.


For more information on that event, call 800-656-2454.


The weekend before Thanksgiving, the Boothill Friends of the NRA will also host a 2nd Amendment Celebration at the Knights of Columbus Building located at 800 W. Frontview in Dodge City.


Tickets for that event will be $20 for single tickets or $40 for couples, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 21. For more information, contact Tyler Kirby at 316-213-0568 or Phil Parish at 620-255-6889.


Final note


As a final note, I’d like to say that, whoever you vote for in this upcoming week’s election, I hope we can all put aside the bitterness of politics for a while and just go out and do some hunting and fishing with each other after all of this. You may not agree with someone politically, but take them out in the outdoors and spend some time with them, and you may find out you have a lot more in common with them than you think. We all want the same thing, and that is an end to this COVID-19 mess and a better country for our children and grandchildren to grow up in.


And, please, send me your hunting and fishing pictures! I’d love to see that big buck you shot or the giant crappie you caught, and run them in the paper for others to see, as well!


Shoot them on over to me by email at jrouse@cjonline.com!