by Capt. Bert Deener
Crappie are fickle creatures. The bite can turn off and on like a light switch, and they can move a bunch. One day you can catch them near a bridge, while the next they are in the back of a creek picking off shad from the typically huge fall shad schools. For those who do not know all the prime crappie holes on their lake, a great way to find them is long-line trolling.
The tools needed to be very effective are several crappie-sized rods and reels, a good trolling motor, a GPS unit, a box of jig heads and bodies, and a keen desire to put together the puzzle of speed, depth, jig head size, body color, etc.
I rig my boat with a flat-line rod holder on each corner pointed out and two 45-degree rod holders in the middle of the transom. In the flat-line holders, I use 8- to 12-foot graphite jig poles, depending upon how wide of a spread I want to present. In the middle holders, I use five to six-foot light-action spinning rods (5 1/2-foot ultralight Berkley Cherrywood HD rods are perfect). My reels are spooled with 6-lb. test 100 percent Berkley Fluorocarbon (if fishing deep) or 6-lb. test clear Stren monofilament if fishing shallow (less than 15 feet deep). I like to fish the same pound test line on all reels so that I can change lure depth by changing my jig head size.
Rigging your rods for trolling is as easy as tying either a single or double jig head to your line and skewering on your favorite plastic. I tie loop knots whether using a single jig head or double rig so that the jig has more action and the fish do not get leverage to throw the hook while shaking their head. To make a loop knot, I thread the line through the jig head eye and pull plenty of line through the eye (make sure to allow extra line if tying a double rig), wrap both lines around three fingers, tuck the jig head three wraps through the loop you just made, and tighten it up after wetting the knot. If tying a double rig, repeat the knot with a second jig head about a foot down the tag end of the line. This is much quicker to tie than many other loop knots, and I have not had any problem with it holding its line strength.
I usually use a 1/16-oz. jig head if fishing it single and 1/32 or even 1/48-oz. heads for double rigs. Over the last few years, I have had better success keeping slabs hooked up by using jig heads with a sickle-shaped hook. They seem to penetrate deeper than standard round-bend hooks.
Many plastic lures will work, but those with curly or paddle tails attract the most attention
when trolled. My most productive style over the years has been a Bass Assassin 2-inch Curly Shad, and the shad or chartreuse hues have worked best. This fall I am excited about a new lure from Bass Assassin – their 2-inch Crappie Dapper swimbait. It looks exactly like a crappie minnow and has a wide wobble from its paddle tail. The lure should work perfectly as a trolling bait.
Boat handling is extremely important when trolling for crappie. You have to pay close attention to your presentation. For instance, when trolling downwind, you have a tendency to go too fast. A GPS unit takes the guesswork out of how fast you are moving. Additionally, I speed up a little when crossing shallow areas or points or making a turn so that the jigs on the inside of the turn do not settle to the bottom and get hung. To start, I usually hover around 0.8 to 1.0 miles per hour and vary it until I dial in the most effective speed.
Line distance is critical to keep from tangling. Putting the lines all back at the same distance is the recipe for disaster, so I like to stagger them. The two outside poles are about a long cast out and slightly staggered a little. One of the middle poles is about two long casts out, and one I fish about a half-cast out. You can count how many “pulls” of line out the lure is if you want to get exact, but you will get a feel for it once you troll for a couple afternoons.
Trolling allows you to cover vast amounts of water in search of areas holding crappie. Next time you are having trouble finding the crappie, give this presentation a try.